Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What Happened at Virginia Tech?

And what didn’t happen?

By now everyone is likely aware of the horror that gripped the Virginia Tech campus this past Monday. I live a little more than an hour from VT, and there are 15 or so local kids going to school there. Some of them are friends of my kids, so this incident is of great importance to our community and to us. Thankfully, all of the local kids are okay. The closest casualty was a boy from a community about 40 minutes from here.

This incomprehensibly mindless episode has focused attention on a variety of things, some appropriate and some beside the point. What happened and what didn’t happen there are relevant, both on a local level and on a broader level.

First, what didn’t happen.

- Guns did not kill 32 VT students and professors.
- The culture of the United States, as screwed up as it is, did not kill 32 people at VT.
- The reaction of the VT police and administration in the minutes and first couple of hours
after the first shootings did not kill 30 people at VT.

- The second-guessing, Monday morning quarterbacking and 20-20 hindsight, demonstrated
so ably by the American media, did not do anything useful.

And now, what did happen:

A Korean male in his twenties with a documented history of mental instability and violent tendencies first killed a girl he was apparently interested in and a residence adviser who tried to intervene, and two hours later systematically executed 30 innocent students and faculty before killing himself. That is pretty much the nuts and bolts of the story.

Events such as this one naturally create many questions, the first of which is, why? Two answers come quickly to mind: First, the kid went nuts. Second, the kid was evil.

Those on the side of “crazy” will note that he had been identified by other students as “weird,” “a loner,” and similar characterizations, and by one of his instructors who saw in his writings for her class things that were very troubling. The kid snapped, and went on a rampage.

I believe this was an “evil” deed. “Crazy” implies a separation from reality, sometimes a sudden emotional reaction, as in crimes of passion. A crazy person may hear voices or hallucinate. Adolph Hitler was evil, not crazy. Saddam Hussein was evil, not crazy. What Cho Seung-Hui did was premeditated and deliberate. What he did was based on hate and envy; he was evil, not insane. A law enforcement official described a note written by Cho as a typed, eight-page rant against rich kids and religion. Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near and that there was a deed to be done, the official said. "You caused me to do this," the note said. Those are the words of evil, not the words of insanity.

Now comes word of a “manifesto,” a package of information that Cho mailed to NBC News on the day of the shooting, and it is being asserted that he mailed this package in between the shooting incidents. If that is true, it removes any doubt that these killings were premeditated.

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