At 7:14 a.m. on this date in 2001, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.
More ink has been spilled about the 33-year-old Gulf War veteran and his infamous crime than this space can possibly hope to summarize. Books can be — and have been — written debating whence McVeigh sprang and whether he was rightly convicted.
McVeigh tended to keep coy about his version of his activities on April 19, 1995,* but he was never less than frank about his philosophy.
Though his avowed motive, the Waco slaughter that occurred two years to the day before Oklahoma City, has never exactly been secret, the way he’s connected those events has also never been particularly welcome. And McVeigh would say that the fact that he suffered execution while the only parties punished in the Waco siege were the survivors makes his point.
For all its moral monstrosity, the Gulf War veteran’s critique of his violent actions vis-a-vis those the state claims legitimacy for makes discomfiting reading, and is not always so easy to answer. From our distance of time, knowing that three months after McVeigh’s execution another terrorist act to beggar Oklahoma City would propel the United States back into Iraq, it strikes eerily prescient notes.
In a 1998 essay, McVeigh savaged the government for its hypocritical posture towards the country he had once fought, Iraq:
The administration has said that Iraq has no right to stockpile chemical or biological weapons (“weapons of mass destruction”) — mainly because they have used them in the past.
Well, if that’s the standard by which these matters are decided, then the U.S. is the nation that set the precedent. The U.S. has stockpiled these same weapons (and more) for over 40 years. The U.S. claims that this was done for deterrent purposes during the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union. Why, then is it invalid for Iraq to claim the same reason (deterrence) — with respect to Iraq’s (real) war with, and the continued threat of, its neighbor Iran?
If Saddam is such a demon, and people are calling for war crimes charges and trials against him and his nation, why 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 [Dresden, Hanoi, Tripoli, Baghdad, Hiroshima and Nagasaki]?
The truth is, the use of a truck, a plane, or a missile for the delivery of a weapon of mass destruction does not alter the nature of the act itself.
These are weapons of mass destruction — and the method of delivery matters little to those on the receiving end of such weapons.
Whether you wish to admit it or not, when you approve, morally, of the bombing of foreign targets by the U.S. military, you are approving of acts morally equivalent to the bombing in Oklahoma City. The only difference is that this nation is not going to see any foreign casualties appear on the cover of Newsweek magazine.
It seems ironic and hypocritical that an act viciously condemned in Oklahoma City is now a “justified” response to a problem in a foreign land.
Another note sent shortly before his execution to author Gore Vidal travestied government warmaking talking points:
[T]his bombing was also meant as a pre-emptive (or pro-active) strike against those forces and their command and control centers within the federal building. When an aggressor force continually launches attacks from a particular base of operations, it is sound military strategy to take the fight to the enemy. Additionally, borrowing a page from U.S. foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government. Bombing the Murrah Federal Building was morally and strategically equivalent to the U.S. hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations. Based on observations of the policies of my own government, I viewed this action as an acceptable option. From this perspective what occurred in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans rain on the heads of others all the time, and, subsequently, my mindset was and is one of clinical detachment.
He broadcast clinical detachment in the execution itself — the first conducted by the federal government since 1963, technically imposed for the eight federal employees among his 168 victims — from his waiver of appeals to his unnervingly unblinking death mask to the stoic 19th century poem “Invictus” that formed his written (and only) final statement.
* Also — coincidentally or not — the execution date of Richard Snell in Arkansas, a militia man (and white supremacist, which McVeigh was not) who had once tried to blow up the Murrah building himself.