Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech Tragedy

We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth. ----Voltaire. Oeuvres Vol. I, p. 15n

Unfortunately, all we have are a few answers and an increasing amount of questions.

What a horrible, unthinkable tragedy. My heart breaks for the families and friends of everyone involved- the victims, the killer's parents, the school officials and police who must be feeling terrible guilt even though they seemingly did all they could. Nightmare.

I don't really have a point here, but I've been struck by the things I've been hearing and reading, some good/some bad, on race, culture, mental health and political agendas.

I've heard thoughtful discussion on the role that culture (Asian and American) might have played in this tragedy and continues to play in the aftermath.

  • Korean students are fearful of backlash simply because the killer also happened to be Korean.
  • Asian students in general are fearful because they feel that the way they look, whether they're Korean or not, might incite backlash.
  • Was this the result of a person holding in years of pent-up emotional reaction because of his cultural norms?
  • Was this the result of growing up in a struggling, emigrant family vs. a rich, white one?

I've read or listened to the stories told by roommates, classmates and teachers. Cho was a loner. He said his name was "?". He took pictures of other students under his desk with a cell phone. People tried to reach out to him, to no avail. He was depressed, he had an undiagnosed mental illness, he just snapped. Which brings up even more questions:

  • Why did he only spend short stints in psychiatric institutions when he was clearly ill?
  • Did his parents know he was ill?
  • Was he truly just "mean" as his former poetry teacher described him, vs. "troubled" which the same teacher described as "crap?"
  • Was this the end result of years of cruelty and teasing by "kids just being kids?"
  • If so many students, upon hearing of the massacre, immediately thought of Cho, why didn't anyone do anything earlier?

I've read Cho's 2 plays on, which in many's opinion were just bad, not "troubling." Interestingly, several friends of mine are writing professors and they've all mentioned that these plays are, content-wise, pretty normal in a college-level writing class (although much worse grammatically and creatively). One even went as far as to reminisce about a former student's plays about aliens graphically mutilating humans and holding orgies in Starbucks shops. As another friend put it, "haven't these people ever read a Bret Easton Ellis novel?"

Then there were the political opportunists. If we had prayer in school, this kind of thing wouldn't happen. If immigrants weren't allowed to buy guns, this kind of thing wouldn't happen. If we would just kick all the foreigners out, this kind of thing wouldn't happen. If we had greater gun control, this kind of thing wouldn't happen.

In the press secretary's initial release to the world, it was noted that the President's that he was "shocked and saddened" and in the very next breath:

"The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed. Certainly, bringing a gun into a school domitory and shooting … is against the law and something someone should be held accountable for."

In so much tragedy and confusion, there is some cold comfort. Virginia Tech students, family, and the surrounding community have come together and are leaning on each other for comfort and strength. Professor/lecturer Liviu Librescu, a 76-year old Holocaust survivor barricaded himself in a classroom doorway and gave his life so that his students could escape through a window at his behest. And then I read this in an article a friend gave me:

From the AP:

In Seoul, more than 1,000 people sang hymns and prayed for Cho's victims at a special service at Myeongdong Cathedral, some fighting back tears. White flowers, candles and a U.S. flag adorned a small table in the center of the chapel.

"As a mother myself, my heart really aches as if it happened to my own children," said Bang Myung-lan, a 48-year-old housewife, holding back tears. "As a Korean, I am deeply sorry for the deceased."

Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk urged parishioners to work together to prevent a recurrence of "such an unfortunate event."

"Among the 32 killed were bright students who could have contributed greatly to society, and it's a big loss for all of us," the cardinal said. "As a South Korean, I can't help feeling apologetic about how a Korean man caused such a shocking incident. It is beyond my understanding how such a thing can occur- especially to think a Korean is responsible for this," said 68-year-old Lee Chun-ja after the service. "It really tears my heart. Something like this should never happen again."

I can't tell you how much it moves me that these people, halfway around the world, are praying, mourning, apologizing and expressing guilt. Simply because the killer also happened to be Korean. It's really kind of humbling.


At 11:00 AM , Blogger firstimpressionist said...

Definately a lot to mull over. I did read that apparently Koreans are reluctant to seek psychiatric care for fear of the stigma attached. It seems the family was aware that their son was "off", but didn't worry too much about it since his grades were fine.

Not that they could have ever imagined how "off" he actually was, and not that psychiatric care early on would've necessarily fixed him.
It's too bad that he was never given that opportunity though.

It seems much of his life was characterized by severe problems with communication. I wish that his inevitable explosion of communication had been more creative or joyful, rather than so hateful.

At 2:33 PM , Blogger Skeezix said...

I hadn't read about the Professor barricading himself in front of the door, I've really been so shocked and saddened by the whole thing that I've not been able to read a lot about it.


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