Revisiting Old Wounds: The Tragedy of the Oklahoma City Bombing

It only seems fitting that as April 19 arrives, an article is written to observe one of the most tragic events in our country’s history: the Oklahoma City bombing.

It has been six years since the terrorist bombing killed 168 people, 19 of whom were children, and still the scars have not healed. In fact, some have professed that the wounds have been reopened for a few reasons. The first is that the scheduled execution of Timothy McVeigh is arriving soon; the day of emotional release for those murdered and their families is set at May 16. The second reason is the recent release of a new book about the bombing, which also includes interviews with McVeigh.

The controversy surrounding the book, titled “”American Terrorist,”” and the interviews in it is that it presents McVeigh’s story of the crime and his embittered life. Tom Morganthau of Newsweek writes, “”[McVeigh] claims total responsibility for the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history”” in the book.

Families of those killed are angered by how the book approaches this still-painful subject. “”[Lou] Michel and [Dan] Herbeck have been denounced by some for exploiting tragedy, for being too willing to accept McVeigh’s version of events and for providing McVeigh with a national platform from which to advance his claim to political martyrdom,”” Morganthau stated.

Indeed, the sixth anniversary of the bombing has scratched at an unhealed wound, hurting not only the families of those killed, but all Americans. Rarely before the bombing did we consider a terrorist attack within our own borders and by our own citizens a possibility, but the explosion that ripped apart the Murrah Federal Building likewise ripped apart America’s innocence. It was a hard slap of reality for a country that had considered itself above the terrorist violence that has plagued Israel and Northern Ireland.

The memory of the Oklahoma City bombing has burned itself into the fabric of American society. The writers of the book compare speaking to McVeigh with sitting down with Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth. This being the case, it can be easily argued that the bombing was an important and course-changing part of our history, just as integral as the assassinations of presidents John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.

Many older Americans often say that they remember distinctly what they were doing when they heard over their radios that Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. So, too, I think, can people recall what they were doing when the news of the bombing was first broadcast.

I can remember exactly what I was doing on April 19, 1995. I was still in the 10th grade and had just come home from school. I stepped in and my mom, who was starting to cook dinner at the time, told me that there was a bombing.

“”No, it must’ve been in Israel or something,”” I said, looking briefly at the news coverage on the television, not even thinking that a terrorist attack of such a magnitude was possible in this country.

But my mother was correct. I stood silently as the camera panned over the devastation and confusion, the crowds of people around the area and what was left of the building after half of it, along with 168 men, women and children, was blown to oblivion. The pictures left to us are likewise ingrained in our memories. Who can forget the now world-famous Newsweek cover of the firefighter cradling the body of a dead child, one of the 19 children who died?

“”American Terrorist”” is another chapter in a book many Americans had originally thought to be closed. Some people are afraid that this exposure will only give McVeigh the attention that he craves and transform him into a martyr. I don’t think such a thing will come close to happening. In fact, the exact opposite will happen: The book will amplify how insane McVeigh is NOT, but rather how cold and calculating he is. People will see how remorseless this man, who views the death of the children as “”collateral damage,”” truly is. And when he is executed, he will simply fade into history. Nothing more, nothing less.

The scare and hype over the rise of militias has similarly come and gone. The bombing gave the militias exactly what they, like little kids, wanted: attention. And now, more than half a decade later, militias are a thing of the past after achieving their 15 minutes of fame. Good-bye and good riddance.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in an article after the Aug. 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, “”Let [the terrorists] have no illusions. We will not be intimidated.””

As a country, we have survived tragedy after tragedy and we have not been intimidated. We have stared down the petty and paranoid groups that try to bully the nation into seeing the world through their own myopic eyes. What does not tear us apart can only make us stronger, can only open our eyes to reality.

We are not any more safe from the IRA, Hezbolah or Hamas. Unfortunately, it took the deaths of 168 people to learn this. But, as Albright continued, “”To give in to terror, or hide from it, is not an option.””

The bombing — now six years in the past — and the people that tried to terrorize the nation are merely an insubstantial premonition of the past. With McVeigh’s execution date arriving in less than a month, perhaps the final chapter can at last be written. Ever since he committed his heinous crime, McVeigh’s existence has been a stain on the fabric of American society. Good-bye and good riddance. The sooner he starts burning in hell, the better.