by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
June 10, 2001
As I write this morning, a blind man is speaking to the media in Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma, "McVeigh was a coward, and a low-down bastard," said the man, who operated the concession stand in the building and was inside when the explosion occurred.
A journalist who watched the execution on Monday morning said McVeigh went unblinking to his death.
Those words fairly sum up the feelings of most of the American people about McVeigh. His rigidity and single-minded determination to mete out justice to the United States government were qualities that cannot be loved, that 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.