Killers Kill the Killer

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It is common to observe that government isn’t very good at anything. But there are exceptions. It is well practiced at the art of killing.

The federal government killed Timothy McVeigh because he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people. He did this, he says, as a retaliatory act against the federal government that is responsible for the killing of 80 people in Waco, Texas.

McVeigh is dead but those whose decisions led him to undertake his government-style attack have never even been tried in court. McVeigh never offered a serious apology; neither has the federal government.

The underlying message here is morally ambiguous. We are evidently supposed to distinguish between murder by the state (which is okay) and murder by the individual (which is not okay), even though this distinction eluded federally trained McVeigh.

McVeigh has said many times that the moral code under which he was operating was one he learned in the military during wartime, when no one pays much attention to the niceties of conventional ethics and dead innocents are dismissed as collateral damage. He says his attack was u201Cmilitary styleu201D: indeed it was. Who is the mysterious John Doe Number 2, without whom McVeigh never could have pulled it off? I nominate the federal government.

In humane moral systems, any killing not strictly necessary for self-defense is considered murder and rightly punished. Before the middle of the 19th century, this was true even in war. In a just war, there must be no disproportionate damage and civilians must never be involved.

But the advent of u201Ctotal waru201D drafted everyone into government conflicts. Everyone became a target. It was only a matter of time before the same rule was applied against the state itself.

The U.S. government is well practiced at disregarding the old rules of what constitutes a just war. I did some quick figuring, with the help of R. J. Rummel and other historians. I figure that Uncle Sam has collaterally damaged 2,523,625 human beings in the last 150 years.

women and children murdered by the U.S. Army
Photo by Ronald L. Haeberle

The dirty work involved My Lai, Waco, Hiroshima, Wounded Knee, Sherman’s March, the Trail of Tears, Kent State, Ruby Ridge, the War on Drugs, Nagasaki, No Gun Ri, Dresden, the bombing of Serbia, Indian Wars, Philippine War, forced repatriation of persons to the Soviet Union after WWII, Chinese Boxer Rebellion, invasion of the Confederacy, murder of civilians, WWII, Viet Nam, and trade sanctions against Iraq.

Violence breeds violence. When government uses indiscriminate violence, it
encourages retaliation, cheapens life, and teaches that violence is a useful
and justified means of achieving social goals. The answer to reducing
violence is not more killing, but less; better yet, none.

Our clueless media tells us that Timothy McVeigh is the biggest mass murderer in American history. Correction — with extra credit for Monday’s poisoning, the master’s body count is way ahead of the student’s: Timothy McVeigh — 168, Federal Government — 2,523,626.

June 13, 2001

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at

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