Yana Djin

  American Tragedy
Moscow News
June,  2001


“Anyway the wind blows/Doesn’t really matter to me”, sang the rock group Queen in their famous Bohemian Rhapsody. According to the accounts issuing from the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, this song can be often heard blasting in a concrete and steel reinforced cell that houses America’s most infamous terrorist, Timothy McVeigh. In between watching CNN and writing letters, McVeigh, reportedly, sits on his prison-bed and listens as the now-deceased Freddy Mercury bellows in a perfect voice: “Mama, I just killed a man.”

As I am writing this, the nation is awaiting the high court’s decision to grant McVeigh stay of execution in light of the 4500 pages of evidence withheld by the FBI. The stay, of course, will be denied. America wants McVeigh dead and forgotten. The first of the two wishes is easily accomplished: Mcveigh will be executed as scheduled unless the judges are suddenly overcome by a flash of forgiveness. However, judging from “that perfect confusion known as history”, adherence to revenge and punishment is the surest of consistencies in any society. As for rendering the name of Timothy McVeigh to oblivion, that is going to be a task not easily accomplished given the nature of the man in question and his behavior after the Oklahoma City bombing.

I have a minor confession to share with the reader: like most Americans I have seen the havoc and destruction that McVeigh’s action sowed. Like most Americans, I was overcome by horror and pity affected by that action. Unlike most Americans, however, I refuse to relegate Tim McVeigh to ranks of common criminals or brainwashed members of some extremist militia groups which are growing in this country at an alarming rate. Speaking from a purely objective, philosophical standpoint, McVeigh is one of the most curious personages to emerge on the Merican scene in the past century. Time dilutes our prejudices and distances us form the immediacy of our own emotions. That is one of its – perhaps its only – redeeming factor since its passing makes us less near-sighted towards our own lives and the society in which we live.

For the sake of understanding the latter, let us take a harder, stonier road and I imagine that we first heard of the phenonmenon called Tim McVeigh not from yesterday’s papers but through the cold pages of history book that was written long, long ago. How would Timothy McVeigh appear to us? We would learn that he was born in an inconsequential Pendleton, NY and was raised by a father whose life mirrored the monotony of the town itself. We would discover that he was a dreamy and gentle teenager who read Shakespeare and longed for a serious romance. We would read on that the choices before him – college, odd jobs, bland attachments of which Shakespeare never bothered to write – left him indifferent and disappointed. In search of some true meaning, McVeigh will go on to become one of his country’s best soldiers on his steadfast way to the title of the general. We would follow him as he would go to a war with a clear conscience and with an unshakeable faith in the notion that he is protecting his country’s integrity. We will see him being awarded the highest medals for doing what the soldier does best: killing other people.

And then we will see him snap. Break. Shatter.

After the fashion of a Shakespearean tragedy. Timothy McVeigh like Hamlet before him will realize that his life and all that it stood for was nothing more than a lie that others fed him. And unlike others, the majority, who are not traumatized by the knowledge that they’ve been had, McVeigh will not forgive the deception and fight for his truth till the very unpractical end. We will see him accuse the whole empire in which he was born and raised as a hypocritical sham designed to control and use people. And we will hear him proclaim himself the true patriot fighting for the principles of democracy while America’s rulers engaged in patriotism that was based on the veneration of real estate above ideals.

In his dramatic fall, we will witness as McVeigh revenges his ‘loss of innocence’ and becomes the most dangerous man of the empire because he is not afraid to say that he still believes. We will watch in horror as he, borrowing from the pages of America’s foreign and internal policies, will defend his stand with the blood of others. With one difference, whose presence does make McVeigh the curiosity that he is: he will do so not to satisfy personal gain, but to stay true to the values which he came to feel as true. Repeating what he had learned in the very army which he was now fighting, McVeigh would call his 168 victims ‘collateral damage’, but unlike that army he himself would willingly become precisely that. Thus evoking in the distant reader the inevitable compassion: even the most reasonable and cowardly in our midst will have to admit that Timothy McVeigh was not a self-serving snake. Perhaps a bit crazed. Like the several hundreds of Jews who made a futile, yet honest decision to defend Masada against the undefeatable Romans. How many children, I wonder, died in that battle?

‘Nothing really matters to me”, says Tim McVeigh with a stony face. “I’ll be glad to leave this f-ud up world which doesn’t hold anything worthwhile in it.” His wish is nearing: a needle, instead of nails and a cross, will put his body to oblivion. His name, though, if that history book will ever be written, will stay on amongst the names of martyrs and angry rebels long after the target of rebellion is gone. Just like the defendants of Masada… We live in a sad and dishonest world. Most of us adapt and survive and make what is commonly known as reality. The very few whose sensibilities are more innocent than ours, the very few who can lie less or not at all, vanish. Most of the time they vanish without a trace. Sometimes, like Tim McVeigh, they leave with a loud blast. It is those few that make the tragedies.

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