|TIMOTHY MCVEIGH DIED just over an hour ago. I'm sure
that there are people -- the family of one of his victims or some unconnected
citizens full of vicarious indignation -- who feel the death sentence was
righteous and proper. I'm happy that there are people -- Christians, liberals,
even militia types -- who were willing to protest McVeigh's execution.
As for me, I live in a country without capital punishment, and I'm grateful
There's no question, of course, of McVeigh's guilt, and
of his terrible lack of contrition. It's hard for me to feel anything but
revulsion for a man that believes, after his execution for killing 168
innocent people, some of them children, for some sullen anti-government
"principles", that he's still coming out ahead, by a tally of 167. McVeigh's
"principles", his justifications, even his expression throughout his short,
bitter time in the public eye, is that of a man fixed on an inhumanly circumscribed
vision of morality, so narrowly focused that the poles of right and wrong,
and the vast mitigating circumstances of context and effect, are impossible
to see. It's the same kind of vision that guides his execution, as far
as I can see, and does nothing to justify the law that enforces it.
From a realistic standpoint, McVeigh has gotten what he
wanted -- a kind of strange vindication, a martyrdom for his "principles".
It's not unreasonable to think that, eventually, his death will become
a kind of rallying point for other, "principled" murderers and seething
rebels. Perhaps there's a future awaiting us when Timothy McVeigh will
become the Horst Wessel of another, terrible, social movement. I'd like
to hope that never happens.
I found it interesting that McVeigh invited Gore Vidal
to witness his execution. He had read one of Vidal's attacks on the undemocratic
actions of American "imperial" government, and considered Vidal a kindred
spirit. Vidal, apparently, was appalled but, while no supporter of the
death penalty, recognized the opportunity to sit in the select audience
at Terre Haute for what it was: the greatest scene-setting gift a journalist
could ask for, the ultimate "all-access pass". I can't wait to read Vidal's
piece on the whole event, provided he hung around after the delay. Like
Vidal, I oppose the death penalty but, shamefully, I can't say that I wouldn't
have taken the same opportunity to witness it in action, even if only to
strengthen my public argument for its abolition. Thus does the existence
of state-decreed death compromise us all.
THERE'S NO WAY I CAN DEFEND the incidents at Waco and
Ruby Ridge, those colossally mishandled exercises of force against its
citizens that inspired McVeigh to become, in his own imagination, a kind
of avenging angel, striking at the heart of an evil government. There's
undeniably something wrong about a government that would rather bring massive
amounts of lethal force, directed from a distance, against recalcitrant
and uncooperative citizens than sit and wait out a long spell of impatient,
vindictive press coverage and (relatively minor) government expenditure
to see the situation to a peaceful end. (It's as if U.S. policy, domestic
and foreign, is so monolithic that it can only function by the principle
that let it win a World War and a Cold War: Outproduce and outgun your
"enemies".) There was no reason for a sniper to kill an unarmed woman or
child, or for a whole compound of religious nonconformists to be burned
alive. At the same time, I can't imagine how Timothy McVeigh could consider
killing innocent people in a government building an appropriate response.
Unlike Ted Kaczinski, the Unabomber, I have no reason
to believe that McVeigh was a particularly intelligent or articulate person,
which would explain Gore Vidal, I suppose -- unable to express his opinions
except through the edited and biased statements of his lawyers, or the
brutal consequences of his crime, he needed someone like Vidal to carry
his "principles" out of the arena of his trial and execution and out into
the quality media.
If the vast majority of Republicans, and Democrats like
Clinton and Lieberman, are to be believed, America is a country based on
Judeo-Christian morality, a place where the separation of church and state
is a mere formality, since the state has, since its founding, taken on
the responsibility of the church in making its society an ongoing moral
project, a steadily evolving journey toward light and righteousness. America
is unique in that it believes that its righteousness -- the perfectability
of democracy -- has to be prosletyzed to the world, by means of force if
necessary, for the world to be "saved".
The American empire isn't one of literally-annexed territory
or economic exploitation -- certainly not compared to the empires that
Europe once held in Africa or Asia -- but one where American "principles"
need to be exported and implanted in every mind and constitution on the
planet. At least that's the impression you get from the rhetoric of foreign
policy papers or presidential speeches. The reality of empire might just
be the old British model, minus the schoolroom map with its vast tracts
of pink "Dominions". But here I go, sounding like Gore Vidal.