FOR THE LAST umpty-odd hours I've been pretty much planted in front of the tube watching Nostradamus look like a regular fortune-teller. The old boy's apocalyptic vision of the decline and fall of the human empire grows more uncomfortably accurate with each new disaster that shocks our species into the belated awareness that a guy could get killed for being born.
CNN is a wonderful thing for a news junkie, but ultimately disappointing to those who like to think crisis brings out the best in us. Watching the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, and then the long, slow unreeling of reality--dead bodies, car parts, anonymous tips about nameless suspects, fragments of flesh and concrete and metal and mystery--hooks you to the excitement of the drama, but also dooms you to the drudgery and dumbness of having to fill hours of television time with words as well as pictures. Inevitably everything gets said over and over, and a high percentage of it is astoundingly stupid.
The consensus theme for this particular public disaster goes something like this:
Terrorism strikes the Heartland of America. How could it happen here? Why? Who? Is no one safe? Is our innocence lost?
Well of course it strikes the heart of America: We're the Great Satan. Of course it can happen here: We're the land of the free and the home of the complacent. Why? Because. Who? Anybody. Nobody is safe and nobody gets out alive. As to innocence: We never were.
That's the bad news. The good news is that most of us are not going to be bombed by terrorists, whether they go by the name of John Doe One and John Doe Two, or, as in the Oklahoma City case, Beavis and Butthead. Or is it Skinhead?
It doesn't really matter who blew up the federal building and killed all those kids and grownups. The reason it doesn't matter lies in the nature of terrorism.
Terrorism is the political manifestation of that time-honored truism, Shit Happens. It happens everywhere and anywhere, to anyone for no apparent reason, just when you least expect it and by the hand of any old loony-tune for absolutely no reason a sane person can fathom.
Yes and no. Yes, if you obsess over it. Yes, if you bust your ass trying to anticipate its next occurrence and prevent it. Yes, if you materially alter the pattern of your life to accommodate it. That's how the terrorist wins. But no, it's not so scary if you realistically assess the odds of becoming a casualty of terrorism. No, if you simply accept the fact that we're all going to live until we die. No, if you determine that no bomb-toting sonofabitch is going to spoil your fun or deprive you of your God-given freedom. Then you take the fun--and the effectiveness--out of terrorism.
From the terrorist's point-of-view the Oklahoma City bombing was just about perfect: just a big-ol' bunch of regular Americans. Mommas and daddies and babies. Right out of the gut of the body politic. Innocent and unsuspecting. Good Christian folk. Safe as in their own beds.
Well, hell yes. And dead too. When all it takes is a truckload of fertilizer and fuel-oil to bring a little of the terrorists' world into ours, the question we should be asking ourselves is why not sooner and oftener.
I've felt and heard a considerable range of emotions since first learning of the
bombing in Oklahoma City. Like probably 99 percent of America, my first instinct was to blame somebody named Abdul. Then I heard the buzz about it being the second anniversary of the Branch Davidian barbecue. With the arrest of Timothy McVeigh it all rather neatly landed on the doorstep of so-called right-wing gun-nut militias, pissed at the federal government and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in particular, over the debacle at Waco two years previous. Never mind that even the militias disavow any connection with McVeigh, and asked him to go away. Never mind that there is lots of investigating and arresting, trying and convicting to be done before we really can say who was behind the bombing.
All that truly matters here and now is what do we do about it? And what don't we do about it? Taking the last first, we don't let it scare the life out of us and we don't let it change the free and open way we go about that life. We don't let it turn us against one another, just because Beavis next door has a light-brown crewcut or a tattoo on his left arm. We don't let outrage and panic get made into political hay by a Congress or a White House that suddenly sees the opportunity to pass ill-advised anti-terrorist legislation that encourages the FBI to tromp all over our First, Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have given their lives over the past 219 years so we could enjoy the personal rights and freedoms we were born to. We damn sure ought not forfeit these freedoms because 80-plus people were murdered by a few utterly deranged bombers.
And remember this one, too: It wasn't the right wing, the NRA, nor even Rush Limbaugh and Gordon Liddy--much as I detest them--who blew up the Murrah Building, and it was neither assault rifles nor handguns that killed those innocent children. It was crazy people with fertilizer and fuel-oil. You cannot proof society against such forms of shit happening.
I'd rather live dangerous and free than safe and shackled.
Further, it doesn't have to make sense and we shouldn't make ourselves nuts trying to make sense of it. Dying an apparently senseless death does not render one's life senseless. We're here to do the best we can, to enjoy the animation and freedom that birth confers.
The best way we can do that is to live with the certainty of death, but without the dread of it. Fuck a bunch of terrorists.
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