The Oklahoma City Bombing: Remembering the Victims but Not the Cause
April 21, 2015
Gar Smith / The Berkeley Daily Planet
On the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, hourly radio newscasts were filled with remembrances of the violent explosion and the solemn recitation of the names of the 168 murdered victims. But one name was rarely, if ever, spoken -- the name of the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh. It was like overhearing someone obsessing over the sinking of the Titanic without once mentioning the iceberg.
(April 20, 2015) -- I spent most of Sunday, April 19, on the road, driving north and listening to the car radio. On this, the 20th anniversary of the horrific car bombing of the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, the airwaves were filled with retellings of the bombing and its aftermath. Hourly newscasts were filled with remembrances of the violent explosion, the rescue of injured survivors, and the solemn recitation of the names of the 168 murdered victims.
But in all the broadcast recollections linked to that tragic day, there was one name that I did not hear once. The name that remained oddly un-uttered was the name of the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh.
This struck me as strange. Something like obsessing over the sinking of the Titanic without once mentioning the iceberg. Or commemorating the loss of lives in the 9/11 attacks without mentioning the 19 aircraft hijackers.
Was this because McVeigh did not cast a suitably evil profile? Because he was not some dark-skinned, bearded "Other," a follower of a foreign faith, a practioner of an unfamiliar religion?
To the contrary, McVeigh was a clean-cut, white, Christian American -- a former US Army Sergeant and a decorated veteran of the Gulf War. If not for his detour into the dark role of car-bomber, McVeigh would have been described as a "war hero." (Instead, in it's report on the Oklahoma anniversary, the New York Times characterized McVeigh as "a militia sympathizer with strong antigovernment views.")
But does it not do a disservice to the lives and memories of the victims—and to the survivors—to mark their loss but make no attempt to question why they died?
Later that day, watching the evening news on TV, I found that McVeigh's name was being mentioned, but only in cursory notations that served to dismiss him as an outlier who committed an incomprehensible crime and was brought-to-justice-case-closed.
It was almost as if there had been a coordinated effort to draw attention away from the killer's motive.
Throughout the day, I heard occasional references to terrorism on the radio but the nature of the terrorist threat remained anonymous and unexamined. There were generalized invocations of the "terrorist threat" and staunch proclamations not to "give into terrorism" but, left unnamed, the "terrorist threat" conjured images of Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban.
But this conspiracy of silence served to conceal a profound irony.
Anyone who has been paying close attention knows that there is a single, fundamental complaint that has been lodged against United States by "America's enemies" and that is this: Anger over the Pentagon's mass murder of innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen -- murders committed thousands of miles from America's borders.
And now for the final irony: The terrorist named Timothy McVeigh was driven to wage "Jihad" against America for the very same reason cited by many foreign terrorists: The mass murder of civilians.
In McVeigh's case, he wanted to avenge the deaths of 80 American men, women and children tear-gassed, shot and burned alive at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. McVeigh also claimed his anti-government radicalization began while he was still in uniform and became aware of a number of illegal CIA operations (See McVeigh's letter -- published by the New York Times -- reprinted below.)
There was good reason to give short shrift to McVeigh during the anniversary coverage. Dwelling too long on McVeigh's role in the bombing might have drawn attention to his motives as well as his deeds. And this risked exposing a disturbing congruence: American violence -- whether unleashed by Pentagon bombers, CIA drones or the sniper-fire, gas cartridges, concussion grenades and tanks of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) -- causes collateral damage. And when civilians die, some of that collateral damage is personal and political -- it takes form in the anger that is stoked in the hearts of survivors who have seen their loved ones extinguished by a powerful military force that enjoys impunity from prosecution or accountability.
Government violence gives rise to more violence. When an empire attacks a village (or a wedding party or a jirga of elders) the assault frequently triggers a call for revenge.
The darker irony of McVeigh's crime is that this former Army vet was driven to commit the same crime that prompted his hatred of the US government in the first place.
Outraged over Washington's orchestrated murders of civilians at Waco and Ruby Ridge, McVeigh lashed out by targeting a building that hosted the local offices of the ATF but also was filled with hundreds of innocent clerks, administrators and janitors -- and rooms filled with children left to spend the last day of their lives in a daycare facility on the second-floor.
It is right and proper for America to remember the names of the innocent dead whose lives were cut short on April 19. But it also is essential to remember the man who did the deed and understand what drove him to commit this atrocity.
If we want to prevent the repetition of a tragedy we need to ask: "What caused it to happen in the first place?" If we refuse to face the question, we will never remove the threat. And that is, perhaps, the greatest disservice to the memory of our innocent dead.
Excerpts From Timothy McVeigh Letter
The New York Times
(July 1, 1998) -- Following are excerpts from a letter dated Oct. 20, 1993, and written by Timothy J. McVeigh to his sister Jennifer McVeigh. The idiosyncrasies in spelling and punctuation are Mr. McVeigh's.
Grandpa McVeigh saw this. He never knew why, but one day, I showed up at his door, freezing outside, in only sweat pants and in total, complete breakdown. Gramps, I'm sure, never told anyone about that day, and I respect him greatly for that, as I spent about an hour upstairs ''losing it.'' It was almost suicide at that point, but rage, but denial, but acceptance—all these feelings were battling for control. . . .
Now here's what led to my current life: It all revolves around my arrival at Ft. Bragg for Special Forces. We all took intelligence, psychological, adeptness, and a whole battery of other tests. (Out of a group of 400). One day in formation, ten (10) Social Security numbers were called out (no names) and told to leave formation. Mine was one.
The 10 of us were told that out of the select group of 400, we had scored highest on certain tests. We had been selected because of our intelligence, physical make-up (165 lbs. 6 ft. being ''ultimate warrier'' type—I was only slightly off—160 lbs. 6'1 1/2''), and physical abilities. We were to feel special, part of a hand-picked group) . . . .
We were all asked to ''volunteer'' (talk about peer pressure!) to do some ''work for the government on the domestic, as well as international, front.'' . . .
What I learned next, both from the briefings, and from the questions and private talks included:
1.) We would be helping the CIA fly drugs into the US to fund many covert operations;
2.) Military ''consultants'' were to work hand-in-hand w/civilian police agencies to ''quiet'' anyone whom was deemed a ''security risk.'' (We would be gov't-paid assassins!)
3.) Many other details -- to verify these last two, see the enclosed article, or watch, again the movie ''Lethal Weapon''. . . .
It also gives you new insight on things like WACO, etc. -- they were murdered by hit-men.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.