Flappers and bobbed hair. The Charleston. Jazz. Art deco. Radio stations. Cars by the millions. The League of Nations. Prohibition and bootlegged booze. Talking movies. They’re all products of the 1920s — the “Roaring ’20s.” The country was entering the modern area, and with it came all sorts of technological and social change. People were leaving the farms for the cities. Women could vote, and they began working new types of jobs. Easy credit and extra money fueled the automobile industry, which spawned a new sector of business.
The Roaring ’20s had quite a cast of characters. With Prohibition came the notorious Al Capone and his mob. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a season. Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis wrote American classics. George Gershwin and Cole Porter moved music in a new direction. Lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan battled in a Tennessee courtroom over the teaching of evolution. And two Chicago boys shocked the nation.
In 1924, Nathan Leopold, 19, was a brilliant law student. His friend and lover was Richard Loeb, 18, son of a wealthy businessman. Loeb, a vandal and thief, loved the danger of crime, and he was restless for bigger action, a perfect crime. What better crime, Loeb thought, than to kidnap and murder a child? Leopold agreed. He was obsessed with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and believed in a mythical superman not bound by a moral code, even as to murder for pleasure. For months, they plotted.
In May 1924, the two boys drove Chicago’s South Side prowling for the right victim. They found Bobby Franks, 14, himself the son of a wealthy businessman, returning home from a baseball game. They lured the reluctant Franks into the front seat of their rental car. As Franks sat unaware, Loeb, seated in the rear, twice smashed Franks’ head with a chisel fashioned into a club. When Franks turned to protect himself, Loeb split open his forehead with two more blows. Blood shot everywhere, but Franks remained conscious. Loeb pulled Franks into the rear seat, stuffed a rag down his throat, and taped his mouth shut. Slowly, Franks’ moaning stopped, and he limply slid down to the floor. The two dumped Franks’ body into a culvert outside Chicago and mailed a ransom note. The next day, his body was discovered, and with it a pair of glasses belonging to Leopold. Ten days after the murder, the two confessed. They were tried and would have been hung but for the closing argument of Clarence Darrow.
It wasn’t just the stunning brutality of the crime that so horrified the nation. It wasn’t just the motive to kill for thrill and the total lack of remorse that the boys showed. It was also the frightening closeness. Bobby Franks was Loeb’s cousin. Loeb spilled the blood of family.
There is something especially troubling in that thought. It violates our sensibilities to the core. Godfather fans will never forget how Michael ordered and then watched the execution of his brother. It was chilling enough in fiction, let alone in real life. The horrific nature of killing a blood relative may be why it is the first murder mentioned in the Bible.
Now over 90 years removed from the unspeakable crime of Leopold and Loeb, questions hang over our era and us. Does killing shock us anymore? Are we as a nation and culture bothered by its suddenness? By its cruelty? By its frequency? For way too many people, the answer appears to be no. For we have legalized it. And now we celebrate it as a “reproductive freedom.”
In an effort to erase the stigma of abortion, pro-abortion forces have gathered post-abortive women to tell their stories. When television actress Amy Brenneman became pregnant in college, she immediately knew that she wanted an abortion. “I have never, not for one moment, regretted my abortion.” Think of it. She has not been bothered for even a second about killing her own child. An Episcopalian priest aborted her second child so she could complete divinity school. Now a chaplain for Planned Parenthood, she has no regrets. Other stories are even more disturbing. Recently, a woman reported that that she has had five abortions because she loves getting pregnant but isn’t ready for kids. “I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt, I even went out to a club on the same day.” Another woman, afraid of infertility, became pregnant just to see if she could do it. Dissatisfied with the man, she had an abortion.
Consider the state of our politics. Candidate Bernie Sanders could not offer a single example of an abortion that should be made illegal. Not one example. Neither could Hilary Clinton, who after mentioning late-term abortions made an exception for the “health” of a mother, a legal term that excuses all abortion. Planned Parenthood plans to spend $20 million to elect Clinton and re-take Congress. If Sanders is nominated, he’ll get his share. For Planned Parenthood, the “right” to kill is well worth the investment.
We are not just killing our unborn babies, the flesh of our flesh. We are killing our conscience. It happens in stages. We resist evil at first, but gradually we start asking ourselves, “What’s the harm?” Ultimately, we accept evil itself as a good. That’s where we are now. We have legalized evil. Every abortion is tragic, and for many women, it is last thing they want. But the fact remains that by legalizing abortion, we have managed to create a class of legalized killers. For what is the difference between Leopold’s mythical superman and today’s mythical superwomen, bound by no moral code even as to the killing of their own babies?
History is valuable not just for the lessons learned but also for its gauge as to our progress — or lack thereof. As depraved as they were, Leopold and Loeb were just two people. They were the exceptions to the rule that we must preserve life. But we’ve managed to turn the exception into the rule. This will not end well. Super we are not.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.