What lesson can we learn in this case?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 10, 2001

The lesson in life and death is to learn something from each. Those words have been written and spoken by many people for generations.

Alone, the words and their meaning are simple. The application of them is rarely as clear cut.

Take for example the biggest news of today – the execution of the Oklahoma City bomber.

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If everything goes as planned, Timothy McVeigh, arguably the most hated man in America, will be put to death this morning.

His death, the first such federal execution in several decades, has brought out lots of argument for and against the merits of the death penalty.

Some people say McVeigh doesn’t deserve the clean, painless death that comes with lethal injection.

Others argue America doesn’t have the right to take away a man’s life even if that man killed nearly 200 men, women and children.

Regardless of which side of the death penalty fence one sits on, neither side is totally correct. And arguing over the death penalty could go on forever without ever reach a resolution.

More important than arguing over the death penalty is trying to find a lesson to be learned in this tragic event.

In his death McVeigh will mark another page in the sad chapter of American history. His name will be written in the history books alongside such infamous Americans as Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Manson and Jim Jones.

Each has put their mark on history through the death of others. On one hand, McVeigh and the others don’t deserve the immortality their despicable acts provide.

Critics say this infamous immortality is exactly what most of these people seek through the destruction of others.

Those critics go out of their way to avoid mentioning the criminals’ names when discussing their crimes.

While public recognition may be exactly what the criminals sought, society cannot simply ignore these killers and their acts. To do so would be unfair and could, potentially, allow such behavior to reemerge later.

The line between not glorifying the criminal and not forgetting the crime is thin, indeed.

Lots of folks will say killing McVeigh will provide closure to the case. Perhaps it will, but likely only to the part of our country’s collective conscience that seeks a quick fix to such a complicated matter.

But his death doesn’t begin to alleviate the grief of the families and friends left behind. It doesn’t begin to explain an irrational act to rational ears.

McVeigh’s death will certainly give some people a sense of retribution and finality.

And in a literal way, it’s true, when McVeigh is finally put to death and his soul leaves this earth, he will never be able to kill again.

Does his death prevent such a tragedy from happening again?

Certainly not.

If anything can be learned from the Oklahoma City bombing and McVeigh’s death, it’s that evil is around us all each day.

Ignoring its presence will only allow evil to creep through to the surface more easily.

And the victims deserve more.

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.