The day heard 'round the nation

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Apr 18, 2010 12:00 AM

Tomorrow is April 19. For what is this date famous?

That’s easy. April 19 marks the anniversary of “the shot heard ’round the world.”

No, not Bobby Thomson’s 1951 ninth inning pennant-clinching blast against the Dodgers. Think back to long before that. It is the 235th anniversary of a musket ball fired that marked the singular moment in human history when the idea of freedom violently and successfully asserted itself.

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This first exchange of official gunfire between colonists and British Redcoats just outside Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1775, began the Revolutionary War. And the Revolutionary War began the United States of America.

Yet, tomorrow, this glorious anniversary will go largely unnoticed, uncelebrated.

Instead, the focus will be on a more recent and more disturbing day in our history: April 19, 1995. On this date, 15 years ago, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, murdering 168 innocent men, women, and children.

Don’t get me wrong: The Oklahoma City bombing deserves remembrance, especially with the wounds still fresh, with so many Oklahomans still grieving the loss of loved ones and suffering from lifelong injuries.

I know a good many Sooner State citizens and had the experience of visiting the city a month or so after the bombing. I’ll never forget walking along the fence that had been placed around the site and seeing it completely covered with a tapestry of tokens of love for those killed. I spent quite some time reading many of the thousands of handwritten, heart-wrenching notes placed on that fence.

Let’s never forget the Oklahoma City bombing — neither the one cowardly act of terrorism nor the countless acts of heroism and goodness that followed.

But let’s also never forget the shot heard “round the world.” We can remember both. (Just stop chewing gum.)

When we reflect on the Oklahoma City bombing, let’s do it with respect, sans the political spin. Veiled or not-so-veiled comparisons to current peaceful movements to hold government accountable have no place in intelligent political discourse.

And yet precisely these amorphous accusations now rage across the nation’s media outlets.

Back in 1995, then-President Bill Clinton suggested that conservative talk radio was somehow responsible for pushing McVeigh over the edge with their “anti-government” rhetoric.“They leave the impression that — by their very words — violence is acceptable,” Clinton said.

Funny, I never got that impression. I enthusiastically applaud the violence of the American Revolution. Colonial Americans had exhausted peaceful petition of their government. But similar political violence today would be completely wrong. This is where, in recent comments, Clinton has a lucid moment (not that any serious person was ever contesting the point): there are peaceful means of political change.

Only a criminal fool commits an act of violence when peaceful change is achievable.

Of course, one could just as easily blame Clinton for being the man in charge when Attorney General Janet Reno, the ATF and his administration ran the botched raid and 51-day siege and then the April 19, 1993 final raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, that ended with the fiery deaths of 76 people, including David Koresh. It was this governmental action that McVeigh used as justification, which is why he struck on the same date.

But Waco doesn’t excuse McVeigh’s mass killing. That’s the lesson. And neither peaceful protest nor loud and forceful argument inexorably leads to violence. In fact, peaceful protest and passionate argument are essential elements in preventing violence.

Now Mr. Clinton is back, again intimating that the rhetoric used by Tea Party activists and “right-wing, radio talk-show hosts” may foster domestic terrorism.

Last week, Clinton said that leading up to the bombing in Oklahoma City, “there were a lot of people who were in the business back then of saying that the biggest threat to our liberty and the cause of our economic problems was the federal government itself.”

I was one of those people then; I am still one today. But both our message and our method is peace . . . combining a fervent desire to use the freedom we have left to change the policies empowering the federal government at the expense of our freedoms.

Agree or disagree with such views, but have the decency to acknowledge this: The Tea Parties have assembled hundreds of thousands of Americans in protest without hardly garnering a parking violation. The insinuation that violence is eminent because of conservative opposition to our current political situation smacks of nothing more than a cheap and dirty political trick.

Maybe Bill should listen to his wife, Hillary, who yelled exasperatedly during the previous administration, “We have a right to debate and disagree with any administration!”

There’s also an MSNBC documentary airing tomorrow entitled, “The McVeigh Tapes.” A promotional spot for the program, hosted by Rachel Maddow, asks, “Can McVeigh’s words help us understand today’s government extremists?”

Maddow commented about the timing of the program, stating, “And, right now, I think we are experiencing an upswing again in sort of anti-government extremism.”

I think what we’re experiencing is an upswing in Democrats talking about anti-government extremism, because they’re scared of an extremely concerned and agitated public. This growing opposition is, of course, triggered by extremist policies promoted, over the last several years, by both Republicans and Democrats.

To confuse peaceful protest against government excess with violence and terrorism is dangerous in a way that peaceful protest itself can never be. Clinton and his friends are setting the stage for another government over-reaction.

The kind we all want to avoid.

Tomorrow, let’s not forget the evil and futility of terrorism, of the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. And let us not fall into the trap of mistaking calls for peaceful change as leading to terrorism, thus embracing government repression “in response.” As we remember “the shot heard ’round the world,” we must make sure our government does not ape King George rather than the republic that grew out of that single shot.