The Meaning of Elian


With little fanfare or surprise, the media reported last week that Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for The Photo. When it no longer mattered, The Photo finally made the front page of the New York Times. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

By an unexpected twist of fate, prescience or plain old preparation, the veteran photographer was inside the modest Little Havana home of Elian Gonzalez’s Miami relatives in the pre-dawn hours of April 22, 2000. Diaz had seconds to get ready when the Clinton Justice Department (the quintessential oxymoron) sent 150 federal agents carrying enough firepower to annihilate Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network to seize a six-year-old child at gunpoint.

The assault lasted 158 seconds. The media manipulation continues to this day.

The Photo’s significance cannot be underestimated. If The Photo did not exist, the truth of what happened at 2319 NW Second Street, Miami on April 22, 2000 would have been buried under a farrago of clever lies, weasel words, hairsplitting and pettifoggery from Clinton’s Ministry of Propaganda.

If The Photo did not exist, Al Gore would be President today.

The Photo tells only a tiny part of the story. Its menacing image encapsulates the 158-second nightmare that must have seemed an eternity to the people inside the house. Yet no single photograph can supply meaning and context to an event. The Photo does not tell us why an Administration that canceled military strikes against Iraq during Ramadan decided to launch a military assault against unarmed, law-abiding American citizens on Holy Saturday. It does not show how the agents terrorized unarmed women and children and deliberately smashed religious statues in the home.

The Photo does not reveal the depths of deceit of a president who assured Senator Bob Graham and Miami leaders that no action would be taken at night or during Easter weekend. It does not explain that the unprecedented and traumatizing assault was completely unnecessary. A few days earlier, the 11th Circuit had turned down the Administration’s request for a judicial order transferring custody. The Court inadvertently failed to direct the government not to launch another Waco assault and the Clinton administration treated that omission as an open invitation.

Throughout the wee hours of April 22nd, the Miami relatives had been negotiating in good faith to transfer custody to Elian’s Cuban father. Moments before the assault, which had been finalized ten days in advance, the relatives unexpectedly agreed to Janet Reno’s terms. At that point, $800/hour shyster Greg Craig — acting attorney for Juan Gonzalez, Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro, Archer Daniels Midland and the National Council of Churches — made new demands and gave impossible deadlines. Thus, an administration that by recklessness or design incinerated over 80 Branch Davidians, including 19 children, once again turned to deadly force against those who defied its will.

For those with eyes to see and hearts to feel, The Photo tells a remarkable story indeed. It is the timeless tale of courage and sacrifice by captive peoples everywhere yearning to be free. The terrified child clutching the fisherman who rescued him recalls the Thanksgiving Day miracle of Elian’s deliverance and the happy ending that should have been. It reminds us of the terrible price paid by his mother Elisabet Brotons and the other balseros to secure the precious freedoms we take for granted.

But The Photo tells another story — not about Elian, but about us — and it is not a pretty picture. It reveals the dark depths to which a nation that once stood as a beacon of hope to captive peoples everywhere has sunk. When a Million Marching Morons cheer a corrupt Administration’s assault on the Constitution and revel in the totalitarian threat The Photo depicts, then it is clear we have jettisoned whatever is left of our moral compass. For telling us that, The Photo certainly warrants a Pulitzer Prize.

In his preface to The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn recalls an article in a Soviet scientific journal about an ancient fish discovered intact in the Siberian ice. This remarkable find — a fish millions of years old, preserved intact in a frozen stream — was in such good condition, the article reported, that it was eaten on the spot by the men who discovered it. What the scientific journal did not mention, but Solzhenitsyn and millions of others understood, was that the fish was found by prisoners of the gulag archipelago. The prisoners consumed the priceless artifact — not out of scientific incuriosity — but because they were literally starving.

A minor incident in the annals of Communism. Yet it spoke volumes to Solzhenitsyn about an inhumane system that leads men to devour a tiny million-year-old fossil fish. One can almost see the bleak, hopeless men discovering the perfectly preserved fish in the ice, recognizing what it was, and then greedily devouring it. In a matter of seconds, a scientific discovery of great importance was lost forever.

Solzhenitsyn exposed the ugly truth about Communism, the gulags, the show trials, the arbitrary arrests, the mass murders, the forced starvation and liquidation of entire classes of citizens and ethnic populations. He gave us the dates, names and places of every crime he witnessed committed in its name, and his evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable. Armando Valladares, Cuban poet and Human Rights Activist, similarly testified to a litany of crimes and murders he witnessed while spending 22 years rotting in the Cuban political prison system for the crime of criticizing Castro.

The truth these brave men told has been confirmed and validated in chilling, mind-numbing detail by countless thousands of witnesses. From the testimony of prisoners of the Chinese Laogai prison camps to the survivors of the long march to the Cambodian killing fields to the Vietnamese boat people and the balseros fleeing Castro’s island prison. They may have gotten a few details mixed up, and many of Communism’s crimes against victims who suffered and died despairing and alone have gone unrecorded. But the essential truth of the message is clear and irrefutable. Yet like Kafka’s messenger who carries a message of great importance that is ignored and sneered at by those it was intended to help, the invaluable lessons of the 20th Century — lessons literally paid for with an ocean of blood — are forgotten or ignored.

In the great scheme of things, Elian’s tale may not even warrant a footnote to the final chapter of the definitive chronicle of the great struggle with Communism that defined the 20th Century, and whose epilogue is yet unwritten. From the perspective of the historian or the political scientist, Elian’s fate is one of those human-interest dramas that capture the public imagination for a moment, but without lasting significance. By that measure, the life and death of Anne Frank was insignificant in the context of a Holocaust that claimed 6,000,000 lives. Yet this little girl’s voice continues to speak long after her death, because she tells us something vital that the history books and the mind-numbing statistics miss.

So too with Elian. The Photo of the masked INS agent aiming a Heckler and Koch MP5 at a terrified little boy in the arms of the fisherman hiding in a closet is seared forever in my memory. I will never forget where I was and what I felt when I watched that image and video footage of the raid over and over in stunned disbelief and rage amid the cacophony of Clinton and Reno’s obscene colossal lies: ( “The gun was never pointed at the boy.” “The finger was never on the trigger.” “The relatives kept moving the goalposts.” “We gave him Play-Do and he calmed down right away.” “The Rule of Law was upheld.” )

The Photo, like Solzhenitsyn’s fossil fish, is a mirror of who we are, what we have lost and what we think America stands for at the brink of a new millennium. Have we become mindless cheerleaders for a new totalitarian order that terrorizes and enslaves even the smallest and most helpless of us? Do we remember the words, but not the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Do we blithely dismiss the growing threat to our fragile freedoms and accept the legitimacy of arbitrary authority brandishing sub-machine guns? Or do we stand, with the boy and the fisherman, on the side of freedom?

Praise God for Elian’s deliverance and let Freedom ring!

Copyright April 2001


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