After the Bombing

THE more that is revealed about the motive of the Oklahoma City bombing, the more it needs to be grappled with. One can be grateful that the suspects were so quickly apprehended and that the country was not led on a Mideast terrorist goose chase that would have kept Americans from coming to grips with unhandled evils right at home.

This terrorism is not about US foreign policy in faraway lands. If reports about the extremist groups close to the bombing are true, the violence mixed with issues that are not so far from today's mainstream political debate. It drew on anger one hears every day on talk shows: welfare, taxes, gun control, a fear of government excess. In this sense, the bombing reflects, grotesquely, the current political discourse and uncertain sense of the values and direction of the country. As we noted last week, the sheer amount of ugly antifederal invective in the airwaves these days distorts that discourse.

The enormous distortion represented by Oklahoma City is compounded by the fact that the bombers did this ugly work in the name of America, patriotism, freedom, and, most sadly, Christianity. One is reminded of Christian psychologist Robert Coles statement in his Pulitzer Prize-winning series ''Children of Crisis,'' about white resistance to school integration in the South: ''We must all know the animal in us can be elaborately rationalized in a society until an act of murder is called self-defense and dynamited houses become evidence of moral courage.''

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All Americans have a responsibility to those killed and missing in Oklahoma to ensure their sacrifice was not in vain. The victims were evidently targets of political violence because they represented the government -- not in a foreign embassy but here at home. This is an opportunity for Americans to respect and love their country anew as a corporate, collective whole -- something the delusional extremists on the right don't understand or account for.

Not that the federal government has nothing for which to answer. It seems the Branch Davidian episode did have some bearing here. Washington is responsible for its bungled religious insensitivity in Waco, Texas, which helped lead to a fiery fiasco.

A loud wake-up call has been given by this bombing. If the country is going to move into the next century in a unified way, we all must grapple with antigovernment hatred that could lead either to anarchy or authoritarianism -- and further killing of the innocent.

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