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When America Lost Its Innocence--Maybe

Dior Book. Luftwaffe Book. Thompson Chain Reference Bible. Better Home and Garden Cookbooks. English Book. Marilyn Monroe Book. Betty Crocker Cookbooks. Rise and shine. Start the healing. Part of this, of course, is a sign of strength, the pragmatic, pick-yourself-up-and-dust-yourself-off fortitude now personified by the mayor of New York. But part of it stems from something else, a need to avoid national introspection, not take on historical weight as it were. Kammen, a professor of American history at Cornell University. Most societies repress bad memories -- that's a fairly normative thing -- and they commemorate and celebrate good memories.

But I do think there are reasons why short memory and collective amnesia are more pronounced and more problematic in our society. More pronounced, Professor Kammen said, due to the sheer number of newcomers with no shared history.

When exactly did America lose its innocence?

There is a darker current under the ahistoricism and determined innocence, the nation's desire to clean up the past, to distance itself from its self-inflicted scars. The country was founded on a trail of tears: American Indians killed, their land taken, and, of course, slavery, years of it. In the face of that, Americans still maintained a kind of willful innocence. It wasn't until the late 's, Professor Kammen points out, that the docents in Colonial Williamsburg even used the word slavery.

Until then, the African-Americans were referred to as ''servants,'' if at all.


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There were many crises to test that assumed innocence: the Civil War, in which Americans killed each other in record numbers; the disillusionment after World War I that America had not made the world safe for democracy; the crash of and ensuing Great Depression that revealed such economic vulnerability; the cold war and Bay of Pigs; and on into Vietnam and Watergate -- more painful losses of innocence for being self-inflicted.

There seems, at times, an unbearable dichotomy between American goodness and badness. We don't seem to have a vocabulary for it, the juggling act of national self-image, in no small part because within each citizen -- left, right or center, Yankee stock or new arrival -- there is a sense of the magic gift that is America. It is encoded in the national DNA -- the story of the founding, those eminent fathers with their wisdom -- and there is a sense that Americans cannot bear, in a collective and personal way, any transgressions against that magic, cannot bear that they might have tarnished it.

Never mind that some founding fathers had complicated and checkered lives. So there is retreat back into innocence, back into what Professor Kammen in his book, ''Mystic Chords of Memory,'' calls the ''heritage syndrome,'' a sort of Americana gymkhana of memorial building Washington is becoming choked with them , memorabilia collecting think ''The Antique Road Show'' and flag-waving nostalgia as in the recent World War II celebration.

If the country is going to go back, then let it be done in an uplifting, myth-reinforcing way. WHAT is lost in this posturing is any grasp of the tragic. In its place is the cycle of innocence lost, innocent regained.