Sometime this week the good people of Sweden will be listening to me discussing the Oklahoma City bombing on their equivalent of National Public Radio.
I'm not sure how many of them will actually understand what I'm saying, since the Swedish language is very different tongue than English. Nor am I quite certain how this interview about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing will play out in a world so far away from Oklahoma.
I'm still unsure why I even agreed to the interview. It was requested in the wake of the weekend rampage in Oslo, Norway, in which what appears to be a lone attacker bombed the capital and then shot up a youth camp. The echoes of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building popped up pretty quick — and it's difficult not to draw comparisons between the alleged killer in Norway and mass murderer Timothy McVeigh.
I reported on that 1995 attack. I've covered the recovery of downtown ever since. But I've always been a bit skittish about the whole thing. A week into the tragedy I fled Oklahoma City, naively thinking I could escape the story. On the second anniversary of the bombing I literally lost control of my emotional well being — I just couldn't bear to watch the procession of victims' relatives and survivors marching down Robinson Avenue.
I've avoided getting involved in bombing coverage ever since. I've visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial only once, and that was with the kind accommodation of director Kari Watkins allowing me to visit after hours.
My 9-year-old son knows the bombing occurred. He asks questions about it. To date I've yet to answer those questions or take him to the memorial.
But 16 years after McVeigh took the lives of 168 people. I agreed to talk about it with people halfway around the world. I'm not sure why. But the questions asked by Agneta Furvik with the Swedish Broadcasting Corp. left me remembering why Oklahoma City's response that dreadful day was so incredible, and why the memorial is such sacred ground.
Furvik is obviously looking to Oklahoma City as a guide on the potential fallout of the attack in Norway. She came to the interview with the perspective that McVeigh's slaughter somehow changed Oklahoma City; that it created security measures that turned government into an unapproachable entity, that it divided us and made us less trustful of our government.
The questions were upsetting. They assumed that people hate our government and that McVeigh somehow succeeded creating a post-1995 America at war with itself. Did this reporter not know of Oklahoma's reputation for being one of the friendliest places in America? Did she not know about the “Oklahoma standard,” how McVeigh's murders drew us closer, regardless of status, income, race or religion?
She treated the alleged killer in Norway as some sort of a political warrior, right or wrong in his objectives, and described McVeigh in the same terms. I objected in the strongest terms. These guys weren't political conservatives. They weren't Christians. They're murderers. They lost all respect for life. They forgot the beauty in an infant's smile, the inspiration of a teenager brimming with hope for the future, the industriousness of a young adult, the brilliant pragmatism of a parent, and the wisdom of an elder.
When I was asked for the interview, I was told it would be about how downtown has changed since the bombing. Had I known of the questions to be asked, I would have said no. It would be too painful. I lose sleep whenever I get emotionally engaged on the bombing.
But that night I slept. I told the citizens of Sweden that their neighbors will have some painful times ahead, that the pain may never fully go away. But if Oklahoma City has anything to tell the rest of the world, it's this: guns and bombs can never conquer the human heart.