The martyrdom begins here.
May 10, 2001 12:15 PM   Subscribe

The martyrdom begins here. "David Woodard, a Los Angeles composer, said Wednesday the 12 1/2 minute piece is intended to bring comfort to the man guilty of the worst act of terrorism ever committed on American soil—the 1995 bombing that killed 168 men, women and children at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. Woodard, however, draws parallels with Jesus Christ, who, he says, like McVeigh 'was 33 and nearly universally despised at the time of his execution.''' (The official Google response to this allegation.)
posted by maura (15 comments total)
I guess some people are just more willing (or able) to separate the deed from the man. Personally, I think McVeigh is an inhuman monster. I don't care how well he's handled himself recently and in the face of his own imminent death. I don't think he deserves this kind of tribute. Hitler had a mistress and, I can only assume, was capable of tender love for her. Does that mean we should give him a tribute for it? I believe that a person is defined, in part, by his or her actions and the weight given to them. The murder of over 160 people is a pretty heavy deed on McVeigh's personality.
posted by starvingartist at 12:55 PM on May 10, 2001

Waco was a tragedy. Oklahoma City was a tragedy. The execution of a human being as a deliberate state act extends the string of tragedies by proving we've learned nothing from them.

A composer's job, to oversimplify, is to bring his emotions to the surface and realize them in art which, hopefully, has some resonance with other's feelings. There's a lot of emotion around this string of American tragedies. Woodard is doing what composers do.

I don't see what martyrdom has to do with it. That comment smells like more fingerpointing. Haven't we had enough?

posted by Twang at 1:11 PM on May 10, 2001

McVeigh's human. If it makes life easier to believe that mass murder, torture and all other atrocities are outside the range of "human" activity, then fine. But they're not. Human behavior encompasses an enormous range of behaviors, beautiful to nightmarish, none of which make us gods or demons. Only human.

Elie Weisel has said that when he first laid eyes on Eichmann, who'd planned much of the Final Solution, he couldn't believe Eichmann wasn't green with seven arms -- that he looked like a human. Which he was -- a reprehensible human, but a human.
posted by argybarg at 1:29 PM on May 10, 2001

Fine, we agree to disagree on the human/inhuman thing. But there are just some things you don't do. Blowing up a building with people inside it, people who have lives and families and loved ones, is one of those things. Playing a piece you composed for that murderer to "lift his spirits" and "provid comfort" to him is, in my opinion, another thing you don't do. As an artist, I completely understand the need to create whatever the hell you feel like creating. But creating and displaying are two different things. If I were to suddenly feel the need to create a play about how I want desperately to rape small children, I could do that. But I certainly would never perform it. That would be stupid and detrimental. This composer is not even thinking about the victims, and I don't really believe that McVeigh deserves any comfort or sympathy. If he feels bad about what he did, maybe he shouldn't have done it in the first place.
posted by starvingartist at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2001

Of course I agree with you; you state the case well. I don't buy that McVeigh's-evil-is-our-evil and we're-all-guilty or anything like that. But seeing the guilty as inhuman is what lets societies permit war and genocide and executions. I'm sure Timothy McVeigh managed to convince himself that government workers aren't human beings, either.

And I haven't heard anything to suggest that McVeigh feels sorry. Quite the opposite, really.
posted by argybarg at 2:29 PM on May 10, 2001

okay, really, let the record show that i do not think mcveigh should be executed -- he *wants* it, and therefore it really isn't punishment, and also i'm not for the death penalty anyway. i just thought the jesus comparison was, y'know, sort of extreme. although i guess it's a time-tested way to get lots of publicity ...
posted by maura at 2:41 PM on May 10, 2001

Argybarg, that doesn't address starvingartist's point about sympathy at all. For what reason does Timothy McVeigh deserve sympathy? He is in his situation because of his own actions. He is facing the consequences of what he chose to do of his own accord.

If McVeigh had been killed when he did something really outrageously stupid, (man dies when skinny dipping in artic wading pool for polar bears at national zoo) the link to the news story would likely appear on MeFi as "Another Darwin Candidate" and the comments would be overflowing with schadenfreude.

But now McVeigh will die as a result of his outrageously stupid, outrageously vile, violent, inhumane actions and we're supposed be concerned with giving him sympathy and comfort? I don't think so. Perhaps we do discount his humanity, but I'd propose that it's a broad leap to equate the "dehumanising" of a mass murdering terrorist to the scapegoating entire populations which leads to war and genocide, and neither are in any way equivalent to punishing a known criminal for his criminal acts.
posted by Dreama at 2:49 PM on May 10, 2001

Dreama, nobody is asking you to feel sympathy for McVeigh. This particular musician does.
posted by Doug at 3:18 PM on May 10, 2001

I have absolutely no wish to give Timothy McVeigh comfort. I couldn't care less about his suffering; not only is he a mass-murderer, he sounds like a self-pitying, preening, egomaniacal mass-murderer. But I don't think I said anything about reserving sympathy for him or asking people to stop scapegoating him. I just said that to say he's not a human is to give humans an underserved easy break.

