Apr 182013
This week, three people in Boston became terrorism’s latest fatalities.  We don’t know yet if the bomber or bombers selected the Massachusetts state holiday Patriots’ Day for the attack in order to send a political message in particular or if it was just a large crowd at a public event that proved irresistible to those responsible.  Was it a statement about American patriotism?  A nod to previous events on this date in past years?  Or, was convenient opportunity — what with a large milling crowd about — to blame?
Speculation immediately rushed to the obviously political:  it was a violent Patriots’ Day protest timed, like that for the anniversary of the siege at Waco, because of the bomber’s leanings.  Of course, Timothy McVeigh targeted the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 as a show of solidarity with the Branch Davidians raided in 1993.  Later, two students at Columbine High School in Colorado would go on a shooting spree, and the record they left behind indicated a preoccupation with the events at Waco and Oklahoma City.  Their bloody eruption was similarly slated for mid-April.  Just six years separated the three tragedies, and they have become linked in our public consciousness for their violence, their anger, and deadliness.
These previous incidents serve as context for the Boston bombing — infusing it with meaning before there is even any semblance of understanding to be had.  Were it a lone event, it would be met with the confusion and grief of Oklahoma City or the indignation over Waco.  But, there is a past, and having been here before, we have fear and expectations.  We have experience with this grief.
Immediate responses acknowledged this history.  The connection in timing with Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado — western tragedy moved east and colored further by the trauma of Fall, 2001 — invariably arose.  On Twitter, in news reports, online, and in conversation, observers cited this historical combine.  It is now a list.  It’s a macabre tally:  here are our relevant deadly massacres.  We can itemize it now, our terror.  It’s a frightful grouping of like horrors.
I have carried the Oklahoma City bombing with me for eighteen years now.  It’s become a permanent part of my life.  It changed me.  Being so defining and unique to me, my immediate reaction is resisting the listing.  Others may want to combine these events, but they do not go together for me.  In my experience, there is the One and then there are the others.  It feels belittling to fuse them — to act like they were the same.  No, I think.  In scope, in tone, in perpetration, Oklahoma City still stands alone.  In the crudest of measurements — the body count — it eclipses the others.  In civic devastation and impact on public access and security, it is again the greater.  As an internal attack on our government, it remains unique.
I am certain that my resistance to combining these events is defensive too.  I am protective of my sorrow and insulted at attaching it to “lesser” tragedies.  I have a bias, and I know it.  You can’t be fair when it comes to your broken heart — and I don’t believe you ought to be.  Still, after thoughtful consideration, the Murrah bombing must be the greater woe:  it was, tragically, our introduction to an age of terrorism.
Truthfully, as similar as they are in our minds, none of the three are much like the others.  The dark motives behind them differed, as did the targets and tools.  It is a kind of dishonor borne of laziness and convenience to connect them.  It simplifies and, worse, obfuscates, and this is the opposite of knowledge.  We are temporal in nature, though, and the timeline rules our understanding.  We can resist it; our spirits can rage against it; but, the fact of the matter is that we have known these several tragedies in our experience.  We have been wounded by each, and we revisit them annually as dictated by the calendar.  April is heavy with sorrow — large and small, multiple and grotesque.  Unavoidably, there is a list.
 Posted by at 9:35 pm

  2 Responses to “There Is A List”

  1. Grouping events is a natural part of how we chimps sort things out in our minds – after all, we still think digital watches are somewhat amazing. It is necessarily informed by our personal geography and experiences. When I’m sorting these horrible and tragic events, I tend to group OKC with 9-11 due to the scope. Columbine with Newtown. Waco more or less stands alone in my mind, the only thing I have to even tenuously link it to is the Kent St. Massacre.

    The thing that really has me worried about the Boston bombings is concern over a potential new wave of homegrown half-cocked morons, disaffecteds who have suffered through the latest economic downturn. There’s just so much anger, misunderstanding and narcissism flowing through intertwining streams in present-day America, and it’s not possible to predict which of these moles will pop their head up next.

  2. Mo-G:

    I find it fascinating the way Staters react to fear (and I haven’t done any comparative research, so I can’t say whether this is American Exceptionalism or not). It’s our strongest motivator in some ways. We resist ideological upheavals and assaults on our liberties from outside, but we will willingly upend our society ourselves, if we are afraid enough. In the late 19th century, swelling numbers of immigrants and literally thousands of labor disputes (including riots and a nationwide strike) caused enough fear to prompt a reordering of society under the Progressives (who thought they could resolve all social ills). They introduced a federal government unlike we had known before and completely remade education, charity, and even the geography of cities with their efforts. And, again, after World War II, fear of communism and domestic activism/terrorism prompted a significant change. We saw the introduction of the military industrial complex, shifts in scientific funding and experimentation, and cultural changes driven by the psycho-social effects of the atomic age. Then there were even more security changes after 9/11. I think we are driven to do more by fear than by idealism or hope. The thing to ask is: is the loss dearer than the solution? And, we must remember there are always unintended consequences.

    One of the things that makes me proud of Oklahoma is that we have focused on honoring those lost and our grief. We had some measure of revenge, I guess, but we’ve not let the fear drive us to abandon all liberties or social practices. It’s still largely the state I knew before — except scarred, of course, and the people connected to one another more too. We know that places like Elohim City are still here and that the militia movement remains strong (especially since President Obama was elected), but the rest of us are still here too and we don’t let the moles consume us.

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