Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has become the face of the climate wars, reminds me of another child I saw dominate international debate: Elian Gonzalez.

Years ago, I watched as that little boy got sucked into political posturing. On one side, which initially included me, were the people who thought this child who had almost drowned in a desperate attempt to come to America should be reunited with his father, a Castro loyalist. On the other side, to which I ultimately gravitated, there were those who wanted this child to live in freedom.

As we all know, Gonzalez was sent back to his home country, and he is still well-known today. He also joined the Communist Party as a teenager. It’s hard to say how that would look in the eyes of his mother, who gave her life so he could escape the regime he now supports.

Christine Flowers mug


Regardless of where you thought Gonzalez should have ended up, it’s clear he was used by forces greater than himself. The 5-year-old became hostage to political interests that had stewed for generations. Those who said they cared for his welfare might have even been sincere. But there’s no question they were also motivated by more selfish, diametrically opposed purposes: to duel over communism. Elian Gonzalez was not the first child to be used by adults, and he won’t be the last.

In fact, we now we have another famous child whose value rests in her ability to be manipulated: Greta Thunberg. Over the past year, she has captivated the attention of the pope, diplomats and even Twitter-crazy presidents. On Sept. 23, Thunberg addressed the United Nations where she launched an angry attack against the delegates: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

President Trump was not impressed, and observed, tongue in tweet: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.”

Others were not quite as coy, referring to Thunberg’s Asperger’s diagnosis as a “mental illness” and mocking her passion as misplaced. On the other hand, she’s being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Like Gonzalez, Thunberg is being used by people with an agenda — also like the children of Parkland, Fla., who have allowed themselves to become go-to spokespersons for gun control. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly support any methods to reduce the bloodshed of mass shootings. I was also very vocal in my desire to keep Gonzalez in a democratic society, after initially sympathizing with his father. We cannot divorce politics from our personal emotions — they are as intertwined as the double helix of our DNA.

But I am ashamed to see how often we force children to the front lines in these culture wars, using them as human shields — analogous to the way terrorists use babies to absorb and deflect injuries intended for them alone. You might be outraged that I would put gun-control activists, anti-communists, or climate activists in the same sentence as terrorists, but the principle of using children to make our points is an old and effective one, regardless of the underlying agenda.

Adults may think that by putting children front and center, they are either shaming their opponents into silence, or underlining the urgency of their crusades by exposing how grown-ups are ruining the future for the next generation. Greta Thunberg said as much when she accused the UN delegates of stealing “my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” It’s hard to look at a child and not feel that there are some burdens they should be spared.

Another child who became the face of a movement almost lost her life, education activist Malala Yousafzai. While I praise her engagement and honor her courage, I have come to the conclusion that she, too, is a victim of adult crusades. Society should fight battles for our children, not on their backs. It is not the adults at the UN who stole Greta Thunberg’s childhood. It’s all of us.

Be the first to know - Sign up for News Alerts

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at cflowers1961@gmail.com.


(7) comments


Taking advantage of this child because of her asperges’s obsession with climate change is down right cruel. I wonder how much interest would be shown should she have had an interest in supporting Trump. This is a show of just how bad these goofballs are.


Are you sure she isn't suffering from asprin obsession of climate change, new2? Perhaps it is asparagus obsession? Just trying to clarify. I don't want to be cruel to you. By the way, I don't support or listen to Swedes or people of any other foreign citizenship making political recommendations to American voters. Especially teenagers. Trump may need that sort of help, though. At least he seems to think he does.


If I were Ms Flower's copy editor, I would alter her first sentence to "Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has become the face the right-wing climate change deniers want to put on the climate wars . . . "

The right wing wants to make this 16 year old out to be the spokesperson for all those who want to see the world move to eliminate use of fossil fuels as quickly and completely as possible. She is not. She is a kid expressing what she thinks is the feeling of her generation vis a vis climate change. It goes no further or deeper than that, but any sane person looking at the facts can make up their own mind about the dangers we face with fossil fuel carbon emissions. We don't need Greta Thunberg to convince us of that. She may be parroting what grown ups have revealed to her, but it is the truth, so certainly adding her voice to the argument is not unfair or untoward.


Today Elian Gonzalez would be put in a cage and never allowed to be reunited with any parent.


I think she has this all wrong, but I am sick of debating these fools.


Just to clarify the she I refer to is the author of this column not Greta Thunberg.

The Mouse of Death

[censored]It would behoove the Benedict Donald to stop the global warming which is a Communist hoax so the Moscow Mitch and the Kremlin in the Moscow. We are indeed bemezzled by the kids who say that Hothouse Earth is a problem because all us old people will not be alive to see Miami under the sea and Dallas with 140 degrees with the heat index at 170 degrees so "Ha Ha" we old people play funny joke on the young people and the young people will get cooked and steamed and fried when the Japanese hoax is proved by the Climatologist Donald who works for the Kremlin in the Moscow.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.