Over the last few weeks, millions prayed and wept on the anniversary of the heart-wrenching tragedy that devastated Oklahoma City. The entire nation mourned the senseless deaths, the broken families and the fallen children.
The memorial ceremonies were extraordinarily beautiful. Souls were touched. Memories of how well President Clinton performed came flooding back. He grieved with those who were suffering. He set a day of national mourning. He staged a meeting of small children in the Oval Office of the White House to reassure the little ones that they would be protected from bad people. He even planted a dogwood tree on the White House grounds in memory of the children who died in Oklahoma City.
Throughout the ceremonies last week, I kept waiting for someone to at least mention the loss of innocent lives at Waco. It is foolish to pretend that what happened in Waco had nothing to do with what happened in Oklahoma City. I believe the ultimate healing in Oklahoma will not come with an execution. It will come when the prayers embrace the innocent children of Waco.
Of all the events of the past decade that led to cynicism of the government and alienation from it, none had the impact of the Waco tragedy. Over 80 American citizens died horrible deaths, including two pregnant women and 25 children, 17 of whom were under 10 years of age. They burned to death in a lantern-lit, wooden structure that had been violently charged by armored tanks and assaulted by chemical weapons. The attack was authorized by President Clinton and ordered by Attorney General Janet Reno.
Before the fire, huge tanks had rumbled up and rammed gaping holes in the walls of the buildings. Heavy volumes of gas were pumped into the structures, saturating the air, burning the skin, blinding the eyes. The plaintive wails of frightened, coughing children filled the air. They were held close and told to be brave.
There were, no doubt, screams of fear and pain from the children and babies, cries of horror, shouted prayers and supplications … thick black smoke … the rising heat of fierce, wind-driven flames … panic … confusion … child-calls for “mama!” … chaos … the end of the world.
It was a tragedy that would have toppled most civilized governments, or at least resulted in the resignation of a few top-level scapegoats — but not in an America where justice is routinely mangled, the Constitution is ignored and corruption thrives in high places.
The behavior of the mainstream media was revealing. In every other instance, if 25 children died horrible and arguably unnecessary deaths, the reporters and cameras would have been all over the story. News editors, particularly TV news editors, would have sent teams of ace reporters and cameramen down to the scene, with the usual instruction not to come back until they had captured on film the faces, words and tears of bereaved family members. Every lurid detail and aspect of the carnage would have been tediously exploited.
But that didn’t happen. We didn’t view the funerals, hear the gospel music or listen to the praise heaped on the dead by those who knew and loved them. There was no national mourning. The president did not show up to deliver the eulogy. He didn’t plant a dogwood tree on the White House grounds in memory of them as he did for the precious children who died in the Oklahoma City bombing. This time, honoring the victims served no political agenda.
It is as though it would have been politically incorrect to have covered the story with attention-getting intensity. To make too much of it might have aroused sympathy for the victims, or even worse, aroused questions about why “getting” the “evil” Koresh outweighed the endangerment of the children.
When Attorney General Reno accepted full responsibility for all of this, she became a hero to the Washington establishment. Rather than an indictment for criminal negligence, reckless child endangerment and violation of the civil rights of innocent children, she was congratulated for her courage in saying “the buck stops here.” She still insists she has “done nothing wrong.”
Perhaps it is possible to ask a question about Waco without being labeled a dangerous, anti-government crazy. Officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were sent to prison for violating the civil rights of ex-felon Rodney King by using excessive force while arresting him. Was not the whole Waco operation, including the gassing of infants and children, an excessive use of force in making an arrest?
Who protects the civil rights of the innocent when it is the government itself who violates them?
Why isn’t Janet Reno in jail?