The Corner

Politics & Policy

Greta, Samantha, and Others

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (left) and U.S. peace activist Samantha Smith (Carlo Allegri/Reuters/Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve never liked it when little kids are thrust into politics. I don’t like it when my side does it or the other side. At a pro-life rally, someone will place into a child’s hands a sign that says, I’m So Glad My Mommy Let Me Be Born. At a climate-change rally, a child’s sign will say, Don’t Let Me Burn Up!

I am exaggerating for ease of communication (but not exaggerating by much). As I think about it, I saw most of these signs at anti-nuclear rallies, long ago. Do we have these rallies anymore? I think the end of the Cold War killed them. Not even North Korea and Iran can revive them, apparently!

Greta Thunberg, the climate activist from Sweden, is not a young child. She is 16. Still, her views are not yet matured. And she is thrust into the international spotlight: hailed by one side, mocked and vilified by some on the other. She is too young for this.

“Exercise caution when opening overhead bins,” say flight attendants, “because items may have shifted in transit.” This is what I tell college audiences, when I get a chance: Your views may shift in transit. Mine did. It’s natural.

I think of another girl, who was also thrust into the international spotlight. This is when I was in college — speaking of that — during Reagan’s first term. Her name was Samantha Smith, and she was a beautiful child from Maine. Age ten, she wrote to Andropov, the new Soviet No. 1. He wrote her back. And Samantha had a propaganda tour of the Soviet Union.

It wasn’t her fault. Adults around her manipulated her, in my judgment, or used her, or allowed her to get in over her head.

Tragically — and this has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, it’s just a biographical fact — she died at 13, in a plane crash.

Cheers for Greta make me uncomfortable; jeers, even more so. The involvement of youngsters this way gives me the creeps.

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