The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blasted into infamy 21 years ago this month on April 19, 1995. At the time, it was the most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil. A plaque on the site today offers words of healing:
“We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.”
In March this year, two bombers struck the departure lounge of the Brussels Airport. In February, 28 people died in a bombing in Turkey. Two bombers killed 15 people in Iraq in January. More than a dozen died in the San Bernardino Shooting in December. Terrorism happens all the time.
Terrorism has become a part of contemporary politics, and cannot be eradicated, said historian and author Andrew Bacevich during a lecture at Trinity University soon after the Paris attacks in November. “The best we can hope for is to reduce it to tolerable levels.”
Bacevich speculated that there are armed robberies all the time in greater San Antonio – and most major cities for that matter.
“And I’m guessing that doesn’t prevent you from going out and having dinner at night at a restaurant,” he said.
Bacevich said it is conceivable that armed robbery in San Antonio could get to be such an epidemic that one would be fearful of venturing out.
“All we expect of the police officers is to keep armed robbery and other such criminality at a level where we can live our lives,” he said.
“I think that’s the standard that we should assert with regard to terrorism,” Bacevich said. “It’s not going to go away.”
When senseless violence occurs, we must grieve or seek retribution, but eventually we go on with our lives.
The following is a poetic tribute from my visit to The Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial & Museum soon after it was dedicated in 2000.
Lest We Forget
You pass through the portal
and squint against the sun,
the time, forever, “9:01.”
A twin portal stands
on the other side of the street
forever reading, “9:03.”
In between is the minute
that never should have been
in 1995, April 19.
A pool, for reflection, inches shallow,
infinitely deep in its sorrow.
Walkways to nowhere, no destination,
lead anyone, quickly,
to quiet contemplation.
The power of the empty chair –
think of those who are not there
at the dinner table, the office,
those we miss…
Imagine, 168 empty chairs such as this.
Glass shards and stone
once showered a tree.
It gives me hope to see those leaves.
It’s still alive, still survives,
a symbol of the will of the people.
A chain link fence is not a barrier,
it’s a carrier,
a link to the memory of many,
to leave a possession,
to release an emotion.
A fireman’s helmet is hung,
faded and bleached in the sun,
emblazoned, “We will never forget you,”
and signed by a team
that performed the rescue.
A single Teddy Bear brings a tear
for the children who were here.
On the fence, flowers are tied.
Dozens have died.
Thousands have cried.
On the next block,
granite blocks of black,
symbolize the children
who will never come back.
A statue stands, “Jesus Wept.”
This is, after all, the Bible Belt.
Chips and stones from the destruction
now line the paths, their journey done.
the feet of grief
may stop its step.
But the Murrah Memorial
will still be here…
Lest We Forget.
Top image: A chain-link fence was hastily erected around the bomb site in April 1995 to provide security as rescue workers dug through the rubble. People immediately began to leave flowers, messages, and other expressions of sympathy and concern. The fence will remain as long as people remember. Image courtesy Oklahoma City National Memorial.