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Oklahoma City and Timothy McVeigh
more vigorously that when lauding the Oklahoma citizens and survivors who rushed to Washington DC to press (successfully) for rapid passage of the Effective Death Penalty Act. The memorial is supposed to educate us about terror and about the bombing, yet an uninformed person could spend several hours in it and leave without knowing anything more about the perpetrator of the Oklahoma bombing, beyond the fact that he was white and his name was McVeigh. Certainly not that he was a veteran of the US Army, well trained to kill by Uncle Sam and actually quite vocal on his motives, which on his various accounts derived from government tyranny, the federal onslaughts at Ruby Ridge and Waco plus the attack on Iraq.
McVeigh’s role is advertised by just one photograph, the familiar one of the US Army vet being marched along in orange jumpsuit and handcuffs by FBI men. You wouldn’t know anything about the man who parked the Ryder truck in front of the Murrah building, beyond the fact that he was white. You wouldn’t know he was born in Pendleton, near Buffalo, that his father was a working man, employed by GM, that McVeigh was an okay student but couldn’t get a job in the Reagan recession of the Eighties that laid waste the old industrial north-east. He did briefly work as a security guard in a warehouse in the awful racist, upstate town of Cheektowaga. Decorated veteran of the Iraqi war? There’s no mention of McVeigh’s military career.
The photographs of McVeigh outside the Branch Davidian compound near Waco during the siege are also nowhere to be found, though they advertise McVeigh’s prime stated motivation, to strike back at the federal government that killed over 80 civilians including 24 children. There is a large map of the United States in the exhibit rooms. McVeigh, scheduled to meet the Reaper this coming May, is certainly more coherent than the memorialists in Oklahoma City, who have produced a self-congratulatory mishmash of kitsch. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from his handwritten submission to Media By-Pass in 1998: “Remember Dresden? How about Hanoi? Tripoli? Baghdad? What about the big ones – Hiroshima and Nagasaki? (At these two locations, the US killed at least 150,000 noncombatants – mostly women and children – in the blink of an eye. Thousands more took hours, days, weeks, or months to die.) If Saddam is such a demon, and people are calling for war crimes charges against him and his nation, whey do we not hear the same cry for blood directed at those responsible for even greater amounts of ‘mass destruction’- like those responsible and involved in dropping bombs on the cities mentioned above?
“The truth is, the U.S. has set the standard when it comes to the stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction. Hypocrisy when it comes to the death of children? In Oklahoma City, it was family convenience that explained the presence of a day-care center placed between street level and the law enforcement agencies which occupied the upper floors of the building. Yet when discussion shifts to Iraq, any day-care center in a government building instantly becomes ‘a shield.’ Think about that. (Actually, there is a difference here. The administration has admitted to knowledge of the presence of children in or near Iraqi government buildings, yet they still proceed with their plans to bomb – saying that they cannot be held responsible if children die. There is no such proof, however, that knowledge of the presence of children existed in relation to the Oklahoma City bombing.)” Visitors to the Memorial seemed vaguely unsatisfied by the displays. The Memorial could have offered them so much more, had its organizers opted to transcend self-congratulation and banality. How about a weekly drama or even debate in front of the Survivor Tree about the nature of terrorism, a dissection of McVeigh’s professed motives, a comparison of terrorist acts around the world, perpetrated by states and by individuals. Would not the tourists, some of them retired from the military, have relished an event of this nature? But the Memorial’s organizers have declined all such avenues of opportunity. Better to sit tight and deal with the onslaught as a vacuum between 9.01 and 9.03, as a terrible piece of bad luck when Mom might not have left her kid off at the child care center on the second floor, when the HUD secretary on the Fifth Floor might have taken the day off, might have stepped back a couple of yards just before the floor fell away. Safer to think of the attack in the Midwestern heartland as a matter involving senselessness and bad luck rather than political events and historical circumstances. McVeigh’s American as apple pie too, not least in the media-obsessed grotesquerie of his (presumptively) final days, trying to have his “state-assisted suicide” screened on national tv, wishing he could smuggle out his sperm to female admirers, planning to cry out “168 to 1″ in his final statement. That’s a lousy, evil way to assess the efficacy of political terror, but after all, look at the outfit that trained him up for his terrible deed.