Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure

Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure

Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure

Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure

Synopsis

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a two-ton truck bomb that felled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. On June 11, 2001, an unprecedented 242 witnesses watched him die by lethal injection. In the aftermath of the bombings, American public commentary almost immediately turned to 'closure' rhetoric. Reporters and audiences alike speculated about whether victim's family members and survivors could get closure from memorial services, funerals, legislation, monuments, trials, and executions. But what does 'closure' really mean for those who survive--or lose loved ones in--traumatic acts? In the wake of such terrifying events, is closure a realistic or appropriate expectation? In Killing McVeigh, Jody Lynee Madeira uses the Oklahoma City bombing as a case study to explore how family members and other survivors come to terms with mass murder.As the fullest case study to date of the Oklahoma City Bombing survivors' struggle for justice and the first-ever case study of closure, this book describes the profound human and institutional impacts of these labours to demonstrate the importance of understanding what closure really is before naively asserting it can or has been reached.

Excerpt

This book is about difficult stories—narratives of emotionally grueling, intellectually challenging, and physically trying experiences—that are demanding for both tellers and receivers. It is also about “closure,” but not as this term is used by the media, where it is often overhyped but ill-defined and manifestly unrealistic, particularly with regard to victims of traumatic events. As an Oklahoma City bombing survivor once explained to me, if you close the door forever on a past event, then you lose the ability to see what is on the other side. This, then, is my focus: What is closure? Does it exist? If so, where and for whom? If not, why?

An impoverished—but popular—usage of closure prevents us from truly engaging with these difficult stories and empathizing with those who tell them and live in them. In common parlance, this term has acquired unfortunate, inaccurate, and crude meanings: the possibility of imposing term limits on grief, of categorically resolving incoherent and fragmented tragedies. Contemporary usages of closure trivialize this dynamic concept, portraying as static what is supple, conclusive what is contingent. These characterizations are too crude to help us effectively engage with how people evolve, create, and revise transformative narratives in the wake of traumatic events. They pose offensively unsophisticated answers to questions that are profound, personal, and deeply troubling. Among this book’s many purposes is to offer an extended critique and deepening of this term that has become so cheapened by its use in contemporary popular culture, allowing us to not only glimpse but also understand a crucial human element in the aftermath of catastrophe that an overly simplistic—indeed, mindless—use of the term obscures. In order to do that, I turn to the experiences of victims’ family members and survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Although I did not know it at the time, the seeds of this book were planted on February 2, 1984, when I was seven years old. For the past few years, we had lived in a home just off the American army base in Göppingen, Germany. That afternoon was ordinary; my father, a lieutenant colonel in the . . .

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