American Paradise Lost

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I’m 75 years old now and can identify completely with an old man watching in despair as his once great nation crumbles down around him. It’s happening faster and faster to us every day. The diaries of people in nations like Nazi Germany are the precedents for those of us writing for private audiences about the awful truths about America today.

I was born in Paradise and have lived through a very long, slow motion Paradise Lost and the birth of Dystopian America.

I was born in Miami, Florida, Jan. 14, 1937. That was the nadir of Depression 1, but in Miami we lived largely outdoors in the shade of mango and avocado and many other trees, with the balmy Gulf breezes blowing gently around us to soothe us. There was fruit growing in the fields and yards, especially sweet, pink-yellow guavas which I loved and sumptuous Hayden mangoes with their entrancing bouquet and Caribbean papayas and avocados. The air was pure and sweetly scented. We could catch and eat delicious ocean fish in Biscayne Bay, which was sparkling clear. We had no “freeways” or traffic jams.

We had Gulf air conditioning in our small homes made of wonderfully strong, slatted Key pine, with overhanging shutters and awnings to block the mid day sun while letting the Gulf breezes flow through the screens around us. We were at peace with the world with lovely music on the radio, such as my mother and father’s song — “As Time Goes By” — and no shrill war reports about U.S. forces invading the Middle East, Asia, or anywhere else. We did not hear daily reports of police shootouts with narco lords and gangs. We ate delicious vegetables and fruits out of the fields and yards without getting cancers from toxic pesticides. I was born in a very small hospital, Jackson Memorial, with Spanish tiles on the roof, and even when I was about four and had to spend a night there, it was tiny and friendly with screens on the windows and I left through one of those windows when my grandfather came to get me, without any doctor’s permission. My first school was a very small and lovely school where every day was a delight without metal detectors. And the teachers were gentle and loving, almost like our mothers at home, and did not go out on strike or march in gay parades or any others.

Of course, if you write that today in a children’s Little Golden Book on “I Was Born In Paradise,” everyone would laugh at you as if you were insane and telling them a crazy, utopian fairy tale.

But it was all true, just as I write about it now. I even had close touch with my ancient relatives, including Mama Knox who visited us in late 1942 from the Old South, She was 102 years old and was born in the Old South in 1840 when America was still young and hopeful. We still had ancient, strong roots that helped give meaning to our happy lives amid the conflicts and worries of everyday life common to all human societies.

My Paradise all began to crumble away with the sudden arrival of WWII. I don’t remember the beginning of the far away war, but it soon led my father to march off into the Army and disappear across the Pacific for the next several years. My mother, who had so lovingly taught me all the basics of life and reading and writing and numbers, apparently ran off to hitchhike in the West and I and my brother were put in a foster home that was like a prison for a year or two.

As the end of the war drew near, my mother returned, got us out of prison and we lived with her on South Beach just across the Bay from Miami. It was a cauldron of military training from which we could not escape day or night. It was exciting but scary. Almost every day the soldiers marched in long columns down the ocean boulevard past “The Circus Bar” right on the beach where my mother was a friendly bar maid. Many of them seemed to be her boy friends and sang a popular serenade to her as they marched by, substituting her name in “Wait ’til the sun shines, Marion, and the clouds go drifting by.” Finally, the glorious day of Victory came and the soldiers disappeared and my father came home. But he and my mother were not the same and soon divorced. My Paradise had become my Paradise Lost.

America would never be the same again. We lost our Paradise in a mad rush to victories in wars around the world and “security” in atomic and hydrogen bombs and in a paroxysm of modernity which swept away much of our ancient cultural wisdom and family and social foundations. We lost our American Paradise and gave birth to Dystopian America which would soon lead to MAD [Mutual Assured Destruction].

Jack D. Douglas [send him mail] is a retired professor of sociology from the University of California at San Diego. He has published widely on all major aspects of human beings, most notably The Myth of the Welfare State.

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