U.S., Like McVeigh, Guilty of Terrorist AttacksExcerpted from the Monday, June 11, 2001 Baltimore Sun
As people search for meaning in McVeigh's execution, let us reflect on America's brutality in the gulf war and other contemporary conflicts. Even a person as fallen as McVeigh could see that brutality, and perhaps we can learn something about our own collective inhumanity from him. A year ago in a "60 Minutes" interview, McVeigh, who was a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle, said he went to Iraq "hyped up," believing "not only is Saddam evil, all Iraqis are evil."
‘WARS ARE POOR CHISELS FOR CARVING OUT
PEACEFUL TOMORROWS… WE MUST PURSUE
PEACEFUL ENDS THROUGH PEACEFUL MEANS’
-Martin Luther King Jr.
"What I experienced, though, was an entirely different ballgame," he said, "and being face-to-face, close with these people in personal contact, you realize they're just people like you."
None of this absolves McVeigh. That the U.S. Army taught him to kill without feeling - "After the first time, it got easy," he told a relative - does not mean he is not responsible for the killing of innocents.
But just as McVeigh should face judgment for his crime in Oklahoma City, so should the United States for its actions in the gulf war. When McVeigh called the children he killed "collateral damage," we should remember that he learned the phrase from the military planners under whom he served. We should let that fact trouble our consciences and ponder difficult truths about Timothy McVeigh, and ourselves. The United States has yet to come to terms with the fact the gulf war and Oklahoma City having one thing in common. Whatever the justification for each act, the method was the same: Killing civilians. The first Bush administration pushed for war and carried out a grotesque and gratuitously violent attack that killed thousands of civilians.
We rightly condemn McVeigh, but as a nation we congratulate ourselves for our "victory" in the gulf war. Yet in that victory, we indiscriminately bombed civilian areas, hitting residential neighborhoods and hospitals. We targeted power, water and sewage-treatment facilities, knowing that the result would be civilian death from disease and malnutrition. Pentagon planners after the war acknowledged such targets were bombed to give the United States "postwar leverage" in Iraq.
That is a way of saying the U.S. bombings were terrorist acts, the deliberate killing of civilians to achieve a political goal. That violates one of the central rules of international law: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack," according to the Geneva Conventions.
Robert Jensen is a professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2001 The Baltimore Sun