Editorial: UPON THE DEATH OF TIMOTHY McVEIGH
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
As I write this morning, a blind man is speaking to the media in Oklahom= a City after the execution of Timothy McVeigh for the bombing of the Alfred=
P. Murrah Federal Building that took 168 lives. In the plain tones of Okl= ahoma, "McVeigh was a coward, and a low-down bastard," said the man, who op= erated the concession stand in the building and was inside when the explosi= on occurred.
A journalist who watched the execution on Monday morning said McVeigh we= nt unblinking to his death.
Those words fairly sum up the feelings of most of the American people ab= out McVeigh. His rigidity and single-minded determination to mete out just= ice to the United States government were qualities that cannot be loved, th= at lacked the river of compassion that defines humanity, and in the context= in which they were realized diminished the positive value they may have in= other circumstances.
Yet, "He got the final word," the daughter of one bombing victim is sa= ying now.
In an irony that might have appealed to McVeigh, the live CNN f= eed of the vistims' comments was interrupted briefly for announcement of t= he opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange. That was quickly interrupt= ed to return to the victims, though. So it was with our lives on April 19,= 1995.
America has become an increasingly insensate place, and it is the strang= e legacy of Timothy McVeigh that he was one of the few people who has made = us all feel the same way at once.
In the editorial that accompanied our coverage of the bombing on the d= ay it occurred, we summarily declared that the perpetrator of his horrible = crime would die for it; today he has, and as the author of those words, I a= m not experiencing completion.
So much has been left unsaid and undone with respect to McVeigh, I bel= ieve, that closure will never come except for those who were his most direc= t victims, the people in Oklahoma City. Two things remain unstated, I belie= ve.
The first is that the process by which McVeigh was consigned to eterni= ty was fair, even if flawed at the last minute by the revelation of the FB= I documents that were withheld (by all accounts in error) from his defense = attorneys.
That America, which prides itself so deeply on the rule of law, was ab= le to muster the determination to ensure that the wheels of justice would t= urn in their proper alignement from beginning to end is a testament to the = enduring life force of our democracy.
The second thing, which is harder to say, is that if we are to judge a m= an by his actions and his life,as each of us will in the quiet of our own h= earts, Timothy McVeigh embodied one element of the Americanideal -- that in= the end, the lone individual is the be-all and end-all of the American sys= tem.
Ours is a nation, alone among all, in which all justice and all rights = devolve to the individual citizen. By the Declaration of Independence, whi= ch is not the law but the motive force of our democracy, we are empowered a= s individual citizens to declare war against a government and bring it down= . That will strike some as a harsh and gross exaggeration, but it is the= ultimate truth of our national heritage.
We are a nation of individuals granted supreme power under the law, th= e power to shape our own lives and destinies. Timothy McVeigh embodied tha= t power, however foolishly he squandered it. That fact must bear more exam= ination.
McVeigh's gaze in a childhood portrait was not different than that of th= e man who went to his death this morning; the unwavering stare that acknowl= edged each witness in the execution viewing room, and ultimately terminated= in death, was unchanged from the child's. His belief that someone must av= enge the deaths of so many children and true believers at Waco was foreorda= ined in the childhood portrait; he was fated to find a cause that he would = carry to its ultimate conclusion. In fairness, we must acknowledge that he= was discriminating in the cause for which he finally chose to sacrifice hi= s life. Waco now is avenged; the bodies are matched one by one, and then so= me. His is added to the pile, and all are given to the pyre.
America has pursued a searching examination of its responsibility in the= Waco affair. That search yielded evidence of government misconduct in fir= ing incendary shells into the building that authorities knew were likely to= set it on fire; their use was debated, and then approved, and innocent chi= ldren died because of that decision. McVeigh made a similarly cold-blooded= decision, and as at Waco, innocent children were the victims, along with m= any innocent adults. It was his goal to achieve that balance of destructio= n, and he did.
Our evolution as a people, a democracy and a nation has been shaped by t= hese events. The wheels of justice have been turned by the motive force of= these lives and causes. It remains our nation, in the end, and our own he= arts, in their quiet, that are resolved.