Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thoughts on the Virginia Tech Tragedy

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings I had several thoughts which I would like to share. Part of the reason I chose to wait as long as I did is that I wanted some emotional distance from the event for both me as a writer and my audience. Now, here are my thoughts in no particular order:

On the Korean/Korean-American Reaction

I do not know how many of you caught that both Washington state Sen. Paull Shin and the South Korean ambassador Lee Tae Shik felt the need to issue apologies. While I understand that culturally there is a strong sense of collective identity among Koreans, I was really left speechless by these apologies. The only two reasons I can think of for offering these apologies is either the aforementioned sense of collective identity or a fear of backlash. Either reason is misguided. Any rational person can see that Cho Seung Hui was a nutter and that he is way out of the norm for the Korean/Korean-American communities. Of course this world is not made up of entirely rational people so the apologies may have been offered up in an attempt to deflect the feared backlash. If so this seems to be a misguided attempt. As I said, rational people will not blame the communities and offering up these apologies give the sort of chowder-heads that will try to blame the communities ammunition. The apology is something they can point to and scream, "See!! They know they're guilty!" For a far more in-depth and better think-piece about this you should check out Adrian Hong's "Koreans Aren't to Blame" over at and for more on the fear of The Backlash(TM) check out this post from Andy Jackson over at The Marmot's Hole.

On Blaming the Victims

Sometimes I am fairly cynical, particularly when it comes to punditry, but not even I thought this sort of thing was possible. We have several pundits asking why none of the students attempted to defend themselves. They run the gamut from the National Review's John Derbyshire who says:

Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake - one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even it hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage - your chances aren't bad.

Yes, yes, I know it's easy to say these things: but didn't the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything? As the cliche goes - and like most cliches. It's true - none of us knows what he'd do in a dire situation like that. I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy.

I quoted the entire thing because it just keeps getting better and better. The more I think about this piece and write a response to it, the more I suspect Derbyshire is just trolling. Seriously, how could a reasonable person write this and actually mean it?

Handguns are not accurate because despite all his practice he still can not hit the broad side of a barn? Uses those parameters I can unequivocally state that the Winchester Model 70 rifle is grossly inaccurate because, despite my extensive Boy Scout training and having shot one a couple of times, I have trouble getting a bullet in the bullseye. Of course Carlos Hathcock might have another opinion on the matter.

Why didn't someone count the shots and jump Cho while reloading? We will leave aside the fact that we do not have a clear picture of how things went down in there and that Cho may have reloaded between classrooms, denying the people a chance to jump him between bouts of dealing death and get right down to brass tacks. In order to count the shots one would have to know the type of weapons being carried by Cho AND be able to distinguish between the sound of these two weapons discharging in a confined space. On top of that one of the guns Cho was carrying was a Glock 19 which can be equipped with 10 round, 15 round, 17 round, or 33 round magazines, adding another fact you have to know. Now you have to have the presence of mind to keep track of this while people are dying all around you. (I particularly like how Derbyshite managed to go from discussing Rambo in one paragraph to counting rounds in the next. Clearly he lives in a Clint Eastwood world where men are men, women are women, and the sheep are afraid.)

Speaking of presence of mind, which is what this all comes down to in the end, is exactly what kept the victims from confronting Cho. Before we talk about the victims, lets take a look at some of what has been written about soldiers in combat. These are soldiers who have been trained to kill and operate in combat conditions. According to this piece by Dave Grossman, the author of On Killing, "...most participants in close combat are literally 'frightened out of their wits.' Once the bullets start flying, most combatants stop thinking with the forebrain...and start thinking with the midbrain..." Remember, here he is talking about trained professional soldiers who have been the beneficiaries of some of the world's most advanced training and preparation for combat. Odds are most of the people at Virginia Tech did not have this sort of training and yet Derbyshire somehow expects them to overcome the mind-shattering fear of being shot at and organize a bum rush of Cho.

