Jeff Mullin

commentary



It always causes a bit of a jolt when you're watching television, and all of a sudden you hear the words "We interrupt this program," or some variation of the theme.

I am a breaking news junkie. I suppose that's why I do what I do for a living. I can remember standing in my parents' living room watching TV coverage of the sinking of the Andrea Doria on the morning of July 26, 1956. I was 3 years old.

I remember coverage of the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to integrate previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. I was 4 years old.

I remember the news about the collision of a United Airlines DC-8 and a TWA Constellation Dec. 12, 1960, in the skies over New York City. Some 128 people onboard the aircraft died, along with eight people on the ground.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the murders of Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, all came to us via the measured tones of television newscasters.

On April 19, 1995, those of us in Oklahoma thought we could never be as shocked by the news again as we were on that spring morning. But then came Sept. 11, 2001.

But the jolt the words spoken by the local TV newscaster this past Saturday caused was almost visceral, like the shock from touching a frayed extension cord.

"There's been an apparent suicide bombing in Norman," she said. She went on to correct herself, to say there had been a bombing by someone apparently trying to commit suicide.

But the images her first words brought to mind wouldn't fade. We live with the news of suicide bombings every day, in far-flung places like Iraq, Spain, London and Bali.

The scope of the tragedy of Sept. 11 obscures the fact that, at its core, the horrors of that day were propagated by a group of people willing to die in order to kill.

That's the definition of a suicide bomber. The motives of the student who blew himself up Saturday night outside the George Lynn Cross building on the University of Oklahoma campus, sitting a football field away from a stadium packed with more than 82,000 fans, are unknown at this time. His father calls him "very bright and very alone." One of his brothers refers to him as "complicated."

Perhaps Joel Hinrichs only wanted to end his own troubled life. The fact the bomb was strapped to his body, and the presence of more explosives in his apartment, are troubling but certainly not probative evidence of a larger motive.

Our nation's penchant for gathering in large numbers to satiate our love for spectator sports presents countless opportunities for those who are so inclined to inflict death and mayhem in an instant.

So what are we to do? We won't stay home, shut up in our houses in fear of the threat of terror. We won't give up our chance to see our favorite teams or to hear our favorite band, any more than we abandoned tall buildings and commercial airliners in the wake of Sept. 11.

We might have to be subjected to added scrutiny, however. We might have to pass through metal detectors to enter stadiums or arenas, just as we do when we fly. Security measures certainly will have to be heightened beyond bored security guards taking perfunctory glances into purses and tote bags at the stadium gates.

Saturday's explosion at OU wound up in the loss of only one life and heaped tragedy on only one family. That is certainly regrettable.

But it also served as a reminder we are at war against an enemy with a love for killing, and no fear of dying, a war with no front lines and no non-combatants.



Mullin is senior writer of the News -- Eagle.



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