There is probably a special connection for everyone to the place where they were born, especially if they’ve never really left that place. I’ve never actually lived anywhere besides the Oklahoma City area. I’ve spent a fair amount of time traveling to many places all over the world, but aside from a three-month stint in Europe, I’ve always lived in the same place. I have a sort of indescribable attachment to Oklahoma City, and on April 19, 1995, my world was rocked. The attack carried out by Timothy McVeigh and other co-conspirators scarred a mark in my head that left the day’s events forever in my mind so vividly that it is as if it happened only a few days ago.
While I was not directly connected to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, I recall frantically trying to think whether I knew anyone that worked there. It turns out that a life-long had been working in the daycare center in the building but had quit the job just two months prior to the bombing. It was nerve-wracking. Even without direct connection, there is a feeling of victimhood that coincides with a deep connection to the city.
With the 23rd anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the 25th anniversary of the Waco incident that inspired McVeigh to commit such a horrid act having passed in the last week, I decided to write a few thoughts on things I personally learned from these tragedies. As they always say, those who don’t pay attention to history tend to repeat it. Awful tragedies of this scale should never be forgotten.
When governments act out by using unnecessary force against their own citizens (or others), it inspires hatred, and violence begets violence. Wrong as it is, people will use such an excuse to act out vengefully against innocent people. McVeigh spoke a lot about Waco. His sick, twisted mind chose that date to attempt to make his warped statement. He believed he would inspire a revolution, and that people would rise up in arms.
The fact that the reason used to attack a compound that contained nonviolent people with tanks because of a refusal to accept a warrant to search on flimsy weapons charges, was a rally cry to some whose warped minds wanted to murder innocent people. It leaves no excuse whatsoever for McVeigh, but when government uses unnecessary violence it does tend to inspire more unnecessary and inexcusable violence. We don’t know if government agents caused the fire, but we do know that the results of the fire were unintentional. Regardless of that, government acting with such an overly violent use of force for a mostly minor charge left over 70 dead. As was discovered only after the fact, there may well have been serious crimes of carnal nature going on within the compound, but because agents overreacted on flimsy weapons charges, we will never have the opportunity to know the results of investigations into potentially more serious wrongdoing.
McVeigh’s response to such a tragedy was to murder 168 innocent victims that had nothing to do with Waco and the incident with the Branch Davidians (of course, even if the targets did have an association with Waco, there would still be no justification). He wanted to murder people associated with federal agencies of almost any kind. He claimed not to know about the daycare center that sat directly above the place he dropped off his explosives, but that lack of knowledge seems rather implausible, given the thorough nature in which he described selecting his target. A catastrophic loss of innocent life was supposed to change hearts and minds about the actions of government. However, it resulted in nothing but the needless and tragic loss of innocent lives.
In the awful aftermath of April 20th, 1995, going forward to today, McVeigh’s senseless, warped, and disgustingly murderous attack on 168 innocent souls left no discussion of Waco at all. When people think about the tragedy, they don’t think about Waco. Instead, they think about needless death and destruction. They think about the victims of a murderer with a dark and evil soul, and people wonder how anyone could be so depraved. McVeigh’s act of violence, like all terror attacks, did nothing to bring about the changes he desired. It was all a despicable waste of human life for no reason whatsoever. Murdering innocent people doesn’t convince anyone of political messages. It changes no one’s mind and it draws no attention to the issues it’s intended to highlight. Minds are changed through open discourse – not violent acts.
Let us never forget the lessons from our history about violence and the tragic needless loss of human life. Let us focus on open discourse in disagreement. Let us protect but not take revenge. Let us enforce laws that protect victims, but not escalate violence through unnecessary force – especially when it’s for a charge of a crime that has no victims. Real change is never truly accomplished with violence. Real change is and always will be affected through open minds exchanging and debating ideas without the use of force or violence.
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