Let's Not Tear Elian Apart Piece by Piece

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Hard cases make bad law, and the case of Elian Gonzalez has led everyone into rather nasty moral territory.

Media vultures hover. The wild dogs of Havana howl at the mainland, and the hyenas of Miami snarl back — all predators debating which has the right to eat the little boy alive.

After all, they are talking about a six-year-old who, just the other day, lost his mother at sea and floated around the Straits of Florida clinging all alone to an inner tube.

But Cuba and its mainland exiles have dragged Elian Gonzalez into the tribal warfare between Castro's tyranny-cum-poverty and America's liberty-with-abundance — between the dying Communist island and Disneyland.

From the first, zealots on both sides have lost sight of the actual boy.  They have compounded his trauma by turning him into a political object.  They behave like those feral women at Filene's Basement discount store in Boston, fighting so fiercely over a pretty dress that they would rather tear it in two than relinquish it.

Normally, when a child in America suffers a well publicized loss, an army of grief counselors swoops in to give him hugs and bromides and help him along toward "closure."  In Elian's case, however, the full American grief treatment would have opened the door to thinking about what the boy was actually feeling, and what he needed. No, no, that would be the wrong movie.

The Cuban exiles wanted a triumphal cute-boy's-escape-from-Castro-to-freedom scenario. Send the grief counselors home.  On to the mall! Meantime, Castro musters torchlit rent-a-mobs.

It's time for Cubans on either side of the straits to relax their grips and to start to behave with decency.  A child has a right to responsible adults; certain evils in the world (dumb wars, for example, like Vietnam) arise from grownups abdicating their common sense and turning their own children into surrogates and victims of their obsessions. To force a child to the sort of choice being imposed upon this six-year-old manifests an ideological narcissism that seems especially strange in a post-ideological world.

What if all the grownups were to agree that the father might be relocated, for a time, on neutral Caribbean territory — in the Dominican Republic, for example, or on Grenada or Barbados: someplace outside the vicious either/or of Cuba or Miami?

The Miami family, if they are so devoted to the child, could also relocate. The Cuban exile community could easily raise the money to finance such moves, which would reunite father and son, and would, above all, remove the predatory politics from what should be essentially a family story, not the latest chapter in a quarrel that began sometime before the Bay of Pigs.

Castro is going to die one of these days. The Coca-Cola trucks and the venture capital are lined up on the piers of Florida, waiting to take over the island.

Until that happens, let's have the decency to remove the child from the political line of fire.