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Vietnam: The loss of American innocence?
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They were expressed in the fear of Asbury Park , which was black; in the resentment of the towns of Marlboro and Deal, which were known as Jewish; in the way Hispanics seemed exotic. Much of the Jersey Shore was segregated as if it were still the s, and so prejudice was expressed through fear of anything outside Wall, anything outside the tiny white world in which we lived.

If there was something that saved us from being outwardly racist, it was that in small towns such as Wall, especially for girls, it was important to be nice , or good — this pressure tempered tendencies toward overt cruelty when we were young. I was lucky that I had a mother who nourished my early-onset book addiction, an older brother with mysteriously acquired progressive politics, and a father who spent his evenings studying obscure golf antiques, lost in the pleasures of the past.

But as a teenager, I knew that the only thing that could rescue me from the Wall of fear was a good college. I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania. The lack of interest in the wider world that I had known in Wall found another expression there, although at Penn the children were wealthy, highly educated and apolitical. Donald Trump Jr was there then, too. In the late s, everyone at Penn wanted to be an investment banker, and many would go on to help bring down the world economy a decade later. But they were more educated than I was; in American literature class, they had even heard of William Faulkner.

We were hurt, and surprised; white trash was something we said about other people at the Jersey Shore. My boyfriend from Wall accused me of going to Penn solely to find a boyfriend who drove a Ferrari, and the boys at Penn made fun of the Camaros we drove in high school. In the end, I chose to pursue the new life Penn offered me. The kids I met had parents who were doctors or academics; many of them had already even been to Europe!

Penn, for all its superficiality, felt one step closer to a larger world. Still, I cannot remember any of us being conscious of foreign events during my four years of college. US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed. I never thought about Afghanistan. What country was in Wag the Dog?

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These ideas were the ambient noise, the elevator music of my most formative years. I came across a line in a book in which a historian argued that, long ago, during the slavery era, black people and white people had defined their identities in opposition to each other. The revelation to me was not that black people had conceived of their identities in response to ours, but that our white identities had been composed in conscious objection to theirs.

Even now, I can remember that shiver of recognition that only comes when you learn something that expands, just a tiny bit, your sense of reality. What made me angry was that this revelation was something about who I was. How much more did I not know about myself? It was because of this text that I picked up the books of James Baldwin , who gave me the sense of meeting someone who knew me better, and with a far more sophisticated critical arsenal than I had myself.

There was this line:. But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life. All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.

White Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any colour, to be found in the world today. In my reaction I justified his accusation. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history — the history of white Americans — had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk. Young white Americans of course go through pain, insecurity and heartache.

But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed that because of their ignorance and misused power, they might be the losers within a greater moral universe. I n , after I had worked for six years as a journalist in New York, I won a writing fellowship that would send me to Turkey for two years. I had applied for it on a whim.

FBI's Innocence Lost initiative targets child sex traffickers

No part of me expected to win the thing. Even as my friends wished me congratulations, I detected a look of concern on their faces, as if I was crazy to leave all this, as if 29 was a little too late to be finding myself.

How America lost her innocence: a history of the sexual revolution - Steve Gallagher - Google книги

I had never even been to Turkey before. I told everyone that I chose Turkey because I wanted to learn about the Islamic world. The secret reason I wanted to go was that Baldwin had lived in Istanbul in the s, on and off, for almost a decade. I had seen a documentary about Baldwin that said he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York.

When I heard that, it made so little sense to me, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, that a space opened in the universe. I took a chance that Istanbul might be the place where the secret workings of history would be revealed. In Turkey and elsewhere, in fact, I would feel an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional discomfort, while trying to grasp a reality of which I had no historical or cultural understanding. I would go, as a journalist, to write a story about Turkey or Greece or Egypt or Afghanistan, and inevitably someone would tell me some part of our shared history — theirs with America — of which I knew nothing.

No matter how much I believed that no American was well-equipped for nation-building, I thought I could see good intentions on the part of the Americans in Afghanistan. I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.

American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself?

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This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.

I n my first few months in Istanbul, I lived a formless kind of existence, days dissolving into the nights. I had no office to go to, no job to keep, and I was 30 years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory, idle phase of late-late youth. Starting all over again in a foreign country — making friends, learning a new language, trying to find your way through a city — meant almost certainly choosing the latter. I spent many nights out until the wee hours — such as the evening I drank beer with a young Turkish man named Emre, who had attended college with a friend of mine from the US.

A friend had told me that Emre was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met.

The ungrateful refugee: ‘We have no debt to repay’

Then, three beers in, Emre mentioned that the US had planned the September 11 attacks. I had heard this before. Conspiracy theories were common in Turkey; for example, when the military claimed that the PKK, the Kurdish militant group , had attacked a police station, some Turks believed the military itself had done it; they believed it even in cases where Turkish civilians had died. In other words, the idea was that rightwing forces, such as the military, bombed neutral targets, or even rightwing targets, so they could then blame it on the leftwing groups, such as the PKK.

He laughed. I ignored him. He smiled.

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And now this war? A second bomb exploded out of a garbage bin nearby after 10pm, killing 17 people and injuring No one knew who did it. All that week, Turks debated: was it al-Qaida? The PKK? Or maybe: the deep state? The deep state — a system of mafia-like paramilitary organisations operating outside of the law, sometimes at the behest of the official military — was a whole other story. He was slow to embrace a civil-rights bill. He was a hardheaded cold-warrior who confronted the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba plus sent advisors to Vietnam and badly needed weapons to Israel.

There was a sense that Americans had been too tolerant of violence and bigotry in their midst. What have we come to? Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Friends and loyalists soon portrayed President Kennedy as a liberal hero who had he lived might have led the nation into a utopian era of peace and understanding.

Aftermath: Innocence Lost; A Tragedy for an Optimistic Land

Though in life a pragmatist and a moderate, Kennedy was transformed in death into a liberal idealist and the model of a liberal statesman. Jackie Kennedy contributed to this portrayal by identifying their White House with the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. Numerous books published in the months after the assassination elucidated these themes. Within a few years the nation would be divided by riots in the cities, protests on college campuses against the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the rise of a counterculture that rejected everything about American life that most had accepted without question just a few years before.

By , the optimistic politics of John F. The Kennedy assassination was the first occasion in which Americans blamed themselves for an event that was not in their fault. Critics from the New Left began to describe the United States as an out-of-control colossus, a world power that despoiled the environment and oppressed poor people abroad and minorities at home. There was a bitter irony in all this because the spirit of national self-condemnation turned loose by the assassination was something that President Kennedy never would have countenanced. Five decades later, the Kennedy assassination has almost receded into history.

Yet it is still an event that gnaws at the American soul as the occasion by which the nation lost its innocence. James Piereson is president of the William E. Read Next. This story has been shared , times. This story has been shared 87, times. This story has been shared 47, times. View author archive Get author RSS feed.