Waco: The Rules of Engagement

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 1997 | Go to article overview

Waco: The Rules of Engagement


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


"Culture," Lionel Trilling once wrote, "is a prison." He meant that the assumptions and values of a culture circumscribe the perceptions of those steeped in it. We see reality a certain way, make judgments about what is right and true as we do, in part because of cues we pick up from the culture that surrounds us.

A new documentary now playing in select theaters "Waco: The Rules of Engage meet" is a terrifying indictment of our inability to break out of these prisons. On one level, the film documents the conflict in Waco, Texas, between two hostile, opposing cultures -- the Biblical apocalypticism of the Branch Davidians and the macho militarism of federal law enforcement. The Davidians and government agents consistently misinterpreted one another's intentions and desires. The producers reserve their harshest judgment for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI, who provoked the conflict and determined to end it by any means necessary.

On another level, the film puts all of us in the dock, who looked on at Waco, interpreting events through the ready-made categories spun out by the media: the Davidians were a "cult," their home a "compound," their guns an "arsenal," and so on. Few Americans asked tougher questions about the government's actions -- in effect ceding criticism of what happened to far-right militia groups.

The film suggests that the people who were shot, burned and gassed in Waco died not because they posed a threat to anyone, but because their millenarian view of the world clashed -- in frustratingly predictable fashion -- with the soldierly ethos of law enforcement. The logic of escalation took over, with the inevitable climax of an all-out military assault.

To say it as simply as possible: people didn't have to die. Consider the following points, made in the documentary.

* While federal law enforcement consistently called the Davidians a "cult," they were in fact an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. They had a strong commitment to a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation, but religious studies scholars who had interviewed the Davidians saw nothing "cultish" in their outlook or behavior.

* Far from being tied to the Mount Carmel property by the force of David Koresh's personality, some members of the group had been there for over 40 years, well before Koresh arrived. Some had been born and had grown up there. They were united by their apocalyptic theology, not the charisma of Koresh.

* That theology was almost comically misunderstood by law enforcement agents. When scholar Jim Tabor offered help, the ATF agent in charge admitted that his men had been flipping through Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms trying to figure out what Koresh was talking about.

* Months prior to the standoff, David Koresh had invited ATF agents out to inspect his guns. They never responded. Instead, the morning of the February raid, the ATF erected a media center to publicize what it expected to be a successful operation -- but had no system in place for contacting emergency services if something went wrong.

* When the siege was finally brought to an end on the morning of April 19, FBI tanks injected the Davidian buildings with a mixture of CS gas and methylene chloride that, in enclosed spaces, can cause suffocation -- and, when it burns, forms hydrogen cyanide, the same gas used in prison gas chambers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Waco: The Rules of Engagement
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.