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by William H. Benson

March 2, 2000

     The newborn are helpless, innocent, without the physical, emotional, or psychological arsenal needed to play the adult games;  so, humankind concluded ages ago that protecting the child is of crucial importance.  In mankind’s slow crawl into the flickering light of civilization, this moral attitude was a great step forward away from infanticide–the abandonment and outright killing of children.  This abominable practice was sometimes done for religious reasons–the gods demand the unblemished, but more often, it was done to escape the burden of rearing offspring.  Motherhood demands much.

     After a hundred centuries and a billion minds have thought on this issue, Western Civilization wisely came down on the side of the child.  We build and support schools.  The government constructs programs to assist and protect the child.  The society encourages homes and parenting.  Charles Dickens wrote, “Every baby born into the world is a finer one than the last.”  Children are our lives extended afar, into the next centuries.  The pro-child arguments are obvious.

     And yet, last week, the columnist Mona Charens pointed out a disturbing trend that is occurring across the nation–mothers are abandoning their newborns.  This amoral behavior drags us all back to a previous and darker age, to a time before the wise wrote the moral codes.  The level-headed frequently ask, “How could any mother do such a thing?”  The answer is the same as it has been for millennium–the burdens of motherhood are crushing.

     Women consume themselves in caring for children, and the men in providing for the wife and children back at home.  When the youngest child is finally reared, the parents are worn out, with little space remaining for an individual life at the end as at the beginning.  But if there is no man in the equation, (as is all too often the case today), the entire weight falls upon the mother.  She is overwhelmed, hopeless.  Both the “civilized” of today, and the “savage” of yesteryear find a similar motivation to just walk away.

     Recently, I read the new biography on Charles Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg, and without a doubt, the saddest and most heart-wrenching chapter is about the kidnapping of 22-month-old Charles Jr.  On the evening of March 1, 1932 he was snatched from his crib in the family’s home while his parents were at dinner.  Investigators found muddy footprints in the nursery, a homemade ladder tossed aside, and a note pinned to the windowsill demanding $50,000.  A massive hunt for the child and the perpetrator ensued.

     Then, on May 12, the child’s body was found in the woods, less than five miles from the Lindbergh’s home near Princeton, New Jersey.  The theory evolved that the kidnapper broke a rung on the crudely built ladder when crawling out and then dropped the child.  If so, it was a diabolical crime and a very badly executed one at that.

     On April 3, 1936 a German immigrant named Bruno Hauptman, was executed for the crime.  Despite Hauptman’s protestations of innocence, the evidence against him was overpowering, and it was concluded that he had broken the law, the moral code of the nation.

     Anatole France said, “Morality is sum of the prejudices of a community.”  Wisdom is found in that moral code, and the unanimity with which it is practiced is as important as the contents of that code.  We must not conclude that morals are worthless because they differ according to time and place, but instead, we are warranted to decide that morals are indispensable for our society’s well-being.  That which happens to the child happens to the nation.


     Children–girls and boys, how do we protect them?  How do we shield them from disease, from broken bones and bodies, from the horrific traffic accidents that plague our nation, or, even worse, from the gruesome ravages of the Bruno Hauptman’s of the world or of ill-fated parents?  Do we just do the best we can?  Yes, but both wisdom and the children cry out for a better answer.