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April 19th, 2010
05:00 PM ET

OKC Bombing 15 Years Later: What shall we do about us?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/18/t1.okc.building.jpg caption="The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK after the bomb explosion 15 years ago." width=300 height=169]

Benjamin Ola Akande
Dean, School of Business and Technology
Webster University

I recall my return visit to Oklahoma City about nine years ago. I was passing through on my way to Lawton, Oklahoma to visit Webster University’s graduate center there. The drive from the airport through downtown OKC brought back memories of my ten years living in the area as a student.

Then, I was eager and very impressionable. How I loved the city! The topography was wide open, the people so down to earth and so tolerant. This had to be the safest city in America, I remember telling myself. And I believed it.

As I approached the city on Interstate 40, I could feel those same old emotions rise within me. The spires of scores of churches climbed above the welter of new suburban development. I had not remembered so many churches, but the sight brought back to mind the way the people of Oklahoma City treated each other with respect and civility.

It was the antithesis of acts of kindness and understanding that brought me back to Oklahoma City. I had come to see the monument to the victims of the bombing of the Murrah Building. My trip had been prompted in part by "American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing," the recent biography of McVeigh.

The book troubled me. It unintentionally glorified the heinous, senseless acts of hatred, fear and intolerance that resulted in the horrendous blast that mutilated and killed 168 men, women and children. For some who are bitter and disenfranchised, I am afraid Lou Michel’s and Dan Herbeck’s biography will illuminate a path of vengeance.

We have seen how one school shooting leads to another, how reports of workplace murders tend to beget others, how violence leads to copycat crimes. We have seen how the tranquility of middle-American cities has been forever shattered by the willful, dastardly acts of one or two deranged people.

Did Tim McVeigh’s execution on May 16, 2001 avenge the murders of the 168 killed in the bombing? What kind of society have we become, that this execution is deemed by the courts to be fitting “closure” to grief felt by family members of the victims? How does his death restore Oklahoma City’s persona to that which I knew as a student and young professional years ago?

I still have no answers nor were any apparent to me as I gazed on the stark and silent chairs – each representing a McVeigh victim – on the site where the Murrah Building once stood.

No longer can I look at the Oklahoma City skyline and feel the sense of peace and goodwill that greeted me two decades ago. In that sense, we are all victims; victims of a malady for which there is no apparent cure. We may legislate against possession of guns, or explosive devices, or implements of group destruction. That will help. But it is we, not the materials that lie at the core of those abject acts of utter violence. It begs the question, what shall we do about us?

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Laura

    The little girl in that picture was the granddaughter of friends of my family who live in OKC. Thanks for remembering her, as well as all the others..

    April 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  2. Sarah, Canterbury - UK

    I visually remember the picture of the fireman bring out an injured little girl, she was just this little one year old. Unfortunately, she died in hospital from her injuries.

    Just such a tragic and terrible waste of life against innocent victims.

    April 19, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  3. Miguel in NY

    What a sad anniversary. Home-grown terrorism, courtesy of trash such as Timothy McVeigh. I hope he's rotting in hell for having killed all of those innocent people, and for what? Politics? Protest? There is NO JUSTIFICATION for causing the deaths of innocent people, including the 19 children who died at the hands of cowardly McVeigh. My thoughts and prayers are with the familes and colleagues of those who perished that day.

    April 19, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  4. tim

    Like everyone else the reminders of where we were that tragic day in history.that so many innacent lives were lost in such a shamless act.let us rember and prey for those whom loved ones were lost...

    April 19, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  5. Kirsten Verdi

    The picture still sends chills down my spine.
    My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

    April 19, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  6. AndyMan

    There is no cure save the realization that is just a meanness in this world and we must know that when it reaches out to act out, there is little we can do to stop it.

    April 19, 2010 at 6:05 am |