Timothy McVeigh was executed three months to the day in advance of the September 11, 2001 attacks: on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon, and on a hijacked plane that crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The terrorist act for which McVeigh was executed, which was perpetrated on April 19, 1995 and which killed 168 people, took place just over six years before his execution. That heinous act ostensibly was undertaken in revenge for the Federal government’s 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, where 168 people were killed, and for the government’s 1992 siege of Ruby Ridge in Boundary County, Idaho. While the September 11 attacks had no connection (as far as we know) to McVeigh, nor to the events that sparked McVeigh’s unspeakably horrible revenge, they were related in the sense that every one of the violent acts were expressions of moral bankruptcy. War, whether undertaken by nations or conducted by individuals guided by insane delusion, is monstrous and indefensible. All of the acts woven together in the years between Ruby Ridge and McVeigh’s execution constituted a prelude to a stretch of time in which psychosis has ruled, and continues to rule, our common psyches. But Ruby Ridge was not the start. It was simply an almost irrelevant milepost in the drive to eradicate decency from the human experience.
In the years since front page madness insinuated itself into breakfast conversations—long before Ruby Ridge—we have grown horribly accustomed to violence as simply incidental to humanity. Murders of students in school and theater-goers watching movies are commonplace. Bombs that destroy families and villages and works of art are just elements of the cost of consolidating power. Stabbings, rapes, road rage, and senseless beatings of gay youths and derelicts and prostitutes are the price of admission to city life and, increasingly, rural life as well. Arson, poisoning, and throwing people off of buildings or into the paths of oncoming trains or cars are becoming so much a part of normal, day-to-day life that we do not flinch when we hear about them.
We blame the speed of the internet for the rapidity with which we learn of these horrors. We tell ourselves this is nothing new; it’s only the improvement of the delivery of news that makes it all seem like the world is decaying around us in ultra high-speed-motion. No. That’s not it. We’re deteriorating. We’re spoiling, turning into the equivalent of the plague infected with depraved motives. Every abomination we see or hear about that does not leave us horrified is just one more shred of viral damage from which we cannot recover. It all melds together in a way that makes unrestricted global thermonuclear war seem like a just and proper solution to the problem we have become.
Depending on one’s perspective, it’s either a good thing or a terribly unfortunate thing that I do not control the “nuclear football.” If there were a way to cure us—to repair the damage we have become—I might feel a little hope for humankind. But we have become skeptical even of cures. We have decided doctors and scientists are, in fact, politicians whose only aim is the eradication of middle class power through chemistry. The only true “cure,” we’ve apparently decided, is to put our faith in some magical, benevolent god who has has a monstrous mean streak in him. And, by the way, only those born to be “saved” need apply for salvation. Yes, that’s me screaming, screaming, SCREAMING!!!!!!!!!!!!! I did not want to wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, but I had no choice—Santa Claus was there, right beside me, thrusting a red-hot poker in my eye and accusing me of sacrilege for which there is no forgiveness.
Okay. Maybe I’m over it. At least some of us. But there’s an irrepressible piece of me that wants nothing more than to start over, from scratch, with a small population that willingly will agree to practice round-the-clock decency and goodwill. See if we can get it right this time.
I’m not sure how I’m going to fit in with the “men’s group” from church this morning. They might throw me out if I open my mouth.