Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Day America Lost its Soul

This makes me sick:

Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban castaway whose international custody battle ended in his dramatic seizure from a Miami home five years ago, addressed a crowd of thousands Friday, thanking Cubans and Americans alike for fighting for his return to the island.

Elian, now 11, read a speech at a televised event in Havana marking the fifth anniversary of the April 22 raid in which armed U.S. federal agents snatched him from his Miami relatives in the first step to getting him back to Cuba.
It gets better:

Elian's father also spoke at Friday's event, which included dance and music performances as well as speeches by young Cubans.

"I have enjoyed the happy childhood of my son," the father said. His presence in Cuba "is proof that the mafia in Miami lost again."

Cuba's state-run press on Friday accused Elian's anti-Castro relatives in Miami of a "cruel kidnapping," and referred to Elian's seizure from the house as a rescue from "the hands of the terrorist Miami mafia."

One young Cuban girl speaking Friday said she was happy Elian has spent these last several years on the island, where he "has the privilege of living in a socialist country." [AP]
The article was headlined "Elian Gonzalez Thanks Americans for Help" but the more honest headline would be "Castro Puppet Thanks Americans for the Betrayal."

I was active in the movement to keep Gonzalez free and in America, on the grounds that returning him to Castro’s Cuba was tantamount to sentencing him to prison. Looking back, I ask myself why the "Free Elian" movement failed.

There has never been the same revulsion in America against communism as there has been with Nazism. Even though communists murdered far more people then the Nazis and held on to power far longer, a portion of their message has resonated with America. While many object to communism’s practice, not so many object to communism’s moral message, even in the light of its fantastic failure. Communism's alleged concern for the meek still speaks to many, even as its means of implementation are acknowledged to be unworkable.

In the case of Gonzalez, the side dedicated to preserving the boy’s freedom needed to demonstrate clearly that communism itself was child abuse. And its not as if we didn’t try. Both Leonard Peikoff and Ed Locke spoke passionately in defense of Gonzalez’s rights, Peikoff in Miami in front of the boy’s family and Locke on the steps of the Justice Department here in Washington, but even their words were not able to carry the day.

Why? Americans are lousy thinkers when forced to confront the abstract, and for most Americans, the difference between communism and capitalism is an abstract difference that lies outside their immediate concern. When they receive conflicting evidence, they all to often write off the debate and run with what works—that is, they run with pragmatism.

After all, we did present our claims. In his speech in front of the Department of Justice, Ed Locke noted that 15,000 to 17,000 Cubans have been killed for political reasons; that more than 100,000 people have been sent to prisons or concentration camps for political "crimes"; in prison they are often beaten, tortured and starved. He noted how youths are forcibly removed from their homes and made to work in the countryside for 45 to 60 days each year and that Cuban parents have been so desperate to save their children that more than 14,000 of them have been smuggled off the island unaccompanied by their parents. I was there—it was a brilliant speech.

Others spoke out too. Famed Soviet defector Walter Polovchak, who broke free of communism as a teenager in a harrowing escape said that if his parent’s rights had been placed first and he had been returned to the Soviet Union, "the plan was to place [him] in a mental institution, because [he] was deemed unfit to live in a normal society." Evidence was presented everywhere about the horror that awaited Elian if he was returned to Cuba.

Yet in the American mind, these arguments were reduced to a mere political debate when press reports highlighted the allegedly high literacy rate in Cuba, or the myth of "free" healthcare under communism (as if slavery comes without a price). Instead of reconciling the contradiction, a pragmatic America chose to ignore the political evaluation it needed to make and instead choose to focus on the parental right of the father to his son. In the process, America revealed that it had lost its soul.

In the years since, our nation has suffered. Whether it suffers more (and us along with it) depends on our ability to communicate a proper defense of the good. While I remain hopeful for the future, in that regard, much remains to be seen.

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