We Have Met the Enemy . . .

The Timothy McVeigh case presents an extraordinary challenge for us anti-death penalty right-to-lifers. Here the arguments for execution are strong and clear. For one thing there is the scale of the crime to consider--168 killed and many more injured in a single stroke. Then there is the cold and calculating nature of the crime. It was utterly unprovoked and the victims were random innocents, unknown to the killer, some of them small children. It was a crime planned to produce a body count, as McVeigh may or may not have said in the alleged confession published by The Dallas Morning News.

Further compounding the horror of McVeigh’s crime is its political-collective nature. It was not an attack on a person, though God knows enough people were killed. It was instead an attack on the state, and on the democratic civil society that still, however shakily, underlies the American state. It could be argued that this is more serious than ordinary street murders because if civil society dissolves so will the ties that bind citizens together. The result would be a Hobbesian war of all against all—or street crime as a way of common life.

The political nature of McVeigh’s assault could also be said to argue for execution by suggesting invocation of the rules of war. McVeigh, though silent at his trial, clearly sees himself as a combatant, and the warrior expects to pay the ultimate price. So, one could argue, there is no reason to have qualms about exacting that price.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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