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Where Do We Bury McVeigh?

COLUMN LEFT / ALEXANDER COCKBURN

It is hypocrisy to ban him from a veterans' cemetery after the military trained him to kill.

June 29, 1997|ALEXANDER COCKBURN | Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications

Before we figure out where we want to bury him, let's go back to this matter of what drove Timothy McVeigh to blow up all those people.

The best predictor of behavior is previous behavior, not previous ideas or opinions. Hence, the major cause of violence is violence, not ideas, opinion or depictions of violence. Violence in domestic America shot up during the Vietnam War, not because of books and pictures about Vietnam, but because of the violence itself. The enormity of this sanctioned violence turned American practice and public opinion back to capital punishment and the present specter of more than 3,000 "dead men walking."

McVeigh was recruited by the American military. He was chosen, trained, advanced, sent into combat and then finally rejected as psychologically unsuitable for the elite echelon of killers. At his trial, at least in the penalty phase, I would have liked testimony from his instructors in shooting and killing, most especially in explosives or special operations. I would have liked to see the books and instruction manuals used in his special military programs. I would have liked to know if, along with instruction in the handling of explosives, he had been shown vivid depictions of the victims, how they died or lived or were mutilated. Probably not. He was taught to inflict death. Not to review the consequences.

But instead, the prosecutors blamed "The Turner Diaries," a novel about a militia plot to bomb a federal building that McVeigh had read, and the defense blamed Soldier of Fortune magazine. Incredibly, the intelligentsia jumped in and agreed that "The Turner Diaries" was to blame. (If McVeigh was turned into a crazy anti-Semite by that book, why did he target a WASP building in a WASP city and kill 150 Gentiles? Couldn't he at least have gone to Skokie, Ill., or Manhattan?) I couldn't find a word anywhere to suggest that the defense screwed up in the penalty phase by not concentrating more on McVeigh's experiences in the military.

The final chapter in this assiduous separation of McVeigh from the formative experience of his life--his training as a killer in the U.S. military--takes the form of the comically macabre effort, headed by those gallant U.S. senators, Robert Torricelli of New Jersey and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, to deny Timmy a burial plot in a veterans' cemetery.

Their proposed legislation should be named the Pontius Pilate Act. Their hand-washing ceremony is a significant milestone in the incorporation of America's intelligentsia into utter servility to whatever hypocritical lunacy the politicians serve up, with almost no public criticism.

What irony, to think that Tim McVeigh will be denied the honor of being buried beside Lt. William Calley or Capt. Ernest Medina, veterans of the My Lai massacre in which more than 500 Vietnamese civilians were methodically machine-gunned and dumped in a trench while the U.S. high command flew round and round the killing site, or beside the inventors of plastic shrapnel, which denies wounded civilians the benefit of X-rays, or beside Gen. Curtis LeMay, architect of the 1945 Tokyo firestorm which, it was hoped, would suck all oxygen from the city.

The problem of what to do with McVeigh's body is at the very least in the middle distance. He's not even been formally sentenced to death and the appeals process hasn't begun. But what about all the thousands of other latent McVeighs? I don't mean the thousands of "Turner Diaries" readers or subscribers to Soldier of Fortune. I mean the thousands of trained killers that the military dumps back into civilian society when they go over the edge. They are not made to register, not given therapy or deprogramming or heightened awareness that those wonderful military toys are connected not only with going to college and learning about electronics, but also with shattered buildings, bodies and lives.

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