Breaking Glass

Return to Short Creek

Recently, the state of Texas undertook a police action that amply demonstrates the radical transformation of public attitudes to family, children, and the role of the state over the past half-century.  In April 2008, Texas authorities staged mass raids on a polygamist compound near San Angelo, in which they took custody of several hundred children.  This event bears close comparison to a similar assault that took place back in 1953, at Short Creek, Arizona, although public response to the two actions was utterly different.  In 1953, the American public was appalled at images of police and social workers wrenching apart loving (if unconventional) families, causing children to vanish into the state gulag of orphanages and foster homes.  Such actions, it seemed, were the distinguishing mark of Soviet and totalitarian regimes, and they had no place in a democratic nation.  After some months, popular outrage forced Arizona to release almost all the polygamist captives and to leave Short Creek alone to pursue its own destiny.  In 2008, however, no such public fury has greeted a much larger seizure of children, although the process has involved even more egregious violations of legality and common sense.  Today, apparently, we think of such interventions as a normal and necessary part of what the modern state is supposed to do.

Although the mainstream Mormon church officially renounced polygamy in 1890,...

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