Friday, April 20, 2007

In Memoriam (Virginia Tech)

Please stop by the YU Students Stand with Virginia Tech blog. The comments section helps me. It shows that people care.

Formerly, I had written this post (about us, hatred, Columbine and Elliot Aronson's book), and had thought it would be true. I have always been impressed by his book, Nobody Left to Hate. Its aim was to teach compassion after Columbine, to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. Its aim was also to avoid what the media is doing right now- attempting to paint the killer in vivid, sensational tones, to see him as a black evil creature who should have been sniffed out from the first day he entered that school. I watch the media circus and I think about how right Aronson was.

It's worth quoting him again:

    ...this book is about creating an atmosphere in which there is nobody left to hate. It is intended to provide parents and teachers with the tools to make schools more humane and more compassionate places, without sacrificing the basic academic material students are supposed to learn. There is nothing mutually exclusive about learning biology, literature, and calculus while also learning important human values. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that the one will enhance the other.
I haven't allowed myself to think about what happened at Virginia Tech, to really think about it. And I'm not going to do so. Because I'm not at home, where it's safe to break down and cry; I'm in a room with three other people who would be concerned if I did that. And I don't want to cry in front of them; it's not safe. So I don't think. I block it out. I don't think about the fact that these were people just like me, just my age, who were gunned down by a person who wasn't necessarily evil, but an outcast. An outcast who viewed the world as hating him, and who hated back, who was ill. Then again, perhaps he was evil. But evil is a very strong word.

In Memoriam (Virginia Tech) 1

And so falls the burning leaf,
to call them from out of God's world.
Abandoned here, I do despair;
the world is dark and made nightmare.
They have all gone into the world of light!
So I cry, but don't believe,
and then impassioned, angrily,
I take on death, so cold, unclean.
Death, be not proud; you have not claimed
these shining lights all for your own.
For death is wedding, even strewn
with crimson petals softly flown
to light upon their pearly cheeks,
to grant the solace that they seek.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, there is absolutely no reason why we should paint this killer as anything other than 'black' and evil. There can be no sympathy, no understanding of such a creature, and it is an insult to those he murdered to pretend otherwise.

Chana said...


Perhaps I wasn't clear. The problem is with the sensationalism, the idea that there ought to have been or could have been some sort of intervention. The media's depiction of Cho as a "type" of person- the guy who wrote the violent plays, sexually harrassed girls, was a loner, etc suggests that he was so very abnormal that the school should have expelled him long ago and that they're at fault for not having done so. I've already read comments from people blaming the school on various messageboards. This is because of the media depiction.

In actuality, I would suggest, these incidents occurred little by little; he wrote this violent play, was inappropriate here, felt like a loner, etc- it's not this overwhelming conglomerate the news is making it out to be.

I agree with you that Cho, a premeditated killer, did something evil and perhaps even was evil. I think, however, that Aronson's theory of how such killers arise is as applicable now as it was then. Everything Cho said in his manifesto and video describes how rejected he felt, how he saw others as laughing at him and flaunting their wealth, etc.

"Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and impaled upon the cross?" Cho said.

"Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats? Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs? Your trust fund wasn't enough? Your vodka and cognac weren't enough? All your debaucheries weren't enough? Those weren't enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs? You had everything."

Maybe this isn't what really happened, and maybe people weren't really cruel to him; maybe he was ill and he misinterpreted what others did and said, somehow seeing everyone as out to get him and acting cruel towards him.

The idea is not to provide an excuse for Cho and legitimize what he did. Absolutely not. Nor is it to sympathize with him. The idea is to try to figure out what caused this so as to prevent it. It could just be that he was a mentally deranged individual, or it could be that things occurred in a certain way to create this individual. Aronson suggests that school environments can lead to the opportunity for such a killer to develop. He says "exclusion, taunting, humiliation and bullying played a major role in triggering the pathological behavior of the shooters. At the very least, such an atmosphere makes school a degrading experience for most normal students." (Source) I don't mean to suggest that we should sympathize or feel sorry for killers; I do think it is necessary to analyze what caused this and to attempt to prevent it from ever happening again.

I don't think this is an insult to those he murdered; I think it is a way of respecting their memory. Make sure it doesn't happen again, change things and act differently so as not to have circumstances that allow for these tragedies. Innocent people were murdered- why? Because of Cho. And why is Cho the way he is? That's what Aronson wants to figure out, in order to stop anything like this from happening again.

You say that there can be "no understanding of such a creature." But that suggests that there is no cure, nothing we can do, that we are completely at the mercy of random events and killers. That is a very dark approach. Perhaps you are right. But if this man had the ability to contemplate premeditated murder, to leave vidoes and manifestos and kill in cold blood, that suggests that he was sane. He was not simply impassioned and angry with a weapon to hand. So now the question becomes, "Why?" You say there is no answer; Aronson says that we have part of one. I prefer to believe that we can find the answer so as to stop anything like this from ever, ever happening again. And that is the way to honor those killed- to prevent any more killings, to learn from what happened here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifying. Your points are valid, though I disagree with your assessment that he was probably sane. Of course it is impossible for either of us to ever know for certain, but I feel the blatant premeditation of the act indicates that he was probably psychopathic. As for discovering 'reasons' or motivations, I agree that we should attempt to cultivate an educational atmosphere that is kinder and more accepting. However, this man's decision was his own. Unfortunately, many students do suffer humiliation and abuse from their peers- but thankfully, most are able to recover with the aid of friends, a therapist, or other support. However, a lack of understanding or support is hardly a reason to commit an act such as this. It was his choice- the actions of others did not force his hand. Perhaps he was treated cruelly. To be harsh and blunt, boo-hoo. I honestly believe that if one wants to be helped, they can find help- I heard on the news that an English professor of his offered to take him to counseling and he refused.

So while I agree that we should enable students to feel comfortable and safe in their school environments, in short, I disagree that it was the lack of this system that led to this and other tragedies.