Volume 95, Issue 4
Thursday, June 14, 2001
An elegy for Timothy McVeigh
On Tuesday morning, a newspaper headline blared the following elegy: “Burn in Hell.” They were referring of course to Timothy McVeigh, the now imfamous mass murderer responsible for the horrific 1995 bombing of a federal government building in Oklahoma City.
Now that the dust has settled and the friends and families of victims have finally got the peace that apparently comes with the cost of another man's life, one hopes the United States will re-visit the issue of capital punishment.
The U.S. ranks with countries like China and Iran in terms of the rate at which they administer the death penalty. According to one statistic, 716 people have received the death penalty over the last quarter century.
For most defenders of state-sanctioned execution, the age-old “eye for an eye” argument still holds a measure of validity. Yet this defence is narrow-minded and short-sighted and in the end, both sides end up blind.
On one hand, there are thousands of grieving family members and friends who had their loved ones stolen from them in a brutal, bloody way. But on the other hand, McVeigh has a family too and in the American tradition of determined vigilance, people sometimes forget this.
He was a child once. He even fought for his country. He has a family and though they had nothing to do with his crime, they surely pay for it every day of their lives. Now that he's gone, they will surely mourn him.
Supporters of capital punishment also suggest it decreases the likelihood of violent crime and murder. But that, in and of itself, is completely hypocritical. As a society, we cannot teach our children that acts of violence, including murder, are unacceptable and then take a life as the ultimate penalty for the crime.
Our culture systematically de-values the importance of human life. It should not be treated like a tradable commodity which can be taken away by the state if one happens to commit even the most heinous of crimes. We have to teach our children to value and respect human life and to do this, we must set the example ourselves.
That being said, I am in no way supportive of McVeigh's actions, nor do I suggest we condone his crime. However, his punishment was too severe. Taking McVeigh's life in exchange for the 168 lives he took is not an equal exchange and I fail to see how it will make an ounce of difference in terms of deterrence for violent crimes or terrorism in the future.
The thirst for blood, the gross fascination with the macabre and the killing in America must come to an end. But as the recent media circus surrounding McVeigh's execution may prove, this fascination continues.
It makes one wonder what's next for the United States.
Some commentators have suggested a live execution on televison might do the trick. Let's air it immediately after The Simpsons on Sunday nights or perhaps during half-time at the Superbowl — maybe it would finally quench this thirst for blood and revenge.<
Perhaps then the harshness of death, the stark reality of a final breath,
will help the United States realize the sanctity of life, no matter whose
life it is.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000