The crumbling shell of the federal building in Oklahoma City gapes like an open wound on America’s psyche.
What can we do in the face of such monstrous evil?
How can we respond to such a wicked act?
There is the usual postdisaster call: Give blood and money to the Red Cross. Just because it’s the expected response doesn’t make it any less important. So give. Give generously.
But what else can we helpless onlookers do? How should our nation react?
1. Resist evil.
Convicting and executing the terrorists won’t guarantee an end to terrorism. Other willing killers are sure to take their place.
But we can’t afford to give up and allow terrorists to operate unopposed. We can’t yield to murderers, even if, like the mythical Hydra, they sprout two heads each time one is cut away.
2. Avoid generalizations about other nationalities or faiths.
The first day, before anyone knew the suspects were white men, speculation was focusing on Islamic fundamentalist organizations. But the overwhelming majority of Muslims rejects such acts of violence. There is nothing inherent in the teachings of Muhammad that would encourage the taking of innocent lives for political or religious ends.
3. Stop bashing your government.
Some people get so caught up in decrying the shortcomings of our far-from-perfect federal government that they forget the many dedicated workers who are a part of it. A lot of those workers died in Oklahoma City, and they lost their lives because they worked for us, the taxpayers. At the very least, we owe them and their fellow employees nationwide a measure of respect.
Sure, the feds could do a lot of things better. So could the company where you work.
4. Hug your children.
Never forget that their fragile lives are just one accident or one evil act away from destruction. Teach them that the taking of life is never justified by any grand cause, and give them the skills to live nonviolently.
5. Educate yourself about terrorism.
I found this incident shocking and horrifying but not so surprising because of a course I took on “The Politics of Violence” at the University of Georgia in the mid-‘70s. We studied the rise of Adolf Hitler, the madness of Charles Manson, the would-be revolution of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the transformation of Malcolm X. Professor Von Dalen brought us to a greater understanding of such movements and the psychology behind them.
Our final exam was to describe how the government of the United States could be overthrown. My answer involved random terrorist attacks of particularly shocking proportions that would undermine the nation’s sense of security. Outraged and terrified, Americans would cry out for a strong leader to crack down on chaos and restore order, even if it required surrendering constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties. My dictators would then step in. Goodbye, United States as we have known it.
(Do not gather from this exam question that the good professor was out to overthrow the country himself. He merely wanted us to be aware of the dangers. Once, he told us, a young man eager for left-wing revolution, came up to him after class, saying, “Man, I really want to do this. How should I start?” The professor sized him up. “Let’s see. You’ll need training in all sorts of weaponry and tactics, physical conditioning, discipline, experience in working with a unit … obviously the first thing you need to do is to join the Marines. I suggest if you’re serious about this that you enlist as soon as possible.” The student went pale. “But the whole reason I’m here is to stay out of Vietnam!” Outcome: one less revolutionary.)
The Oklahoma City bombers are evil but probably not stupid. In their own minds - or the minds of those who gave them orders - there was a reason for the carnage. We can never excuse or condone what they did, but we’d do well to be armed with understanding of their motives and eventual aims.
Finally and most importantly:
6. Don’t let terror win.
The goal of terrorism is to strike fear in our hearts. To the extent that we allow fear to control our lives or the nation’s policies, the terrorists are victorious. Prudent security measures should be taken, but we must not surrender our confidence or our freedoms.
Mourn the dead, comfort the survivors. But never, never give the terrorists any reason to rejoice in the results of their deadly handiwork.