UN did not steal Greta Thun­berg’s child­hood

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - CHRISTINA M. FLOW­ERS Chris­tine M. Flow­ers is a lawyer and colum­nist for the Philadel­phia Daily News. Read­ers may send her email at cflow­[email protected]

Greta Thun­berg, the Swedish teenager who has be­come the face of the cli­mate wars, re­minds me of an­other child I saw dom­i­nate in­ter­na­tional de­bate: Elian Gon­za­lez.

Years ago, I watched as that lit­tle boy got sucked into po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing. On one side, which ini­tially in­cluded me, were the peo­ple who thought this child who had al­most drowned in a des­per­ate at­tempt to come to Amer­ica should be re­united with his fa­ther, a Cas­tro loy­al­ist. On the other side, to which I ul­ti­mately grav­i­tated, there were those who wanted this child to live in free­dom. As we all know, Gon­za­lez was sent back to his home coun­try, and he is still well-known to­day. He also joined the Com­mu­nist Party as a teenager. It’s hard to say how that would look in the eyes of his mother, who gave her life so he could es­cape the regime he now sup­ports.

Re­gard­less of where you thought Gon­za­lez should have ended up, it’s clear he was used by forces greater than him­self. The 5-year-old be­came hostage to po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests that had stewed for gen­er­a­tions. Those who said they cared for his wel­fare might have even been sin­cere. But there’s no ques­tion they were also mo­ti­vated by more self­ish, di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed pur­poses: to duel over com­mu­nism. Elian Gon­za­lez was not the first child to be used by adults, and he won’t be the last.

In fact, we now have an­other fa­mous child whose value rests in her abil­ity to be ma­nip­u­lated: Greta


Over the past year, she has cap­ti­vated the at­ten­tion of the pope, diplo­mats and even Twit­ter­crazy pres­i­dents. On Sept. 23, Thun­berg ad­dressed the United Na­tions where she launched an an­gry at­tack against the del­e­gates: “Peo­ple are suf­fer­ing. Peo­ple are dy­ing. En­tire ecosys­tems are col­laps­ing. We are at the be­gin­ning of a mass ex­tinc­tion and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eter­nal eco­nomic growth. How dare you!”

Pres­i­dent Trump was not im­pressed, and ob­served, tongue in tweet: “She seems like a very happy young girl look­ing for­ward to a bright and won­der­ful fu­ture.”

Oth­ers were not quite as coy, re­fer­ring to Thun­berg’s Asperger’s di­ag­no­sis as a “men­tal ill­ness” and mock­ing her pas­sion as mis­placed. On the other hand, she’s be­ing con­sid­ered for the No­bel Peace Prize.

Like Gon­za­lez, Thun­berg is be­ing used by peo­ple with an agenda — also like the chil­dren of Parkland, Fla., who have al­lowed them­selves to be­come go-to spokesper­sons for gun con­trol. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly sup­port any meth­ods to re­duce the blood­shed of mass shoot­ings. I was also very vo­cal in my de­sire to keep Gon­za­lez in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, af­ter ini­tially sym­pa­thiz­ing with his fa­ther. We can­not di­vorce pol­i­tics from our per­sonal emo­tions — they are as in­ter­twined as the dou­ble helix of our DNA.

But I am ashamed to see how of­ten we force chil­dren to the front lines in these cul­ture wars, us­ing them as hu­man shields — anal­o­gous to the way ter­ror­ists use ba­bies to ab­sorb and de­flect in­juries in­tended for them alone. You might be out­raged that I would put gun con­trol ac­tivists, anti-com­mu­nists, or cli­mate ac­tivists in the same sen­tence as ter­ror­ists, but the prin­ci­ple of us­ing chil­dren to make our points is an old and ef­fec­tive one, re­gard­less of the un­der­ly­ing agenda.

Adults may think that by putting chil­dren front and cen­ter, they are ei­ther sham­ing their op­po­nents into si­lence, or un­der­lin­ing the ur­gency of their cru­sades by ex­pos­ing how grown-ups are ru­in­ing the fu­ture for the next gen­er­a­tion. Greta Thun­berg said as much when she ac­cused the UN del­e­gates of steal­ing “my dreams and my child­hood with your empty words.” It’s hard to look at a child and not feel that there are some bur­dens they should be spared.

An­other child who be­came the face of a move­ment al­most lost her life, ed­u­ca­tion ac­tivist Malala Yousafzai. While I praise her en­gage­ment and honor her courage, I have come to the con­clu­sion that she, too, is a vic­tim of adult cru­sades. So­ci­ety should fight bat­tles for our chil­dren, not on their backs. It is not the adults at the UN who stole Greta Thun­berg’s child­hood. It’s all of us.

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