View from the hill

Tim McVeigh is a local-boy-makes-bad story. He hung out in Herington with his friend, Terry Nichols, and shopped for fertilizer at the local grain co-ops. On his way to Oklahoma City on a fateful day, he filled up with gas for his rental truck in North Newton.

Today, nobody in America is so perfectly despised and rejected by other humans. Someday soon he will be executed for his terrible crime. But even his own parents can’t work up a full head of grief to mourn his imminent passing. His lawyers seem detached and cool as they search for a loophole as a legal exercise.

The agreement among humans seems unanimous-he must die for his crime. He is a “scapegoat” in the language of a French thinker, Rene Girard. We remember the scapegoat from Sunday school classes. The animal on which the sins of a people were placed and then it was killed. Everybody agrees the scapegoat must die to purify the community.

Girard points out an odd problem with scapegoats. After the most hated and feared person is killed-in a few generations they bite us. They come back as heroes.

I worry about this unanimity leading to McVeigh becoming the dead hero of the alienated loners among us. Unintentionally, McVeigh accomplished the exact opposite of what he intended when he blew the wall off the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

He exposed the federal government as a bunch of ordinary women and men. Many were young enough to have their kids in the day-care center.

When government employees are killed they leave behind mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and children who sing Methodist hymns at their funerals.

When wounded they cry. Yes, they were IRS, Secret Service, ATP and Department of Agriculture officials-but they are also human.

Molly Ivins in Austin, Texas, lampoons folks who sit in coffee shops and cuss about, “the gobment did this, gobment did that. They all oughta be shot.”

McVeigh took these folks seriously. And we all choked up about the death of neighbors.

McVeigh unintentionally saved the Clinton presidency. Oklahoma City happened at a time when Newt Gingerich seemed the only real power in Washington and Clinton was irrelevant.

But Clinton gave his most masterful Baptist sermon in Oklahoma City and said, “Government is not the enemy”-and again captured our hearts and minds with an obvious truth.

McVeigh humanized the federal government and saved Bill Clinton. McVeigh is a miserable failure and no hero.

McVeigh intends to recite the poem “Invictus” before he is given a lethal injection: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

This is a 19th century version of Frank Sinatra’s song, “I Did It My Way.”

Bad poetry always leads to murder. McVeigh is guilty of bad poetry. The death penalty never seems to stop bad poetry-indeed it often inspires it.

McVeigh should be sentenced to spend his natural life in a prison library. Eventually he would stumble across a most remarkable sermon in poetic form by a 17th century preacher named John Donne.

He wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

The death of folks in Oklahoma City diminishes us-but so will the death of Timothy McVeigh.

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