Copyright 1995 Southam Inc.
The Gazette (Montreal)
May 1, 1995, Monday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: EDITORIAL/OP-ED; ECONOMIC AFFAIRS; Pg. B3
LENGTH: 831 words
HEADLINE: Right wing unfairly blamed in Oklahoma bombing
BYLINE: WILLIAM WATSON; FREELANCE
Ian Brown, host of CBC Radio's Sunday Morning, spent his closing editorial last week inviting us all to share in the blame for the Oklahoma City bombing. Especially, he seemed to suggest, those of us on the right of the political spectrum. If we'd ever complained too bitterly about government, if we'd ever denounced welfare recipients too vigorously, then we'd played a part in creating the intellectual and emotional climate in which some people might be provoked into lunacy. (These were not his exact words. It was radio. I was driving. But it's the gist of what he said.)
So, this weekend, when you calculated how much income tax you paid this year - not how much you're "getting back," the government's sneaky way of making you think they haven't done you any damage, but how much you actually paid - I hope you didn't think any bad thoughts about the minister of national revenue.
I hope you went for a long walk, came home, hugged your significant other(s) and then dropped the minister a polite note, calmly asking whether he mightn't, if he had the chance in his crowded schedule, spend a moment or two thinking about how - please, sir - we might possibly pay less. I certainly hope you didn't get mad and say anything rash that someone might have overheard and construed as permission to go out and blow up 200 people.
Or put it this way: if Canadians who want smaller government and lower taxes have to shoulder part of the responsibility for the Oklahoma City bombing, will Ian Brown and people of his political persuasion, which I assume to be on the left, take responsibility for the Unabomber? The Unabomber, that fellow (presumably) who has been sending letter bombs to PhDs and corporate vice-presidents for the last 16 years, says in his non-bomb letters that he hates technology and capitalism. So if you have ever denounced technological change that throws people out of work, or said harsh or envious things about the salaries corporate bigwigs make, then you deserve to stand in the dock with the Unabomber, if they ever catch him.
This is all nuts, of course. People must be responsible - and be held responsible - for their own actions.
The very real danger behind the "we-all-bear-our-share-of-guilt" school of belief is that it will end up being used by the lawyer for Timothy McVeigh, the ex-soldier implicated in the Oklahoma City massacre. "My client," I can almost hear him say, "was the victim of a climate of hostility and hatred. This good but simple young man, who served his country honorably in the Gulf War, was driven to this most horrible act by venom-spewing, shock-radio hosts, by the excesses of the National Rifle Association and by the mean- spirited rhetoric of 'the-government-is-the-enemy,' right-wing politicians."
Why not? If people can get off because they're drunk; if they can get off because they're addicted to Twinkies (as happened a few years ago in a famous American case); if the Menendez brothers, who admit to having fired the shots that killed their parents, can get a hung jury; then why couldn't McVeigh get off because he was done in by talk radio? Or at least, why couldn't he if he had enough money to hire himself a legal dream team?
Pornography, it's argued, causes violence against women. But if it does, shouldn't those who commit violent acts against women be excused? They didn't do it; their exposure to pornography made them do it. Same thing with TV violence in general. Young people who commit unspeakably violent murders aren't actually responsible; they're just doing what they've been conditioned to do.
It's always possible, of course, that impressionable, undeveloped or limited minds will interpret the depiction of some horrible act as license or even encouragement to commit the act themselves. But if we're going to start running society so that such minds will never be exposed to anything bad, the curtain will have to come down on all manner of free expression, starting with the nightly news, since that's where the most horrible acts are depicted.
People are responsible for their own acts. Nothing a person hears or sees or is told can justify killing hundreds of innocent adults and children (not even if they're sharing a bunker with Saddam Hussein). We don't even let people kill guilty adults and children, if children can ever be guilty.
But words don't kill. Words are not violence, as the writer Jonathan Rauch says in a brave article, "In Defence of Prejudice," in this month's Harper's Magazine. Rauch, a writer, a Jew and a homosexual, and therefore a minority three times over, argues that minorities are especially endangered by rules limiting speech - most times, the power of speech is the only power they have.
Yes, speech can offend. But "what is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist." That isn't actually Rauch. It's Rauch quoting the persecuted writer, Salman Rushdie.