Amid the flag-waving of these two most patriotic months of the year in Utah (from Memorial Day to Pioneer Day), I have the song “Proud to be an American” in my head frequently.
And generally I share those feelings of pride in my country, a unique democracy founded on principles of equality.
But Monday, June 11, I had a hard time identifying with that idea, as my government put a man to death. The man was guilty of a horrendous crime, but what we as a nation did by taking that which God alone has the right to take is equally appalling.
I do not defend or reduce the significance of what happened that April morning six years ago; I remember seeing the image of that building ripped apart by a terrorist’s bomb, and I remember driving through Oklahoma City at night a few weeks later and feeling a city’s grief palpable in the air.
But by stooping to the level of the killer, we have implicated ourselves in the pervasive guilt that is born when a human life is taken.
Some try to justify our actions by demonizing the man (so often called a “monster”), by speaking of “justice” (which is such an amorphous idea that mortal man can not begin to understand it), or by ignoring the repercussions of our actions.
We as a people are guilty of homicide, and no line of reasoning can change that fact. Not one of the victims has been brought back by this futile act of retaliation.
Revenge, cloaked in noble rhetoric of recompense, is the motive for such a deed. Supporters of capital punishment speak of deterring crime, but the body count is simply increased, and all that happens is instead of one killer, we now have a nation of people with blood on our hands.
Our thirst for vengeance blinds us to the humanity that binds you and me and even the murderer together. And so I look out at the flags flying over Provo, and at the banner on the stadium celebrating a festival of freedom, and I struggle to sing that patriotic song to myself, but instead of “God bless the USA,” all I can think is “God forgive the USA.”
And I’m not sure that will happen as long as we seek justice by imitating the murderer.
Roy Turner, Provo, UT