If you want to believe that Hitler wasn't human, go ahead. But there's no reason to believe kindness is a human trait and hate isn't.

(In the same way, we always talk about a drug's "side effects" when there are only effects.)

An alien studying humans would accurately say that humans are as capable of vile atrocities as they are of kindness. I'd agree. (But I'd also condemn the atrocities).
posted by argybarg at 3:21 PM on May 10, 2001

There was a famous essay on the Eichmann trial subtitled A Report on the Banality of Evil. Author Hannah Arendt, who like Wiesel attended the trial, found that he was a simple man with simple aims, or at least she portrayed him that way.

This is nothing new.
posted by dhartung at 8:38 PM on May 10, 2001

Gotta agree with both argybarg and starving artist here. McVeigh is human. Not one I would want to have the entire race judge on, but he is human nonetheless.

You know, looking at the rest of this post, I realize that it may come off as offensive or smarmy, but it`s sort of been a rough day and I`ve already written it.

He is however, a bad human. We have taken him out of the corral because he tends to sneak up and hurt other humans and we don`t like that very much. So we put him in a special place. Now, if he was going to spend many years (i.e., a life sentence) in this place, most of the humans back in the corral forget about him and he spends time alone and rots.

But he`s not gonna spend too much time in the special place; we`re gonna kill him. So he gets lots more attention, partly because some of the humans don`t like the idea of killing other humans no matter what the reason. A human who may or may not like what McVeigh has done now feels sorry for him and has written "Music for Tim to die by." Tim gets to hear it right before he dies. This music making human said some things comparing the killer human to another human that lots of people think is very good and in fact part god. May people are angry. Many Mefins are afraid that this will turn into another death penalty thread.

But what if McVeigh had gotten a life sentence. Would anybody have been inspired to write "sonata for bomber to rot by?" Would anyone care if they did?

Also, in "Dead Man Walking," they said that there was no music allowed in the death chamber or death watch cell or whatever. Was that true? If so, why is the McVeigh case different?
posted by chiheisen at 11:30 PM on May 10, 2001

Uh, forgot about why I gotta agree with starvingartist here.

Because the guy in question did some pretty horrible things, regardless of whether he`s a human or a dolphin or a pitbull terrier, he desrves every last bit of horror coming his way.

Now, to work on making shorter posts....
posted by chiheisen at 11:33 PM on May 10, 2001

Comparing Tim McVeigh to Jesus Christ may very well be one of the most disturbing comparisons I've ever heard. However, just as he's no saviour, McVeigh is also no satan.

Is Tim McVeigh human? Yes.
Is what he did reprehensible? Yes.
Is Tim McVeigh a monster? No.

Granted, he's shown no remorse for what he has done, but McVeigh's perspective is "eye for an eye." He believes the government did a disservice to humanity by killing David Koresh and a bunch of his followers. In the gov't's attempt to take down Koresh, "collateral damage" occurred. Innocent people - including children - were killed in that fire. Yet the gov't got away with it. In McVeigh's mind, the "collateral damage" of Oklahoma City was fair retaliation for what happened in Waco.

I am NOT saying by any STRETCH of the imagination that I am taking McVeigh's side here. I find both the events of Waco and OK City equally deplorable. Any time someone must resort to violence, they lose the argument. Uorganized perhaps or perhaps just underground, but there is a rebellion brewing. McVeigh may have acted alone. I doubt it. We may never know who or what ordered him to do what he did. However, I will bet you that whoever told him to blow up that building also told him to play martyr if he got caught.

McVeigh doesn't remind me of Jesus. He reminds me of Lee Harvey Oswald. He reminds me of Colonel Oliver North. The look on McVeigh's face in the past seven years is the look of a patsy, with no hope of salvation, who's only trying to die with some vague shadow of dignity. Granted, this affords Woodard some publicity, but the composer is also doing a very Christian thing and something others could learn from: Hate the action but not the man. His "prequiem" is an attempt to assist McVeigh in that vague shadow of dignity. Don't like it? Don't listen. I think the world has already given this man more attention than is necessary.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:13 AM on May 11, 2001

It's one thing to hate the action but not the man, it's another thing to compare a murderer to Jesus Christ. There's nothing Christ-like in that at all.
posted by Dreama at 9:48 AM on May 11, 2001

Looks like the composer will have a bit more time to tighten the composition, the execution has been delayed for a month.
posted by thirteen at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2001

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