The 1960s, it has been said, was the end of this nation’s innocence, with the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., our plunge into the abyss of the Vietnam War and race riots in Watts and Detroit and other places.
And yet it seems like we’re losing our innocence again. Maybe we’ve always been losing it. Certainly this nation lost its innocence on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor and the American fleet. We must have lost our innocence with the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression that left tens of thousands homeless and hungry. World War I could not have been an innocent time. And certainly the Civil War didn’t leave many innocents in its wake. Our history is dotted with these mileposts. We lost our innocence again on Sept. 11.
Those things were all sweeping national tragedies. To be sure, they were made up of thousands of individual human dramas, great personal sacrifices and loss. On a much smaller and perhaps more personal scale, we are again losing our innocence in this little corner of the world. It began in early June when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City’s upscale Federal Heights area. The tragic event made national news because the 14-year-old was taken from her own bed.
Kidnappings, of course, are not new. They have been recorded throughout history. But the Smart case sent shivers through Baby Boomers who had seemingly lost their innocence in the 1960s, because they now are parents. If your kids aren’t safe at home in bed, then where can they be safe in this country, thought to be the most secure, wealthiest, most enlightened place on the globe?
If the Smart case weren’t bad enough, now comes the story of the 11-year-old Midvale girl who was taken from her bedroom in a middle-class neighborhood, raped and then beaten in the face with a hammer. At this writing, she is in critical condition after nine hours of surgery, physicians stating that they’d never seen such extensive injuries.
Could that be your daughter? That’s the question that many parents are now asking themselves—the horror of the event overtaking our “That-Could-Never-Happen-To-Me” mindset. It is a sad and frightful commentary that provides little in the way of rational solutions. Elizabeth Smart’s five brothers and sisters all now sleep in the same room with their parents.
If there is a hopeful note, it is that neighbors are taking more care to look after each other. Authorities credit a Midvale neighbor who called police with saving the 11-year-old victim’s life.
Maybe there is a lesson here. But we’re going to have a hell of a time coming to terms with it.