Wednesday, April 18, 2007

VA Tech shooter's note: a tantalizing glimpse

A Yahoo! News UK/Ireland article says that Cho Seung Hui's note included a complaint about "rich kids."

The man who shot dead 32 people in the worst ever massacre on an American university campus left a note complaining about "rich kids", say reports.

Funny... I've long heard Koreans complain about rich, overprivileged kyopos who come to Korea and act as though they own the place, spending Mommy and Daddy's money in trendy locales like Apkujeong, wasting time in clubs, picking up all the wrong habits from the surrounding culture. I sympathize with many of those complaints, but I don't recall any of the complainers saying, "You know... I'd like to kill all those people." Why is that? Because most of us are sane.

Cho apparently lived in the States for at least 14 years (sources differ on his length of stay); he was a green card holder, a Korean national. The diplomatic dimensions of this incident are obvious. The South Korean government is worried about an American backlash against Koreans (I referred to this in my previous post), but I trust that most Americans are sensible enough to realize that one crazy individual's actions are no reason to look askance at an entire race or community.

Attributing this lone gunman's actions to a pervasive systemic problem or set of problems is a non-starter. Culture offers no hints; millions of Koreans suffer under the pressure to achieve, and the nation is not filled with mass murderers. Race offers no hints; the stereotype is that Koreans are passionate and often irrational, which fails to explain how a crowded nation of almost 50 million people can live, jammed together, without going nuts and devouring each other.

The desire for systemic answers, as opposed to viewing this incident as what it was-- the act of an individual-- is dangerous. It can lead to all the wrong conclusions, leaving us scratching our heads when a similar horror happens later. We shouldn't look at this crime through the lens of race or nation or society or culture. We should instead look at it through the lens of individuality. We should study that man's life and understand that man's actions. That's the approach that will eventually uncover the most clues, and will offer those who grieve the most sense.

UPDATE: Cho went to Westfield High School in Fairfax County. That's my home county. I don't know that high school at all (there are, I think, 23 high schools in Fairfax), but I have to wonder what the senior-year yearbook entry for Cho was. I wonder what his parents are going through right now. And strangely, I wonder whether my mother might know Cho's parents, or know of them. Northern Virginia has a large Korean community. It's not exactly tight-knit, but the folks do network. My own selfish thought arises: how many degrees of separation are there between me and this killer?

I also see that Cho's note wasn't a mere note: it went on for pages, and included sinister locutions like "You caused me to do this." I hope the entire text is published at some point. We'll have a few answers then.

UPDATE 2: My buddy Dave, who did his undergrad and PhD work at Tech, has written a short piece over at Naked Villainy. One of his professors was killed in the rampage. You can read about Dr. Librescu here.


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