Jewish World Review Dec. 7, 2001 / 22 Kislev, 5762

Michael Medved

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Consumer Reports

Children suffer as political pawns -- WITH considerable fanfare, the government of Iran recently opened a grand, new theme park on the grounds of the former American embassy in Tehran. To mark the anniversary of the seizure and occupation of that facility in November 1979, the ruling ayatollahs offered a number of delightful attractions to lure young people to the so-called "Great Exhibition of Nov. 4."

Aspiring he-men, for instance, could test their might by pounding on a grotesque devil's face decorated with a stars-and-stripes hat. A brightly lettered sign above the carnival game invited participants to "Bang (with) all your strength on America's head!" As Nazila Fathi reported for The New York Times after receiving an advance tour of the festive offerings, another ride encouraged children to use an air canon to shoot balls into Uncle Sam's moving mouth.

On the site where tennis courts once served American diplomats, the new fun center displayed the remnants of the American helicopters that crashed in the desert in a disastrous attempt to rescue the American hostages.

At the entrance to the exhibition, a crude but towering replica of the Statue of Liberty welcomed visitors - complete with a live dove locked into a cage within its chest, representing America's imprisonment of peace and freedom.

Nearly a hundred booths had been set up to accommodate other displays and games, including a display of graphic photographs showing the torn, bloody bodies of some of the 290 passengers who died when the U.S.S. Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988. Nearby, a collection of aquariums added an incongruously festive touch.

All these offerings attempted to influence the children who officials hoped would flock to the Great Exhibition. "The new generation is not aware of the crimes America has committed against our nation," Mohammad Shoa, director of the new park, told The New York Times. "We blame America for all the miseries our country is suffering today."

This ambitious project not only represents the obsessive anti-Americanism that serves to paralyze so much of the Middle East, but also reflects the revolting tendency of fanatics of every stripe to use children as political pawns and props.

Pakistani Islamists arm them with toy submachine guns and march them in protest marches, while Palestinian fundamentalists provide real weapons and guerilla training. They also dress their kids in the white shrouds of suicide bombers, decorating their bodies with make-believe dynamite, so they can make a powerful impression in funeral processions. Osama bin Laden himself sent Qatar's Al-Jazeera TV network recent video showing his own young sons brandishing guns at the crash site of a purportedly downed American helicopter.

In Castro's Cuba, Elian Gonzalez and all other children devote much of their childhood to political indoctrination and paramilitary training. In the old Soviet Union, the Communist equivalent of the Boy Scouts of America, the Young Pioneers, made a quasi-religious cult of the martyred Ukrainian child, Pavlik Morozov who, according to accounts, was murdered by his grandfather after he did his patriotic duty and reported his own father to the Stalinist authorities for food hoarding.

In the United States, we assault our children with every manner of vulgarity and stupidity and indulgence but we still keep them protected, for the most part, from the bloody and ugly business of political and revolutionary struggle.

Even the most vocal critics of the Boy Scouts, can't compare their general emphasis on kind and respectful behavior with the fierce and murderous indoctrination typical of tyrannies around the world.

The distinction is worth preserving, even - or especially - during the intense and dangerous days of our ongoing war on terrorism. Most American parents feel appropriate instincts to protect young children from the horrors of the current struggle, rather than attempting to enlist them as co-combatants. The willingness of other societies to sacrifice their own offspring for political or nationalistic purposes recently has reached grotesque extremes - as with the Palestinian mother who recently thanked her teenage son for giving "the greatest gift any child could give" by ending his life in a suicide bombing.

Those of us who look askance at the current condition of popular culture for children should feel thankful that for all its annoying purple dinosaurs or Teletubbies or Power Rangers, it remains blessedly distant from the emphasis on vengeance, hatred and perpetual struggle so typical of anti-American societies.

The repulsive example of our enemies in Iran and elsewhere to use kids for terrorist or propaganda purposes should redouble our own determination to give childhood more respect as a fleeting time of innocence and security.

JWR contributor, author and film critic Michael Medved, a "survivor" of his own family with three kids, hosts a daily three-hour radio talk show broadcast in more than 120 cities throughout the United States. His latest book, written together with his wife, is Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence . You may contact him by clicking here.

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