What McVeigh Meant

all the fun and frolic that the nation`s media elite
was enjoying over the now-delayed execution of Timothy
McVeigh, there remains a nagging question in their minds
about the Oklahoma City bombing that McVeigh now openly
admits having committed: Why doesn`t this terrorist
feel any guilt?

question permeates the best-selling examination of the
bombing and the bomber,

McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing,
by Buffalo News
reporters Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, and it pops up at
the end of the series of letters that McVeigh wrote to
yet another journalist, Phil Bacharach, published
in Esquire
this month. (RealAudio interview
with Bacharach, 30 min.)

in both the book and the letters, McVeigh, guilty of the
largest mass murder in American history, is also
probably the cheeriest murderer in all of history. In
the letters to Mr. Bacharach, he is mainly concerned
about the movies and TV shows he`s been watching (his
favorite seems to be Clint Eastwood`s “Unforgiven,”
but he didn`t much care for “Seinfeld”).

for the bombing, he shows no remorse, regret or guilt
whatsoever; he`s referred to the day care center and
the children he slaughtered in the Murrah Building as
“collateral damage” and compared all his innocent
victims to the imaginary bad guys of “Star Wars.” As
Mr. Bacharach himself concludes his article, “It is
beyond me to reconcile the Timothy McVeigh who murdered
168 people with the writer of these letters…. I do
know one thing: In the written word, at least, he has
not a whisper of conscience.”

that because McVeigh is a “psychopath” or
“sociopath” or fits some other psycho-babble label
invented to explain the unexplainable? Probably not. The
psychiatrist who studied him in prison doesn`t use
such terms but has no better explanation himself.
Moreover, McVeigh has always claimed he didn`t know
the day care center was there, that it wasn`t visible
from the street, that he would have picked another
target if he had known, that he tried to avoid harming
non-government employees.

of that, of course, doesn`t help. Even if the day care
center hadn`t been there, the bombing was still more
brutal than most people could ever imagine committing.
And McVeigh really didn`t try very hard to avoid
“innocent” casualties. Any federal building is full
of people who have nothing to do with the federal
government McVeigh hates so much—taxpayers, crime
victims, veterans, maybe even men like David
of Waco
or Randy
of Ruby
trying to extract a little justice for
themselves. It didn`t matter very much to Timothy
McVeigh that he blew these kinds of good people up along
with the bureaucrats, and it doesn`t matter to him

the reason it doesn`t matter to him ought to be pretty
clear from what he tells Mr. Michel and Mr. Herbeck and
from what he`s written
to Fox News reporter Rita Cosby. Timothy McVeigh thinks
of himself as a soldier fighting a war, and he has no
more conscientious reaction to killing civilians,
government employees or not, than Allied airplane pilots
had in World War II when they firebombed Japanese and
German civilians in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and
Dresden, or American pilots when they hit civilian
targets in Vietnam, Iraq and Serbia.

the Murrah Federal Building,” McVeigh writes to Miss
Cosby, “was morally and strategically equivalent to
the U.S. hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq
or other nations. Based on observations of the policies
of my own government, I viewed this action as an
acceptable option. From this perspective, what occurred
in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans
rain on the heads of others all the time and,
subsequently, my mindset was and is one of clinical

detachment” may not be an accurate description of how
many American soldiers and airmen regard the killing of
civilians, but it`s probably true that most who have
killed civilians don`t agonize about it very much, and
some (like those who to this day celebrate
Arthur “Bomber” Harris, who led the murderous
destruction of Dresden from the air two months before
the end of World War II in Europe) go to their graves
proud of it.

understand why McVeigh feels no guilt for what he did is
not to say that he shouldn`t. What he did was indeed
an act of mass murder that deserves death, if not a good
deal more than death. But the point he tried to make in
his act of murder remains a serious one—that in modern
warfare as practiced routinely and happily by the United
States and other modern democracies and increasingly in
law enforcement, civilian targets and civilian
casualties are acceptable—if not often deliberately
targeted—casualties. After we kill Timothy McVeigh,
Americans should think hard about what he was trying to
tell us.


May 14,