14 December, 2018
From American Hero to American Bomber
There was nothing special about April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City, it just seemed like another average morning at first. That is until at 9 a.m. the truck arrived. After the vehicle pulled up to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a massive bomb detonated from the truck and instantly destroyed a third of the building, as well as several cars around the area. After first responders arrived and rescued everyone that they could, the final estimation was that at least 168 people lost their lives, which included children and babies, and caused over 680 injuries. Until the September 11 attacks occur 6 years later, the Oklahoma City bombing became the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States. When you tell the story of the event to someone who doesn’t know the details, they may assume that the perpetrator(s) were foreign terrorists. However the truth is the attacks were actually carried out U.S. army veterans Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. It’s hard to believe that men that come from courageous backgrounds would do something so heinous to the people they are supposed to protect, but thanks to several interviews and investigations since the attacks, we now know what drove them to do this, and it seems that there are many people today that consider these men heroes.
Timothy McVeigh, who was the primary perpetrator of the attack, was considered a strange child during high school, as he was very isolated from others, struggled to talk to girls, had a strong fascination with firearms, and had poor grades throughout high school, and so he dropped out and joined the U.S army. After becoming an expert in learning fire the cannon on a military vehicle, McVeigh would become promoted to sergeant and was eventually deployed to fight in Operation Desert Storm. There we can begin to see some of his questionable behavior, as according to his Wikipedia article, “he stated he decapitated an Iraqi soldier with cannon fire and celebrated.” Judging from his reaction it’s possible that McVeigh took joy in killing, which shows that his mental state would later develop for allowing himself to go on with his later planned attack. Even though he received several service medals from the Gulf War, McVeigh would eventually leave the army in ‘91.
From this point on his life would begin to hit several stumbles. McVeigh would end up working long hours at an unknown dead-end job, and eventually became a gambling addict. Soon his hatred for the government grew stronger, as he frequently wrote letters to local newspapers complaining about taxes, firearm restrictions, and police abusing their power. The final nail in the coffin was his feelings toward the government’s handling of the Waco siege incident, which was event in Texas where a cult known as the Branch Davidians (a group McVeigh supported) was stockpiling illegal drugs and weapons, and so federal agents tried to force out the cult members with various tools such as tear gas. However a fire erupted in the buildings they were hiding in, which resulted in 76 deaths. McVeigh’s stance on gun rights tightened from this point as he felt what the government had done to the cult was a sign of them becoming tyrannical. McVeigh’s hatred for the government had reached his boiling point, and now it was time to show his true feelings to them.
For McVeigh, and those who helped him, the attack was a success. He was able to demonstrate to the entire government what just a few people are capable of. In fact, according to a New York Times article by Jo Thomas, McVeigh yelled “you can’t handle the truth!. Because the truth is I blew up the Murrah building and isn’t it kind of scary that one man could wreck this kind of hell?” The nation read the news in horror, and many federal buildings, including the White House, were closed down for security purposes. Everyone wondered why an army veteran would do this to his own people, but for us, we may have an idea of how McVeigh got to this point. For the past couple of weeks we’ve been studying Michael Cohen’s Monster Theory as it helps us understand monsters rather than just fearing them. Based on his motivations, it seems McVeigh falls under theory 7, “The monster stands at the threshold…of becoming.” As Cohen states throughout his thesis, “Monsters are our children…hidden away at the edge of the world…but they always return. And when they come back, they bring not just fuller knowledge of our place in history and the history of knowing our place, but they bear self knowledge, human knowledge. (Cohen 20). From seeing the travesties of the Gulf War to the abuse of power and disarmament of the people from the U.S. government, McVeigh believed he had to retaliate for their actions, and send a message that the people should not be messed with, because if they are pushed too far, they will fight back.
While the bombing is viewed as an American tragedy by almost everyone to this day, it seems that McVeigh managed to get to a few people’s heads, as there are some people who praise him for his actions. In a documentary from the HISTORY channel, you can find comments in favor of the bombing, for example, one user wrote “The American government isn’t innocent” another wrote, “Why ask ‘Why?’ Try Waco.” Clearly McVeigh and those who are sympathetic to him see the American government as the true evil that needed to be brought down, but how can we see what they saw? In thesis three of Cohen’s theory, he states “the monster notoriously appears at times of crisis as a kind of third term that problematizes the clash of extremes” (Cohen 6). Due to the events at Waco, the Gulf War, and the overall increase of government power, McVeigh was seeing the rise of conflicts started by the government and felt that as a member of the military, the ones who protect the people from danger, it was his duty to try and bring down what he saw as the “true monster.” In other words, McVeigh and his supporters believed he was doing the right thing.
Most Americans, both Democrat, Republican, and the unaffiliated, do not trust let alone like the government, regardless of who’s in control. The majority of us use protest and the power of the vote to change what it is that we are unhappy about. We are taught from history class about how those who fought in the American Revolution were heroes who stood up to a tyrannical government (the British) with guns in hand.Timothy McVeigh committed act in which he felt was his own version of a revolution, however he is mostly remembered as a monster rather than an icon. McVeigh killed many people who they themselves believed were doing the right thing in the events mentioned earlier, not to mention the children and babies who had nothing to do with their actions. There are a small amount of people who believe McVeigh is a modern American hero, but for the majority of Americans, Timothy McVeigh is an American monster.
Cohen, Jefflrey. Monster Culture (Seven Thesis). University of Minnesota Press. 1996
HISTORY. Oklahoma City Bombing: Why Did It Occur & Who Was Behind It?. YouTube, Google, 26 Mar. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UknJ7VS0nuE.
Thomas, Jo. “‘No Sympathy’ for Dead Children, McVeigh Says”. The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2010. Link Unavailable
“Oklahoma City Bombing.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Dec. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma_City_bombing.