April 19th: A Day That Will Live In Obscurity

This week I’ve posted about myths – things that turned out not to be literally true – about the Columbine shootings, including random myths like the shooters were part of a “Trenchcoat Mafia” and whether Cassie Bernall said “yes.” I also referred to Bart Ehrman‘s book, Jesus Interrupted, to show that if you read the Bible literally, it can’t be true, not as written. This post continues with the theme of “things that turned out not to be true” but isn’t about Columbine. Oh, today was SUPPOSED to have been the day of the Columbine shootings, had Eric Harris’s plan gone the way it was supposed to, but I’ll write about that tomorrow. This post relates to the reason Harris wanted April 19th to be the day.

Many Americans – well, many Americans who know anything about history – would probably say the most “infamous” day in US history is December 7, 1941. After all, President Roosevelt declared December 7th a day that will live in infamy. We don’t get Presidential decrees like that very often. For most Americans alive today, however, the actual, if undeclared, day of infamy, is September 11, 2001. Most of us remember that day and it was a made-for-tv mass murder. In both cases, our enemies knew what they were doing and they did it with precision. But there’s a third day that to, seems more ominous. That day is today. April 19th.

As tragic as 12/7/41 and 9/11/01 were, those were days that somebody attacked us. Someone else, other than us. An enemy. The Japanese navy attacked and we obliterated much of Japan. Al Qaeda attacked, and we wiped out Al Qaeda. The problem with April 19th is that everything that happened on this day, we’ve done to ourselves. For this reason, we like to forget about April 19, a day that will live in obscurity.

SIEGE OF WACO

April 19, 1993: David Koresh was a cult leader, a bad man by any reckoning. In 1989 he declared that God wanted him to father a new “House of David” so he dissolved the marriages of his followers and procreated with their wives. One cult specialist said:

“[Koresh is] your stock cult leader. … They’re all the same. Meet one and you’ve met them all. They’re deeply disturbed, have a borderline personality disorder and lack any type of conscience. … No one willingly enters into a relationship like this. … So you’re talking about deception and manipulation (by the leader), people being coached in ever so slight increments, pulled in deeper and deeper without knowing where it’s going or seeing the total picture.”

But on April 19th, the siege went horribly wrong. Accounts differ on what happened in Waco, Texas, but after a 50-day siege of the cult-leaders compound, federal agents move in to end the siege and arrest Koresh. Instead, the compound burned to the ground and 76 people, including 20 children and 2 pregnant women, died in the fire.

OKLAHOMA CITY

April 19th 1995: The siege of Waco had spectators on site. One was a young war veteran named Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh saw Waco as government oppression. He didn’t balance the fact that Koresh was a child-rapist who held people against their will. All McVeigh saw was that the government had overstepped its bounds and had killed innocent children. So McVeigh decided to take matters into his own hands. On 4/19/1995 he bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6. McVeigh specifically chose April 19 because of what had happened at Waco.

Four years later, Eric Harris set April 19th as the date for the Columbine Massacre, but if you read about Harris, one fact stands out – the boy was incompetent. Arrogant, narcissistic, ant-social yes, but thankfully the bombs he made didn’t go off. Otherwise, hundreds of students would have lost their lives that day, far more than the 12 teenagers and 1 teacher he and Klebold killed. Harris specifically wanted to outdo Timothy McVeigh. More about that tomorrow.

 USS IOWA

April 19th 1989: Something happened that isn’t related to Waco, Oklahoma City or Columbine, except its infamous date and the loss of America lives in an explosion. Another common feature is the amount of misinformation that arose out of the Iowa explosion. The following is paraphrased from Wikipedia:

The explosion in the center gun room killed 47 of the turret’s crewmen and severely damaged the gun turret itself. Two major investigations were undertaken, producing conflicting conclusions.

The first investigation into the explosion, conducted by the US Navy, concluded that one of the gun turret crew members, Clayton Hartwig, who died in the explosion, had deliberately caused it. During the investigation, numerous leaks to the media, later attributed to Navy officers and investigators, implied that Hartwig and another sailor, Kendall Truitt, had engaged in a homosexual relationship and that Hartwig had caused the explosion after their relationship had soured. In its report, however, the Navy concluded that the evidence did not show that Hartwig was homosexual but that he was suicidal and had caused the explosion with either an electronic or chemical detonator.

The victims’ families, the media, and members of Congress were sharply critical of the Navy’s findings. The congressional committees inquired into the Navy’s investigation and later released reports disputing the Navy’s conclusions. The Senate committee asked the GAO to review the Navy’s investigation. To assist the GAO, Sandia National Laboratories provided a team of scientists to review the Navy’s technical investigation.

During its review, Sandia determined that a significant overram of the powder bags into the gun had occurred as it was being loaded and that the overram could have caused the explosion. A subsequent test by the Navy of the overram scenario confirmed that an overram could have caused an explosion in the gun breech. Sandia’s technicians also found that the physical evidence did not support the Navy’s theory that an electronic or chemical detonator had been used to initiate the explosion.

In response to the new findings, the Navy, with Sandia’s assistance, reopened the investigation. In August 1991, Sandia and the GAO completed their reports, concluding that the explosion was likely caused by an accidental overram of powder bags into the breech of the 16-inch gun. The Navy, however, disagreed with Sandia’s opinion and concluded that the cause of the explosion could not be determined. The Navy expressed regret to Hartwig’s family and closed its investigation.

Charles C. Thompson II wrote a book about this incident called A Glimpse Of Hell. Naturally, some of the Navy officers involved sued the author and his publisher for defamation. Some of the suit was dismissed, but some settled out of court. The publisher issued a statement:

W. W. Norton did not publicly retract or repudiate any of the material in Thompson’s book, however, instead sending a letter to the former officers stating, in part, “To the extent you believe the book implies that any of you were engaged in a cover-up, were incompetent, committed criminal acts, violated Naval regulations or exhibited faulty seamanship or professional ineptitude, Norton regrets the emotional distress experienced by you or your family.

A beautiful statement indeed.

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