My Turn: McVeigh a product of the U.S. government

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2001

In his Thinking Out Loud column on April 1 ("McVeigh heard the words but never got the message"), Steve Reed expresses the "hidden hope" he had harbored after the Oklahoma City bombing that "[Timothy] McVeigh would express regret about the children, some conscience-revealing version of: 'I did what I had to do but I'm really sorry about the kids.'"

Instead, to his regret, McVeigh calls the children "collateral damage," seeing their deaths as primarily a public relations problem, and has no sympathy for the people of Oklahoma City, including his victims. How callous! Where could McVeigh have picked up such a rotten attitude?

As Reed points out, "we knew McVeigh held a grudge against this nation's government because of what had happened [sic] at an isolated homestead at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and at a religious compound outside Waco, Texas, in 1993."

McVeigh was fond of the quote from Justice Louis Brandeis that "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law."

Keep in mind that at Waco, "this nation's government" helped cause the incineration of 24 children, five more than died from McVeigh's bomb. At Ruby Ridge, an FBI sharpshooter picked off a tax protester's wife and kids during a needless confrontation, and was exonerated by his employer, once again "this nation's government."

As Reed states, the 168 people McVeigh killed "had nothing to do with Ruby Ridge or Waco." Given that fact, it's fair to ask who but a psychopathic terrorist would kill the innocent.

One candidate comes to mind - the one that never gets discussed when speaking of McVeigh. That is the institution that trained him in his destructive skills: the U.S. military. McVeigh was a decorated veteran of the war on Iraq and witnessed at first hand the real meaning of the military term "collateral damage."

Here's what McVeigh, in a 1998 essay, had to say about the grotesque crime of killing innocents, including children: "Hypocrisy when it comes to the death of children? In Oklahoma City, it was family convenience that explained the presence of a daycare 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 daycare center in a government building instantly becomes 'a shield.' Think about that."

McVeigh continues parenthetically, "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." Over 300 civilians were killed when the U.S. deliberately targeted the Amirya civil defense shelter in downtown Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

When then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked on "Larry King Live" in 1995 whether the deaths of half a million Iraqi children was an acceptable price to pay for keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein through sanctions, she replied that while a difficult decision, "the price is worth it." Rather than being reviled as a moral monster, she is considered a spokesperson for the values we uphold as a democracy.

Thus while the nation chooses to officially close its eyes, defining terrorism to exclude government acts, McVeigh is indeed the "American terrorist" of his book title. He is a logical product of a nation that demonstrates on a daily basis that violence is an acceptable tool to obtain one's aims.

"By a process of legitimation," Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner wrote in 1978, "wartime homicide becomes a high-status, rewarded model for subsequent homicides by individuals. Wars provide concrete evidence that homicide, under some condition[s], is acceptable in the eyes of a nation's leaders."

Like Osamu bin Laden, another ruthless terrorist, McVeigh got his training from "this nation's government."

As columnist Alexander Cockburn put it, "McVeigh's [as] American as apple pie too, not least in the media-obsessed grotesquerie of his final days, planning to cry out '168 to 1' in his final statement. That's a lousy, evil way to look at the efficacy of political terror, but after all, look at the outfit that trained him."

Ron Reed of Juneau is a non-violent activist who has been involved in the antiwar movement since 1968.

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