Today is the anniversary of an extraordinary tragedy: the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh. I was just reading a piece on TIME about the anniversary when the following struck me:

“Timothy McVeigh killed 168 innocent men, women and children in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.”

Why do we always say “innocent”? What does innocent mean? In my strange and sometimes heretical spiritual worldview, I understand that not a one of us is “innocent.” In some way, to me, it takes away the humanity of those people who were killed to always call them “innocent”. I’m sure some of them fought with a loved one that morning. I’m sure others of them were slacking off at work.  I’m sure some were thinking uncharitable thoughts of a coworker. You know, the kind of stuff each and every one of us is doing as we go about our workday. Each of those people killed was just a person trying to have a normal day, and thanks to the actions of a violent extremist, didn’t wake up to see the next day.  They were human beings with good and bad, dark and light, sin and holy image, all mixed into one. And losing them is a tragedy, an unspeakable horror, even if they weren’t “innocent.”

Not to mention, in what sort of mass bombing would the victims not be “innocent”? Is there some way of deserving to be killed while you’re just going about your workday? Who gets to decide who is “innocent” and who is somehow deserving of a tragedy?

3 Replies to “innocent”

  1. Totally agreed. What if he had bombed a federal penitentiary? It would still be a tragic and senseless loss of life.


  2. This irks me too. The gravity of the tragedy is apparently inversely related to the deservingness (is this a word? does it make my point?) of the victim/s.
    People who “deserve” to die don’t get sympathy? And, yeah, who gets to decide? NBC? CNN? Fox? Egads.


  3. Perhaps the flip side to this is a study done a while ago in which people were given a scenario in which either an aggressor killed a victim or the aggressor was himself killed. The study went on to conclude that people make completely non-rational choices since, and this is the key part, the same number of people died in both scenarios making them morally identical. Or perhaps people made rational choices and the moral criteria of the researchers was complete nonsense. Anyway, innocence certainly has SOMETHING to do with it – if a bombing occurs against people who are themselves preparing to bomb others we tend to see this as the risks one takes on when one decides to solve conflict violently.


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