THE END OF INNOCENCE NUMBED BY BRUTALITY; BOMBING JUST ONE MORE STEP ON U.S.' VIOLENT ROAD

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This changes nothing.

Not the cold and twisted steel, so gruesomely protruding from the blown-out Oklahoma City federal building. Not the cold and twisted bodies, some pulled from the rubble, some yet entombed. Not the cold and twisted sociopaths who murdered innocents for God knows what reason.

Nothing has fundamentally changed because nothing is fundamentally new. It is merely more.

Yes, of course, the carnage is horrifying. It is infuriating. It is despicable, the grotesque harvest of the seed of violence, of a craven act that will live in infamy, of brutality that is very nearly unthinkable. But the point is, such brutality is not entirely unthinkable. The point is, it is tragically thinkable, because it was tragically predictable, because it was ultimately incremental.

Already we are being told that U.S. society, in the aftermath of Oklahoma City, has lost its innocence. Pray, what innocence would that be? About violence? About mass murder? About random slaughter? If such is the case, then any day Madonna could lose her innocence, because deflowering has to presume inexperience.

If we have somehow been jolted by this crime out of an oblivious slumber, altering the culture forever, what have we failed to be awakened by for 50-some years? What have we forgotten since Pearl Harbor, since Klan lynchings, since Kitty Genovese was murdered in front of a hundred neighbors, peering through the slats of their venetian blinds? Have we ceased to be affected by the John F. Kennedy assassination, by the Martin Luther King assassination, by the Robert Kennedy assassination, by the George Wallace and Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan attempted assassinations?

Have we not been changed already by Richard Speck, Charles Whitman, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Colin Ferguson? If we are now fearful of random terror in a public office building, were we not made fearful by random terror in a San Ysidro McDonald's, in a Texas Luby's, in a dozen county courthouses, on a Central Park jogging path and at the World Trade Center? Has the national psyche not already been bruised by the facts of life and gunfire death in our cities, in our suburbs and-speaking of federal buildings-in our post offices, if memory serves, in Oklahoma?

The fact is this is a society of ever-escalating violence, personal and impersonal, and we grow ever more accustomed to living with it. Wednesday's bombing was no watershed; it was the next point on the continuum. Maybe this point, this moment will resonate and take root in the collective consciousness, like Dec. 7, 1941, and Nov. 22, 1963. Probably, though, it will not, because for all the horror and grisly drama, this attack was not really a surprise. It was the realization of grim inevitability.

The polls are already out. We are more worried, the numbers say. We are more fearful for our own personal vulnerability. We are more prepared to increase government surveillance. We are skittish, and edgy, and angry and fed up. Poll again in six months. The numbers will change, because what we really are is inured.

Some commentators are saying Oklahoma City will be the last straw, that as a nation we are so rattled and disgusted and offended to the core that we are prepared at long last to fight back, damn the ramifications.

They are saying that we will go so far as to surrender some civil liberties in exchange for a regained sense of security and peace of mind.

It will never happen. America is very good at declaring such wars-on poverty, on drugs, on crime-but, beyond getting out the checkbook, we are very bad at fighting them. We are good at identifying enemies of society, but we brook no inconvenience or personal sacrifice in vanquishing them.

Over the next few weeks and months, of course, we will all be looking nervously over our shoulders. Thus will we temporarily countenance extra security in various public places and resolutely put up with annoying delays and indignities that are the price of vigilance. Then, because such vigilance is exhausting, we will take a deep breath and let our guard down yet again. Then, soon enough, will come the next outrage.

And, now that fertilizer and fuel oil is the most famous recipe in the world, God protect us from whatever it may be. But that has nothing to do with the end of innocence. It is the status quo. For decades this society has dealt with violence principally by hoping and praying that what we know will happen to somebody will not happen to us specifically.

Last night, barely a day after the Oklahoma City bombing, 23,612 sitting ducks filled Chicago's United Center. To watch a basketball game. In the heartland. Because, even as bodies lay rotting in the Oklahoma City debris, nothing has changed.

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