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Jewish World Review April 28, 2000/ 23 Nissan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Doing it Castro's way -- IN THE MIDDLE OF NOVEMBER, 1941, the Japanese government made a show of sending a commission to Washington to meet with our diplomats to consider Japanese proposals for peace. The commission was a ruse, a blind. Japan had already decided to bomb Hawaii.

On December 7, while peace negotiations were still in process, the Japanese bombed the fleet at Pearl Harbor. The air raid was a stunning surprise. So complete was the catastrophe that the American government took a year to reveal details leading up to it. Japanese deceit and duplicity succeeded beyond Tokyo's dreams. Deceit won the day. But deceit is not the American way.

Deceit and duplicity, however, were the tactics employed by Janet Reno and our Justice Department when the federal storm troopers broke down the door of an American home to seize a child at gunpoint while his Miami family was still on the telephone negotiating with officials in Washington.

"The negotiations were proceeding'' say a group of Miami civic leaders. "They had not broken down. People were acting in good faith. Progress was finally happening after the months of stalemate.''

Not so, says Gregory B. Craig, lawyer for Elian's father. "We were never as far as I can tell, never close to an agreement.'' Interesting, his use of the word "we'' -- who elected him?

How these conflicting "facts'' are resolved and become public will tell us a lot about why Elian Gonzalez was so treacherously ripped from the embrace of the fisherman who had rescued him.

In the meantime, it's hard to draw any conclusions but that we did it the way Fidel Castro would have done it. By force.

Here is a story of our government trampling on the Fourth Amendment, the one guaranteeing the refuge of the home, ripping a child from a family at gunpoint, seizing him from the secure arms of those who nurtured him after his mother died, severing him from the family who took seriously the mother's flight for the boy's freedom.

Asylum is more than a word.

Elian was saved by the dolphins who nudged his little legs back inside the inner tube as he bobbed among the sharks. The friendly mammals showed more delicate regard for the little boy than our government has.

America stands before the world with a stain of dishonor, seen in every country in the world over and over again, the photograph etched on front pages around the globe and played endlessly on television screens during the time most Americans and millions of people around the world regard as the holiest week of the year. What we hear from the White House is great relief that it didn't turn into Waco, where Janet Reno gave the order that incinerated the children she said she wanted to save from "child abuse.'' (She later admitted that there had been no child abuse.) You take your comparisons where you find them.

The administration applauds the strategy. Nobody was killed. The storm troopers succeeded in the sneak attack just as the Japanese succeeded at Pearl Harbor, the Arabs in the Yom Kippur War against Israel. Sneak in when the religious people least expect it. Score high points for cynicism.

Heavy-handedness joined with heartlessness begets shame. A child was terrorized and traumatized. America's government looks revealed as a collection of bullies. Janet Reno, never a mother herself, shows that she hasn't a clue to a child's feelings. (She gave Elian Play-Doh for the airplane ride to work out his anxiety. Ah, yes. Play-Doh would do it.)

The smiling photographs of Elian reunited with his father, stepmother and stepbrother cannot erase the memory of the storm troopers. Memory holds panic. It makes little difference to the boy whether the federal trooper's finger was on the trigger. The boy looking down the barrel didn't know that. Elian's eyes express the terror any one of us would have felt.

Memory holds dread. How secure can Elian feel at night, tucked in his bed, when he hears a noise in the night. His terror, after all, was real, not the stuff of a childish nightmare. Every mother who has ever cradled a frightened child in the middle of the night knows how difficult it is to shoo away the monsters. (Any mother could have told Janet Reno this.) How much more difficult for Elian?

Janet Reno insists she would do it exactly the same way again, with the same show of force, given the same circumstances. Who could believe such things could happen on American soil? Who could have expected anyone to defend such an outrage?


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04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate