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Meditations: “The Death of American Innocence

Innocence does not die at once, in that first raptured thrust.
It dies in each small seduction, in every subsequent acquiescence.
American innocence did not die in that bright flashing terrorist act,
it dwindled breath by breath, in great and tiny acts of terror,

It died with every smallpox blanket sold to an Indian village,
with every arrogantly greed-wrested acre,
with every language and culture that disappeared,
it died on the Trail of Tears.

It died with every African shackled and torn from homeland, family,
with every auction block sale of humanity,
with every black woman raped by a white slave owner,
it died in the Middle Passage.

It died with every civil rights activist beaten or killed,
with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers
it died in Montgomery and Selma and Little Rock.

It died with Roosevelt's refusal to accept Jews fleeing the Nazis,
it died with every black man sent first to the front lines
it died with two atomic weapons dropped upon Japan,
170,000 lives lost in two great flashing instants.

It dies with every chemical weapon developed,
with every nuclear test, wherever it happens,
with every bomb or jail built instead of a school.

It dies with every KKK rally and every single lynching,
with every man searched by police because he's black,
with every black man beaten by white officers,
with every child who witnesses or perpetuates gang warfare,
it dies with every racist or sexist or homophobic or anti-Semitic joke.

It dies with every bombed synagogue, mosque, temple,
with every black church burned,
with every abortion clinic bombed,
with every hate-filled word or deed.

It dies with every sweatshop built on a poorer country's soil,
with every product bought, made by a political prisoner,
with every homeless person,
with every starving despairing child.

Oh, innocence never dies at once, only delusion does.


Written September 15, 2001.

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

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Last updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.

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