By Kirk Douglas*
When you reach age 95, after overcoming his own surprise at the number of years lived, began to look back. I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents, Russian immigrants who came to this country in 1912 — exactly one hundred years ago.
For them, America was a dream beyond all description. They could not read or write, but dazzled a better life for their children in this country away from its tiny shtetl in Russia.
Against all odds they crossed the Atlantic. And as millions of people before and after they passed near the Statue of Liberty as they entered New York Harbor. Maybe someone who understood English could have translated the beautiful words of Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque on the pedestal that famous statue, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
What my parents would think about America if they came here today?
Would they even want to come? I wonder. A century ago America was a beacon of hope for the world. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were ideal not mere cliches. Any boy could still grow up to be president. Today, few boys or girls even dream of this issue. The American dream of fame and fortune quick easy based on hard work in the private sector does not exist more. I know some things about it.
I have been an actor for most of my life. When I started just thought that was good for me. How many movie stars immersed in my work, I dedicate myself to persogaem who was playing.
My big change came suddenly, when I heard the words of President Kennedy in his inaugural speech in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
It was a moment of clarity and a watershed for me – - like somebody had flipped a switch and the lights came on. Despite the fame and success are not only result of luck, but also talent and continuous effort, I had been lucky. That my luck does not come without a lot of hard work, but only at that moment I realized that luck also carried a responsibility along with it. JFK making a call from popular consciousness made me understand that.
His words also reminded me of something my mother taught me.
For years we lived in the small town of Amsterdam, New York. We had a house near the carpet factories and railroad tracks. We were very poor and often not even had enough to eat. Although we had not almost anything, often some of the trains beggars on our door at night begging for food. Dirty with those looks disheveled they always scared me, but my mother never got scared. Somehow she always found a little extra food to give them. On one occasion she said something I never I forgot: “Issur” – that was my name at the time – “even a beggar must give to another beggar in greater difficulties.”
I was an American movie star whose photos and pictures were seen all around the world. This gave me the opportunity to do something for my country that most Americans at the time could n’t do: So I became an Ambassador of Goodwill for the State Department and traveled to over 40 countries talking about America. On those trips I was not seen as Democrat or Republican, but simply as a U.S. talking about American values, freedom and human rights. And from the first moment I accepted this social cost made a point of paying all my expenses from my own pocket – I didno’t want anyone to say that Kirk Douglas traveled the world with some of the taxpayer dime.
But you need not be a movie star to defend basic human freedoms. The fight against oppression and tyranny depicted in Spartacus is still going over the globe from Syria to Egypt to Iran. Even the Russians are once again facing the threat of a popular uprising.
I believe much of the divisiveness in the world is caused by religious fanaticism, even in the time of Spartacus when they worshipped many Gods. Man was not placed on earth to tell God how great He is. He doesn’t need our help. By studying history we find that millions of people have been killed because of religious divisions, founded on Orthodoxy and false spirituality.
Regardless of who we can not forget that the human spirit can never be crushed, no matter how cruel, oppressive or fanatical belief is. If we remember one truth simple – act against all cruelty, and fanaticism opreções personally and collectively, in small and sometimes large movements — so human freedoms so hard won eventually prevail. Until then we are all Spartacus.
* Kirk Douglas, actor and writer.
1. Text based on “I Am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist“, the tenth book of the actor and writer Kirk Douglas. A mix of autobiography and views on life and human society, released last month by Open Road Media Integrated.