Executioners and Miracle Bullets

Was McVeigh a suicide bomber?

Paul W Pearce

Incoming! Incoming!

FOOP...funny word, terrifying sound, echoing up from the valleys coming from everywhere/nowhere.' FOOP...Hug the ground, taste the dirt, inhale the red dust. Nowhere to hide, nothing for protection. FOOP...pray to a god I no longer can believe in that I won't be blown to pieces like the burned and mangled enemy bodies dangling from the nearby trees.

BOOM...the mortar shell explodes, the screaming starts. BOOM...helpless and vulnerable I lie there frozen, like being caught in a violent lightning storm never knowing where or when it will strike again. But this is not a random storm, some other humans are out there aiming at us. BOOM...pray to that unbelievable god that I won't get hit. BOOM...scared and frustrated, I think of that miracle bullet others have talked about, the one that wounds you enough to send you home without permanent damage. BOOM...-in desperation contemplate the unthinkable, if this won't stop then do it- take me out- get it over with. BOOM...I'm in a war I never believed in, I have surrendered all control over my life and have been reduced to wishing that life away.

Author (front) with Doc Kelly (Conscientious Objector)
hill 712 Central Highlands Vietnam 1969

I flashed back to hill 712 near Poli Klang on the day of Timothy Mcveigh's execution. That same day, a Japanese Man stabbed to death 8 school children. He admitted his desire to commit suicide but he couldn't bear to do it himself. His murderous act was a cry for "police assisted suicide".

Given the fact that over 13% of executions since Gary Gilmore have been requested, or overtly uncontested, it is time that we give serious thought to the notions of a self imposed death penalty and Society Assisted Suicide.

Just as I (a relatively sane and privileged white middle class male) could wish my life away when trapped in a desperate and uncontrollable situation, I wonder how many lives are wished away in our world riddled with poverty, sickness, abuse and oppression.

FOOP...your company changes ownership. BOOM...-you lose your job. FOOP... a chemical company moves into your neighborhood. BOOM...you're sick, BOOM... you have no health insurance.

Suicide has a strong taboo against it, but death from an outside source is somehow more acceptable. In Edward Albee's play "The Zoo Story," Jerry (a desperate loser) encounters Peter (the embodiment of the American dream) on a Sunday in Central Park. Peter is unaware that Jerry has chosen him to be his executioner. In a tragic and brilliant plot, Jerry draws Peter into his sordid world and tricks him into being the instrument of Jerry's death. Jerry is a victim of life, Peter become a victim of Jerry's desperation. In the end, Jerry thanks Peter for comforting him and "doing correctly that which he had gone a long way out of his way to do."

In Vietnam my job as a forward observer was to direct artillery and mortar fire at the enemy just as they were doing to us. On one operation one of my shells landed too close and accidentally slashed the wrist of one of our men. As we waited for the medivac helicopter he thanked me for giving him the wound that would send him home.

Desperation is a state of mind that is fueled both internally and externally. Kurt Vonnegut says that some people have "bad wiring" while others fall prey to circumstance and bad luck. Not everyone who becomes desperate will be moved to violence and self-destruction although we live in a very destructive society.

Look at the abuses manifested in crime, drugs/addictions (including smoking, alcohol, gambling, lotto, TV and the internet), poor diet, bad relationships, substandard living conditions and our polluted environment.

Children fall prey to all of this. They are the victims and observers of so much abuse that psychologists report that many are exhibiting signs of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). This affects all their interactions with society and must contribute to the alarming rise in the rate of teen suicides.

Desperation mixed with irrational thinking is a deadly, combination. Feeling that you have nothing to lose is an invitation to reckless and destructive behavior. Risking your freedom and/or your life becomes insignificant when you don't value the life that you have. Whenever we did something real stupid or dangerous in the war we justified it by saying "It don't mean nothing, what, are they going to do, send me to the Nam?" It is not a coincidence that we use, the words murder/ suicide or mass murder/suicide together, or that violent crime rates go up in states that have a death penalty.

Returning from Vietnam in 1969, I watched a film about dance marathons during the "Great Depression". Contestants entertained a paying audience by dancing until elimination by exhaustion. The dancers tried to win money to help ensure their survival. When unsuccessful, Gloria (ironically played by Jane Fonda) has her partner kill her using the justification (and the movie title) "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" Note that this film deals with problems created by society rather than individuals.

We are in a time of great economic disparity and the ranks of desperate people grow every day. Governmental/Business decisions, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, have created more problems for an expanding underclass, setting the stage for more irrational and destructive behavior.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the suicide doctor, opens his book "Prescription: Medicide, the Goodness of Planned Death" with a grisly description of an execution by electrocution in Louisiana. He then laments -the fact that the prisoner's vital organs couldn't be harvested for transplant to deserving recipients. He reveals a sinister and callous disregard for the circumstances leading to the death penalty by admitting that executions will be done for political, religious and judicial reasons and will not always be just. He proposes the "rebirth" of an ancient practice whereby condemned criminals are executed by submitting to experimentation in anatomical laboratories. He went so far as to get a condemned man to give written permission for this choice of execution. This prisoner submits to Kevorkian's selling point by writing "It would help me to think that I didn't succeed in making a total mess of my life, that I may have helped someone, somewhere, sometime." Like the person who can no longer provide for their family and turns to disguised suicide to collect insurance, Kevorkian now offers a redeeming value with the punishment for your criminal act. This plays right into the guilt and redemption philosophies that permeate our society and might even seem logical and acceptable to a mainstream population that can't accept or empathize with the tragic conditions our civilization has created.

We sit by as our government moves the death penalty onto the fast track. Like Peter in The Zoo Story we should recognize our potential collaboration in self destructive acts. We need to make life more worth living for everyone and not accept the conditions that encourage abuse. We can't allow the death penalty to become the solution for a desperate life perceived as hopeless.

This was originally written in 1993 following the execution by hanging of Wesley Allan Dodd.

Paul is an artist and veteran activist

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