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On forgiving McVeigh. -From a father of a victim
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Memo on the Margin
June 11, 2001
Timothy McVeigh, Killed in Action
Memo To: Families of Oklahoma City Casualties
If you type "Waco" into "Google" search engine at the right, you will find Iíve been writing about the consequences of Waco since 1993, when the Branch Davidians were incinerated by the Federal Government while Timothy McVeigh looked on. I continue to get crazed hate mail from people who complain about my attempt at objective analysis, which led me to advocate life in prison over execution for McVeigh. Yet in the last days before he was put to death this morning, I saw that he had carefully thought out the reason why he had to be executed, "killed in action" being preferable to spending the rest of his life in a "concentration camp." These are my terms, not his, as I can now more easily understand his willingness to die. For as he reasoned, he was willing to die for his country when he went to war in the Gulf, when it was not clear to him why it was so important that so many young Iraqi boys in uniform had to be killed. Yes, our Commander-in-Chief thought it had to be done, and those kinds of decisions were above his pay grade. He was troubled sufficiently by what he was seeing and hearing in the Gulf -- tens of thousands of Iraqi boys slaughtered by the forces assembled against Saddam Hussein -- that on his return home he began acting strangely, looking for a political footing.
Something was wrong, he says, and I believe him. Thatís because I have thought something wrong too, but Jude Wanniski can get up every morning and think he can leverage himself to be able to change the direction our government is taking in the way it manages problems at home and in the rest of the world. Iíve been totally disgusted with the behavior of our government these last ten years in our treatment of the people of Iraq. I cannot forget our U.N. Ambassador, Madeleine Albright, telling Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children during our embargo was a price worth paying in order to deal with Saddam. Collateral damage.
Iím not a soldier and have never had to think like one. But as a man of ideas, some worthwhile and some not, I was horrified by Waco, and could see that in politics, as in physics, for every action there is a reaction, and there was bound to be one, just as the blowing up of the World Trade Center came from Muslims acting out of a sense that our Federal Government was deaf to the entreaties of the Islamic world. Even though McVeigh chose the anniversary of Waco for his personal act of war, the initial belief was that Oklahoma City was a Muslim act. To me, Waco was a signal that in our national organism which we might call the Body Politic, there was a cancer, one that called out for an anti-body from its immune system. It was McVeigh who believed himself to be drafted for the purpose of attacking that cancer.
As soon as I learned that David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, went into Waco every two weeks to shop, buy the papers, and look around, it was obvious our Federal Government had committed mass murder at Waco. If the government wished to, it could have picked him up at the 7-11 and asked what was going on in the compound with guns and little girls. So it was a Holocaust, Ruby Ridge writ large. And please, my Jewish friends, do not write me that the Nazis wiped out 6 million Jews and we only wiped out several dozen sect members. Volume does not count. Our foreign policy toward Iraq has already racked up 1.5 million innocents since 1991, mostly little children and old folks.
As a political philosopher, I did think the Waco action had to produce a violent reaction if it were not satisfactorily addressed by the government. If President William Clinton had called in the press corps and announced that his administration would take full responsibility for the deaths of the Waco incident and condemn those responsible -- that would have been sufficient. Instead, as we all remember, our new, young President hid under his desk, his press secretary issuing the statement that the assault of the Waco compound was not his decision, but that of Janet Reno, his Attorney General. But I do not for a moment say responsibility stops at the desk of Bill Clinton, which is how President Harry Truman might have handled it. The ENTIRE political establishment crowded under the same desk. If Timothy McVeigh were waiting for some kind of action from his government to explain why all those kids and ladies went up in smoke at Waco, he was to be disappointed. They all ran for cover, the elected officials of both political parties, the bureaucrats, and the major media, which explains why McVeigh decided the "reaction" to the "action" should NOT be the assassination of Ms. Reno. She was the only "good guy" in the whole enterprise. A war had broken out in his head and his mission would be to blow up the nearest federal building.
It has been repeatedly called a "cowardly act," but I have seen some relatives of those killed in the bombing acknowledge that McVeigh seemed prepared to die at the time, if the timing device did not work and he had to return to set the bomb off manually. His lawyers yesterday told the press assembled for the execution that when he referred to the 168 men, women and children who were killed in the blast as "collateral damage," he meant to equate them with innocent civilians who die when our pilots drop bombs on military targets.
Because I wished to see some good come out of that horrible event, that the deaths of the innocents not be without meaning, I wrote in 1993 that the experience might be instructive to Mr. Clinton, our new President from Arkansas who found himself at the pinnacle of military power on earth -- with no experience in its use. I said perhaps Waco might have taught him about the unintended consequences of the ill-considered use of force. There is little doubt in my mind that Waco + Oklahoma City had that effect on President Clinton. Even when he bombed the aspirin factory in Khartoum, he asked if we could bomb at night, and when perhaps only the night watchman might be there. So consider this possible meaning in the lives of your loved ones: We have had eight years without war, perhaps the longest stretch in a century with no American in the armed services losing his life in combat.
I address these comments to you, the families of those who did lose their lives, because I believe in a roundabout way that your loved ones lost their lives in a way that did have meaning. When McVeigh called them "collateral damage," he was using a term that was taught to him as a serviceman who would need something to enable him to pull the trigger at targets he did not understand. The incubus he attacked, in his mind, was one that had to be excised. He was ready to pay the ultimate price, of death, and so he has. Just as a cancer attacks the body, an excision is necessary to remove it. From what I can tell, McVeigh never sought martyrdom nor does he deserve any honor even close to that. He took the law into his own hands, a vigilante, but the whole experience needs to be understood and appreciated, or we will find this kind of individual act of retribution coming at us again and again and again and again. These are my honest thoughts, citizens of Oklahoma City, not meant to irritate you, but to hopefully suggest that there was some over-arching purpose in the loss of so many innocents. I am truly sorry they died, even while I believe I understand why McVeigh did what he believed he had to do.
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