The biggest attraction of Oklahoma City is something that the city would be much happier without: Oklahoma City National Memorial. But since there is no way to undo what happened, it has to be some consolation that it is a hauntingly beautiful place. It captures the horror of the bombing and it honors the dead. No description gives it justice: you just have to go there and stand between bronze gates and look across the reflecting pond towards 168 empty chairs.
We now know with a terrible certainty that comes with a foresight, that it was not the most destructive and not the last terrorist attack in the US. The world is full of mad determined people who think that blowing up buildings, flying planes into skyscrapers or shooting politicians to make a point is somehow justifiable.
There is a price we pay for living in a democratic society. Lucky people of the United States rarely realize that, since they were born into it. I remember being a teenager in a country with no politics, no terrorist attacks and no stupid election commercials. I doubt very much anyone who despises the so called partisanship and is upset by divisiveness of democratic institutions would find a one party state a better solution.
Recently both in Poland and in US crazy people violently attacked politicians. And in both countries the attacked side was quick to make an argument that the worsening standards of political debate made such attack possible. The editorials in the US newspapers in January 2011 may as well be translated from Polish press of October 2010. The shock, the outrage, the hope for the more responsible behavior in public space are uncannily similar.
But I am not rushing to sign any petitions. We all do know better. Democracy, republic, rule of law: those are not easy concepts. It’s actually amazing how well they work most of the time. And when they don’t we can’t just start blaming the other side or looking for easy solutions.
Few problems tackled on a national level are simple. Solving them requires a lively debate. Partisan and contentious politics is better than no politics at all and better still than civil wars. There must be a way of running a political discourse and running the state that decreases possibility of terrorist acts. But cure cannot be worse than the disease. Outlawing hate speech, censoring election posters, installing cameras on every corner and scanners at every building entrance does help to maintain order. But is this really what we should be aiming for?
Sure I would prefer my representatives to come up with a healthcare law that actually has a non-zero chance of, you know, improving access to the affordable healthcare. Preferably the law I could read in its entirety without devoting the rest of my life to it. I would like the government to be better at protecting its secrets instead of engaging in shameful and hasty scapegoat search. I would rather the opposition concentrated on criticizing government real flaws instead of engaging in populist name calling. I would like the leaders to be worse at speech making and better at leading. And most of all, I would like the world to be a place where neither random people nor politicians are getting shot at.
I don’t like the current state of gun laws in United Stated. Polish crime was committed with a knife. Here, in US, it seems like every wacko can get a semi-auto and start shooting indiscriminately. Mexican drug lords find it ridiculously easy to import guns from north of the border. Arizona, the state of the recent shooting, allows to carry concealed weapon without a permit.
But I know that the gun rights activists have a point. If you think they don’t just replace guns with cryptographic algorithms or drugs and see if your opinion on the subject of access vs. regulation changes. It’s all about how much we let the government limit individual freedoms for the good of the society.
Checks and balances is all we have. That sounds like so little. And I am sure it provides no consolation to those affected by the crimes. But I’ll take that over a promise of some kind of earthly paradise where we all agree with each other all the time and politics is not needed or allowed. I am not hoping to live my life in peaceful oblivion. I am just hoping for fewer beautiful memorials.