- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2001

Invictus

One of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the Shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matter not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Upon reading that, particularly in light of its recently acquired context, its hard not to laugh. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that the poem was not written by a brooding Eric Harris or a defiant Dylan Kliebold, but by a one-footed mediocre late-romantic poet named William Ernest Henley. "Invictus," varyingly translated as "unconqueror," "unconquerable," and "undefeated," was the poem that Timothy McVeigh chose to stand as his final statement.
Without over-scrutinizing McVeighs already dubious intelligence, several issues arise when the rather clumsy juxtaposition is made between McVeighs life and that alluded to in the poem. To begin with, Henley lost a foot from tuberculosis of the bone and wrote "Invictus" while recovering in 1875. In this context, the tone of resolute defiance and personal anguish is readily comprehensible. Also, coming on the heels of the heyday of British romanticism, the overblown language of the poem is almost in place. For McVeigh, however, to adopt Henleys words is as inappropriate as it is laughable.
The tone is the only near-match. Naturally, McVeigh had misery of his own, self-inflicted though it was. But for a man who prided himself on intellect, the irony of applying the tag of unconquered to himself when rotting his final days away in an Indiana prison is all the more poignant. While McVeigh may have hit the mark about being the master of his own fate, the soul of which he was the captain most assuredly sank in Oklahoma City six years ago.
McVeighs choice of the poem as a final statement fits with the veneer of stoicism and callousness that has become his signature. This image, this hard-boiled mass-murderer charade, is groundless. The simple fact is that, despite the boundless misery he inflicted, McVeigh did not have a tortured life. Further, his style of terrorism was one that required no inner rage, but merely a remedial level of "Anarchists Cookbook" knowledge about household explosives. He also knew how to drive a truck. He also knew how to run away.
As it stands, "Invictus" is the final sales pitch for an impossible image, one that McVeigh ultimately cannot, claim as his own.

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