- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195161076
- ISBN-13: 978-0195161076
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,267,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory 1st Edition
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How do Americans, long innocent of such things, comprehend large-scale acts of domestic terrorism? How do they commemorate the victims of such deeds? In this unfortunately timely book, historian Edward T. Linenthal examines these questions as they were addressed by the people of Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
In that attack, 168 men, women, and children died. Each left behind stunned, grieving relatives and loved ones; each left behind a personal history suddenly become part of the cultural and psychic property of the nation, as in the instance of Baylee Almon, whose corpse, cradled in the arms of a fireman, became an iconic image. As Linenthal writes in this careful work of cultural history, it fell on Oklahomans to process their grief in the wake of "violent mass death," no easy task, and to design and construct an appropriate memorial--which, after painful arguments over every detail, they did, and to stunning effect. Linenthal's thoughtful account summarizes some of the many lessons to be drawn from the Oklahoma City attack, lessons that, sadly, the world has had to learn anew. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Americans wrestled with three incomprehensible facts: that it happened in the heartland, that its victims included small children and that it was perpetrated by fellow Americans. The media, government officials and individuals wondered if Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols represented the lunatic fringe or if they were symptoms of our historically violent society. Linenthal (Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields), professor of religion and American culture at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and an expert on American memorializing, brings tremendous sensitivity to his examination of the psychic consequences of the bombing, based on interviews with more than 150 direct participants, including mental health professionals, educators and clergy, and on exclusive access to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Archive. Critical of "the medicalization of grief," whereby grief is considered symptomatic of illness and therefore finite, he also faults public figures, including former President Clinton, for casting the 168 victims of the senseless tragedy as patriots who sacrificed their lives for America. Particularly moving is Linenthal's account of the construction and dedication of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which prompts many visitors to leave something personal (poems, flowers, crucifixes) at the site. Linenthal places the site at the pinnacle of "memorial hierarchy" because, by reminding us and imparting a lesson, it suggests that "all is not lost." Itself a kind of tribute, his study astutely explores the phenomena of memorializing, grieving and healing. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)Forecast: No book concerning the bombing has so comprehensively addressed the national psyche. This combination of psychological insight and cultural criticism, along with the hopeful assessment of a still-fresh tragedy, will attract a wide audience.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Edward T. Linenthal, now at Indiana University where he edits the "Journal of American History," draws on extensive field work in Oklahoma City to construct this analysis of public memory and memorialization. Most interesting to me was how three preferred narratives emerged from the bombing, all rooted in personal understandings of what took place. The first was a progressive story of how the tragedy was overcome. It was about the heroism of the rescue workers, the support of citizens throughout the nation, and the recovery of Oklahoma City through urban renewal, commemoration, and a demonstration of character. This is very much, as Linenthal wrote, a story of "yes, it was horrendous but..." (p. 41) before telling all of the good that emerged from the experience. A second narrative, Linenthal believes, is one of redemption, "A crisis of meaning, as people struggled to locate it in an ongoing religious narrative" (p. 53). In this narrative, the pain and suffering of those who died, as well as those who survived, served as a sacrament, in the words of one survivor, Susan Urbach, "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace" (p. 70). Finally, Linenthal unpacks what he calls a toxic narrative, one filled with loss, mourning, pain, and suffering. Sometimes it manifested itself in anger and agony, sometimes in fear and a desire for retribution, sometimes in the broken lives those who could not deal with the tragedy.
It is this last narrative that Linenthal spends the most time with, writing at length about what he calls a "wounded community." He describes in detail the process whereby members of the families of those at the Murrah building waited to hear if their loved ones had been rescued, or if bodies had been recovered, and finally how they commemorated those lost. Not only that, the toll on those working on the rescue efforts was intense. The best example, well told in "The Unfinished Bombing," is of Chris Fields, the fireman who became a celebrity when his picture was taken bringing the body of a one-year-old girl (Baylee Almon) out of the rubble, and the mother of the child, Aren Almon-Kok, who also became a celebrity. Neither had any desire for such a spotlight to be shined on their lives, but modern media omnivorous in its appetite for visuality turned them into public figures. The fact that they handled this scrutiny, dare I say intrusion, into their private lives with grace during a time of trauma says much about the quiet dignity of many of those who had to deal with this act of homegrown terrorism. Linenthal, tells in this episode the interweaving of the toxic, redemptive, and progressive narratives in the lives of those at the Murrah building on the morning of April 19th.
Toward the end of this account Linenthal discusses the process of commemoration of this terrorist act. Here he is concerned mostly with the public memory offered for all to see. He notes that in such instances considerable debate is necessary to determine hat exactly "is being remembered, who is being remembered, and the forms through which remembrance is expressed" (p. 195). Hierarchies of those who suffered found expression in the commemoration, discussions of whether or not to mention the terrorists who perpetrated the bombing also took place. And then, of course, there was the difficult process of deciding on the design to be employed in the memorial. What resulted was akin to a public park, and questions about its serene nature overcoming the horror of the event abounded. In the end, through a convoluted process of discourse involving huge numbers of people most agreed that this memorial was a fitting tribute to those killed, as well as those injured both physically and emotionally, in this terrorist attack. Its incorporation into the National Park Service ensured that it became a major part of the official memory of the United States.
There is much to praise in this important book, and little to criticize. I recommend it as a fine case study of how we remember tragic events in the United States.
I would recommend this book to anyone considering how America should memorialize the World Trade Center site.
A life of Timothy McVeigh might enjoy wide appeal, and terrorist plots have a gruesome fascination, but readers won�t find them here. Edward Linenthal, Professor of Religion and American Culture at the University of Wisconsin spends little time on the bombers and the explosion. He has written a history of ideas, an academic field in which the books may outnumber the readers. In works of this genre, the author first asks a question. Thus, was the bombing a senseless atrocity? Or was it an act one would expect in the U.S., a culture that glamorizes violence? Having asked a question, the author doesn�t answer it. He collects everyone else�s answer, assembling page after page of quotes from editorials, talk shows, pundits, politicians, clergymen, and academics. After recording these thoughts, the author draws no conclusions. The chapter ends. Another chapters introduces another question. Was God or Satan responsible for the catastrophe? Oklahomans are a conservative people, and there is no shortage of feeling that a federal government that keeps the Bible out of schools bears much responsibility. Ironically, clergymen are far more restrained than laymen in laying blame. Mostly, clergymen admit they can�t explain it.
For years after the blast, the city argued vehemently over a proper memorial for the victims. The author considers this such an important controversy that he devotes half the book to it. With the memorial complete, I doubt if many residents of Oklahoma City want to read about the pros and cons of the design. It has even less appeal to anyone else.