A Matter of Degree The Holy American Empire, Elian, and the Cold Warriors

Now that the dust has settled, it is time to extract what was important about the controversy over the Cuban boy, Elian Gonzales. Like many simple people in simple situations, Elian became an "issue," allowing pundits and politicos to get on TV and put their two cent worth in on what "Big Questions" the "Elian situation" gives clarity to. Elian's residency should have been resolved a long time ago. A son, a father, their relatives, and the American public should have been spared the political fiasco that ensued. But the fiasco did happen and it is an issue. My "Big Question" is: Why is it so important which country Elian lives in? I'm not looking for the usual clichés and slogans about the land of the free and home of the brave. What really makes Cuba so very bad, and us so very good? What's the difference between us and them? Some of you are saying, "Isn't it obvious?" Well, it is not as obvious as it could be.

In 1989, Hell froze over, pigs flew, and the Berlin Wall collapsed under the weight of its own flawed ideology. That was over 10 years ago and still our politics has not adjusted to the new reality. The Cold War was waged in the wake of WWII; the American Republic defeated the forces of fascism only to give rise to a totalitarian regime rooted in a despicable global ideology bent on world domination (though things were complicated by our alliance with that regime against fascism). The Cold War was a glorious time for the American State. It was US vs. THEM. We needed every weapon at our disposal, including a huge expansive standing army to fight an advancing Soviet empire. And then it was over. The enemy raised a white flag and went home but some Cold Warriors in this country refused to give up the fight. The international right and the globalist left created a new "centrist" foreign policy to keep the empire going.

From the end of WWII until 1989, we constructed an American Empire. We didn u2018t change any maps but we spread our influence militarily, economically, and intellectually in the name of battling Communism. We built a huge military-industrial complex, a defense bureaucracy, the NSA, the CIA. We extended our spheres of influence through the UN, World Bank, and IMF, to any and all global institutions that were not communist. Cuba's dictator survived the collapse of communism and so did the American Empire. Neither one is prepared to go quietly.

Ex-Cold Warriors ecstatically embraced the Elian issue because it brought back the days of clarity. They could again sound the alarms proclaiming that Castro is "commie" and Elian should not have to live under such a regime. No one wishes the yoke of tyranny on anyone, but people have to live out their own destiny. Many people bear the burden of living in an oppressive state and no matter how big we make our empire we cannot save them all. The Soviets had a global ideology. They wished to strip peoples and nations of their self-determination; we could justify our empire as a necessity to defeat theirs. That time is over. Castro is just a dictator now, identical to tyrannical governments and leaders that exist all over the world. America should not try to save every little boy, just as it should not try to save every little nation in strife. It should save it itself from its own empire because while we constructed an empire, tyranny came to America.

"Harsh Realm," an outstanding but short-lived television series, was about a virtual reality world that was ruled by a totalitarian dictator. In the game, there were individuals plugged in from the "real world" and virtual characters who existed only in the game. One of the virtual characters had dreams of entering the real world. The show's protagonist, Tom Hobbes, asked one of these dreamers why he wanted to go to the "real world." The dreamer responded that in the real world, "Nobody shoots at you and tells you how to live." The dreamer asks Hobbes if this is true. Hobbes could only pause and say, "I hope so.." I think of that when I hear the Cubans and their Cold Warrior acolytes say how bad Castro's totalitarian regime is and that Elian belongs in free America.

The America of which they speak of seems very much like the stories of the "real world" in "Harsh Realm." It is a mythological America that, while rooted in truth, has more in common with movies and history books than any modern reality. As Patricia Neil said, "The only difference between [Totalitarian] countries and this is we do not have huge pictures of the Dictator all over the place." Hitler had the fearsome SS. Is our federal law enforcement that much different? The forces arrayed at Waco and Ruby Ridge were not exactly your friendly neighborhood "peace officers." Those weren't "cops" that entered that house to extract Elian; those were troops. You can put whatever acronym you want to over their Kevlar, but those were soldiers who conducted that home invasion in Miami.

Well, at least America doesn't have a dictator you say. Are you positive about that? Who declared war on South Vietnam, Iraq, and Serbia? I'll give you a hint; it wasn't Congress. The presidency was supposed to be a ceremonial administrative office; it wasn't supposed to be an elected king. The executive branch was never supposed to declare war, preside over bloated bureaucracies with police powers, and issue executive orders that act as law. George Washington, the republic's first president, warned us of the danger of "foreign entanglements." But instead of heeding his advice we created an empire and an empire needs an emperor.

Castro's regime sticks a gun in your face and tells you how to live. Our government is no stranger to the firearm, but even when it spares the gun it is no less ruthless in exerting its influence over our lives and property. Our government is constantly going on crusades to save us from ourselves. Over the past couple years the anti-smoking movement became a government mission. The tax code is designed to control our lives. The tax police create incentives for activities and corporations they "like" and penalties for those entities and activities they frown upon. The whole principle behind Social Security is the government's belief that people are stupid. They take money from people by force to save for their retirement. Tell me again why I can't do that myself? Our "constitutional republic" is so intimately involved in our private affairs it feels compelled to regulate the amount of water in the toilet tank.

None of this is explicitly totalitarian, but it isn't exactly freedom either. The debate over Elian is not about whether the boy lives under totalitarianism or freedom. The choice is whether Elian lives under total control by the state, or lives under a state that takes only half of your property and "suggests" how you should live your life. It is a matter of degree.

Elian is in all likelihood going back to Cuba. Elian is gone, and so is the Cold War. This all leads to the question: What's the difference between us and them? The answer is not enough. America is not Utopia. The Cold War led to us doing many things we might not have normally done. We picked up some bad habits and we need to stop them before they rise to the level of addiction. We are either a nation whose purpose is to save its people, or we are a nation whose purpose is to provide people with the freedom to save themselves.

In the movie Donnie Brasco, "Donnie," when confronted by his wife about his erratic behavior at the end of years of undercover work to bring down the Mafia, physically strikes her. His wife glares at him and says, "You are becoming like them; you know that?" After a brief diatribe, Donnie responds, "I'm not becoming like them. I am them." When the subject of America and the Cold War arises, I always think of that scene.

A. C. Kleinheider writes from Nashville, Tennessee.