Derbyshire is not the only knucklehead to invoke the passengers on Flight 93 to, by comparison, call the Virginia Tech victims a bunch of cowards, however they all neglect to point out the critical differences in the situations. At Virgina Tech the victims are caught in a chaotic combat environment where they have no idea what is going on. Contrast that with the passengers on Flight 93 who, while in a stressful situation, were not being shot at. They also learned that other planes had been hijacked during the morning and used as weapons against the World Trade Center so they can reasonably assume they will suffer a similar fate. They know they are going to die and now they have a comparatively calm moment to face this fact and try to do something about it. Hiding under a desk was not going to save anyone on Flight 93. It just might have saved some lives on April 16th.

And then, finally, there is the ninja factor.

You know, I try to make light of this but I really do not have the heart to go any deeper in to this subject. I find the very idea of blaming the victims abhorrent. If you're interested in more of this sort of jackassery feel free to read Michelle Malkin's bit of foolishness about how American universities are adding to what Neal Boortz refers to as the wussification of America. It is too bad Boortz felt the need to fire off his April 18th screed because I feel like Media Matters might have been a bit hard on him for his question on the 17th where he asked why no one fought back. To be fair he did frame the question poorly, but rather than blame the victims for their deaths I think there he is legitimately asking for someone to explain things to him. Oh yeah, then there is this depressing bit from the National Review Online's resident Canadian Mark Steyn in which he decries our culture of passivity while taking pot-shots at this same aspect of Canadian culture.

On the Public Grief and Gnashing of Teeth

It is right and proper that we mourn the people who died in the Virginia tech shootings, most of them were young and just getting started in their adult lives, but the time dedicated to mourning them on the news networks and memorializing their lives seemed almost obscene to me when we have service men and women dying almost every day in Iraq. For every one of the thirty-two victims at Virginia Tech we have lost over one-hundred members of the armed forces in Iraq. Where is the crying and rending of shirts on their part? For every Caitlin Hammaren, a 19-year-old student who was studying international studies at Virginia Tech, there are over one-hundred Aaron M. Genevies, a 22-year-old Private 1st Class serving with the 1st Infantry Division. He died on April 16th of wounds taken when his vehicle struck an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Where is the public outcry over the 104 members of the armed forces that died in Iraq during April, the sixth deadliest month since the beginning of the war in 2003?

I am not saying that the deaths at Virginia Tech were not tragic, but I just wanted to point out the disproportionate amount of public weeping being done. If, as I believe, every untimely death is tragic, then you have to wonder why these twenty-two deaths deserved such attention. I am certain that someone will try and point out that the majority of the VT victims were students, which may be true, however if it is an age thing then you have to consider that the majority of the soldiers loosing their lives in Iraq are enlisted men and low-level officers, just about the same demographic as a reasonably diverse college campus. I also think that the argument that the people dying in Iraq are soldiers and there is some expectation that soldiers will die is just a crap arguement. If anything this argument makes the deaths in Iraq even more meaningful than the deaths at VT because the foundation of this argument is that the soldiers are willfully putting themselves in harms way. Perhaps that is, ultimately the answer. The deaths in Iraq can be justified but the deaths at VT cannot.

(You might want to check out this site, which has detailed information and statistics about the casulties suffered in Iraq.)


Kyle said...

In your discussion of public grief, you mentioned that the deaths of the soldiers might be more meaningful than the deaths of the students at VT. I think you are right. I think that is why the VT deaths are harder to take, and why the outpouring of grief is so great. I also think that the grief of soldier's families is often a private thing--something shared with other military families, while the grief of a college campus en masse is, by definition, public. This makes it easier to carry on the news.

NPR, incidentally, regularly carries pieces about individual soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq. They are always heart-wrenching. They always make me keenly aware of what has been lost for every tick of the meter. From the story of Sodom and Gamorra, the lesson best learned is that to save a single life is to save a world.

Lastly, there is the cynical observations. The grief we feel over soldiers is a little less because it is not completely unexpected. It does not make the loss less significant or tragic, but it minimizes the gut-wrenchingness. Everyone involved has had more time to prepare for the eventuality.

And the news crews who were knew that the American public was desensitized to Iraq also knew that this was an unexpected tragedy that their viewing public had not yet been overwhelmed with.

Whiska said...

*hugs* Reading, and commenting to let you know that people are watching your journal, even if we're a quiet bunch. <3