Today, I am ashamed to be an American.

I’d like to thank President Bush, whom I voted for and generally approve of as POTUS, for highlighting this issue in clear terms, for I can make clear my disagreement with him further than I did yesterday.

To wit: “The victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have been given not vengeance but justice.”

No, Mr. President, this was vengeance, not justice.

From Merrian-Webster Online:

Vengeance: “punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense : RETRIBUTION – with a vengeance 1 : with great force or vehemence 2 : to an extreme or excessive degree”

Justice: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments b : JUDGE c : the administration of law; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity 2 a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : RIGHTEOUSNESS c : the quality of conforming to law 3 : conformity to truth, fact, or reason : CORRECTNESS”

I hold that taking Life, even under due process of law, is vengeance but not justice. It is a great force, and it is to an extreme or excessive degree. Bush calls it the “severest” penalty–believe it or not, that is correct grammar–and yes, it is. It’s the ultimate penalty, and we’re interposing ourselves into God’s realm of judgement.

“And one young man met the fate he chose for himself six years ago.”

No, society chose that fate for him. McVeigh chose to take Life. We as a society did not have to choose to take Life in return.

“Life and history bring tragedies, and often they cannot be explained. But they can be redeemed. They are redeemed by dispensing justice � though eternal justice is not ours to deliver.”

Yes, and in the matter of taking Life away from someone, we have tried to place ourselves between God and Timothy James McVeigh. In fact, I feel that we denied that man an opportunity for forgiveness and repentance–we’re taught that we can forgive and repent only when we die. After we die, we are to assume that we cannot atone for our sins.

In quoting William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” as his final words, McVeigh showed his defiance. Who’s to say that he would have repented? I cannot judge Tim McVeigh’s heart. I don’t know him, and now I never will. But I would rather have given Timothy James McVeigh every opportunity to change his heart, to exercise his free will.

I had an email discussion with my friend Gary about this. His comment was that the American criminal justice system, not American society, claimed Life from McVeigh. I responded with the distillation of the Lockean principles our government is founded upon: “No government rules without the just consent of the governed.” We could change this. I hope that I can help do so before my days on this earth are finished.

In imposing a limit on his Life–which, presumably, only God does otherwise, discounting those like McVeigh who murder–we, as an American society, have denied him the opportunity to repent. Yes, he had that opportunity, but he showed signs of still being angry towards the government. What’s a few years when we’re talking about eternity?


  1. To continue our discussion on your journal page:

    [N.B.: Dave and I were having a discussion via email earlier today on McVeigh, and I pointed him here. –GFM]

    I said:

    We are NEVER better off for executing a monster. And if we decide, as a society, that revenge is acceptable, we ought to just give the convicted to the family of the victims and let them exact the revenge they seek. (Now that would be barbaric, no?)

    You replied:

    Indeed, it would be.

    Barbaric? Yes, but if I had lost a family member to a brutal crime, I would want to have a say in the delivery of punishment. On an episode of West Wing last year, the issue of capital punishment was debated as Pres. Bartlett was asked to grant clemency for a man scheduled to die in hours. Seeking counsel from those around him, he spoke with Charlie Young, his aide, whose mother–a DC cop–had been murdered in cold blood during the commission of a crime. Bartlett asked Charlie if the murderer was caught, would he want to see him executed. Charlie thought for a moment and with a mournful expression, he replied, “No, Mr. President, I wouldn’t. I would want to do it myself.”

    I understand and believe I would feel the same way. Because it is NOT about justice but merely about revenge. (Note that vengeance and revenge are not the same, at least not to Merriam-Webster which notes that “with a vengeance” connotes “an extreme or excessive degree”; whereas revenge is “retaliation in kind or degree.”

    That being said, I used to think the death penalty was warranted and necessary. It was the only issue on which I fundamentally disagreed with Mario Cuomo when I was a New York resident (although I never voted against him, it was also one of the key issues that lost him the race against George Pataki. Cuomo–the Roman Catholic who was determined to uphold the pro-choice beliefs of the majority of his constituency even though they ran contrary to his personal beliefs–vetoed every capital punishment bill sent to him by the NYS legislature. It was an annual event.)

    As I have gotten older, I think not. I would prefer they rot in a box for the rest of their time. Perhaps they would grow repentant, perhaps they would not. Perhaps it would give them ten or fifty years to consider the heinousness of their act or merely the time to stew–within the confines of their twisted psyches–at the cruelty of society or the government that drove them to commit their heinous act.

    But it would not cheapen us.


  2. That’s food for thought, Doc. Thanks. =)

    As to vengenace v. revenge, I’d argue that the death penalty as administered yesterday was vengenance. It wasn’t in kind or degree; given the clinical state, I’d say it was worse, especially as we were all but taken into the death house to watch it ourselves. Most of McVeigh’s victims never knew what hit them; McVeigh had to go through the anguish of knowing that now was, per society, his time to die. Personally, I’d rather have gone in the Murrah Building than in the Terra Haute Death House.

    I am with you on having changed my mind. I once considered the death penalty a deterrent. Now I cannot. Even if it were, it’s not worth the moral debt that it leaves our society with is not worth the credit of whatever deterrent it might give. I am saddened to know that McVeigh likely didn’t repent, but heartened that he did receive his last rites as a Catholic. Being a Protestant, that doesn’t mean much to me, but it’s perhaps a sign that he did push towards God at the end. I can only hope so.

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