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Tom West: McVeigh cheapened life for all of us

Monday morning, I sat down to breakfast like I always do, poured milk on my cereal like I always do, and without taking a bite felt nauseous like I never do.

Monday morning, I sat down to breakfast like I always do, poured milk on my cereal like I always do, and without taking a bite felt nauseous like I never do.
I had the day's newspaper in front of me, and I had the radio on in the background, and when the announcer started explaining that we use three lethal doses of drugs to execute people (one to make them unconscious, one to make them stop breathing, and one to make their heart stop beating), I lost my appetite.
I took a deep breath, sat back, and thought about that beautiful spring day (at least where I was) six years ago when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City federal building. I remembered the early hours when the commentators speculated that it was probably an Arab terrorist. I remembered watching off and on throughout the day. And I remember that evening when I watched for a couple of hours and then inexplicably felt tears welling up in my eyes, and I had to go outside and take a walk around the neighborhood.
It was a beautiful spring evening, and people were out working on their yards and kids were riding their bikes around the neighborhood. It was such a relief to walk in relative serenity after watching those scenes of terrible destruction and carnage on TV.
So it is that since then the wheels of justice have churned on relentlessly, and Monday they spit out the mortal remains of McVeigh, a man so guilty that only 75 Americans managed to turn out to oppose his state-sponsored death.
The man who supposedly wanted to start the next American revolution failed miserably. He failed to convince anybody that government was the problem. All he did was harden the hearts of most all Americans against the extremist wackos who use violence to advance their views.
In spite of all that, I found myself wanting no part of Timothy McVeigh's execution. And yet, sitting there, I realized that we, the self-governed, all were party to it.
I found it ironic that Duluth was remembering the lynching of three black men in 1920 during the same week that McVeigh was killed. True, there is a difference between executing and lynching. Executions are based in law, and lynching is not. However, it has always seemed to me that we encourage or enable death, legally or not, at our own peril. I would rather be about celebrating life.
This is oversimplifying, but most of us fit into three categories.
First, there are the atheists who believe there is no God and no life after death. What you see is what you get. To these people, McVeigh's death is no more than a bug on the windshield. Vengeance is theirs. Justice prevailed, and the world is better off for it.
The other two groups are made up of people who believe in life after death. Many of those people believe McVeigh is now burning in hell.
One of these groups believes that everything that happens is the will of an active God. They believe that we live by God's grace alone. They believe that God turned on McVeigh for his sins. In other words, they say, don't blame me for McVeigh's death. Blame God.
The last group believes God is more passive, but that he still exists as does free will. This group believes that all souls are redeemable, even those as hardened as McVeigh's seemed to be. These people blame McVeigh, but they are willing to give his soul another chance.
No, they aren't willing to let him go free in hopes that he won't kill anybody else, but they are willing to let him live in hopes that some day while he is sitting in his cell, he will realize the error of his ways and repent. They believe that vengeance belongs to God alone. And they believe that each of us has a hand in our own salvation.
The trouble with the first group is that it is too certain in an uncertain world. The trouble with the second is that it distances itself from the unpleasant things that happen in this world. We all had a say in McVeigh's death, and we all ought to accept responsibility.
The trouble with the third group is that it didn't put forth the effort to stop the first two from having their way.
I think the families of many of the Oklahoma City bombing victims are going to have a hard time in the coming weeks and months. This execution was suppose to be the final chapter in this tragedy, but life is not like that. It goes on. Their loved ones aren't coming back, and now they have to face the finality of their loss. It can't be a happy time for them.
One of the reasons I am proud to be a Minnesotan is because I live in one of the 12 states that bans capital punishment. It has been the law since 1911. The last person executed in Minnesota was William Williams in St. Paul in 1905. He was guilty of killing his 14-year-old homosexual lover. When Williams was hung, the hangman miscalculated and made the rope six inches too long. When Williams dropped through the gallows, the rope stretched, his neck stretched and his feet reached the floor. Deputies had to pull on the rope to suspend his feet. Williams gasped and gurgled for 14 minutes before he finally died.
I'm glad I'm not party to that. I wish I weren't party to the death of even someone so remorseless as Timothy McVeigh. Let's rethink this whole death penalty issue. It cheapens human life and hardens every one of us.

Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

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