Sunday, April 22, 2007

Virginia Tech: Typically American Violence?

(Image from Spree Killers)

One of my regular readers, JJ Mollo, wondered about my characterization of Seung-Hui Cho's rampage as the typically American story of the "insane loner with guns":
I don't know if we can blame it on American culture though. Does this sort of thing never happen in Korea? The murder of a mayor in Japan strikes me as no different from things that happen here. Some places, especially homogenous cultures, are more peaceful in general, and the people may have less access to and money to pay for weapons.
JJ has a point -- and a good example in the shooting murder of Nagasaki mayor Iccho Itoh. This sort of violence isn't specific to America. Korea, too, has had a very violent history, even during the Park Chung-hee dictatorship, when society was more controlled, a point that has been reinforced for me recently, for I've just finished reading Cho Se-hui's novel from 1978, The Dwarf (translated by Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton), which depicts a Korea replete with violence of all sorts and at all levels of society. I therefore acknowledged in a reply to JJ:
As for violence in Korean society, there's actually quite a lot, but since guns are more difficult to obtain here in South Korea, then the violence takes other forms (e.g., beatings, stabbings, burnings, etc.). Still, living in Korea is generally safer than living in the U.S.

As for specifically this sort of thing happening in Korea, check out the case of Woo Bum-kon, who killed 58 persons (including himself) on a murderous rampage here in Korea in 1982. You can find the story on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, Seung-Hui Cho would likely have been rather Americanized after 15 years in the States, and he does fit a type with which we're familiar.

That doesn't mean that his Koreanness played no role, but we won't know that part until much further along in the ongoing investigation. Everybody has a story, including Cho.
I expect that we'll be finding out rather a lot about Seung-Hui Cho over the next few weeks. Eventually, somebody will write a definitive book on him and his madness, linking the Korean and American details to make sense of something senseless.

And we'll then wait for the next, ineluctable, senseless act...



At 6:56 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

The typically American violence is not the massacres, Columbine or VT; it's the daily murder or two in some American cities. In my city there were 403 murders last year, which included 22 children under 17 that were murdered with a gun. What was really upsetting two years ago is when a ten year old was killed and the crossing guard injured from a shootout a block away. The child was crossing the street to go into school. This brought together many different groups to try to do something about the violence, but the next year, there were more murders. I think it would have been much harder to kill these many people with knives or beat them to death.

At 7:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're right, Hathor. That is the typically American violence. And the gun culture has gotten more violent because of upgraded weapons.

I acknowledge that our Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, and I might want to keep a gun myself for self-defense if I lived in the States, but some of the guns that people are allowed to buy these days...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are correct, hathor. These statistics from a national website that compiles data on school crime put shooting rampages in perspective:

The probability that any school age child will die this year from*

Any cause 1 in 3,000
A traffic accident 1 in 8,000
Homicide, away from school 1 in 21,000
Suicide, away from school 1 in 28,000
A firearm accident 1 in 200,000
An act of nature, including lightning 1 in 780,000
Any adverse effect of medical care 1 in 1,300,000
Homicide at school 1 in 1,700,000

Yes, that’s right. A K-12 school child is more likely to be struck by lightning or killed by a tornado than to be murdered at school by any weapon. A child is far more likely to die in a firearm accident than to be murdered at school. Maybe the real problem isn’t violent rampages on school campuses but fear of a horrible headline-grabbing event that is actually extremely rare.


As a sister of someone who suffers from bipolar disorder (diagnosed and being treated with medications), I do hope that from this tragedy, people in this country will become more aware of mental illness and that educators, health care workers, and law enforcement will cooperate to do the best we humanly can to identify and help those who have some form of mental illness while respecting both individual rights and public safety. On another blog, a commenter reminded us about the movie Minority Report. We don't want our society to start locking people up for what they might do.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I have to admit to feeling some pity for Seung-Hui Cho because of the torment that he must have felt. He really must have been suffering in his isolation, feeling that everyone was conspiring against him.

This is probably not the best time to express that sort of pity, but I do feel it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm glad to hear you express empathy for Cho. I do, too, and we are not alone although our sentiments are definitely in the minority WaPo reported that some participants in the VT memorial ceremony on Friday wanted to add another stone for Cho to the 32 stones representing the victims while others opposed such a move. It appears that there is a stone or some other memorial to Cho as well. As I recall, there was a cross or some other structure erected in memoriam of the Columbine victims, and controversy ensued over whether to add the two shooters' names to the cross.

It is a tough call as to when or whether people who murder others deserve our sympathy. Clearly, Cho was disturbed, had been so for years, and was deeply unhappy. Some criminals are described as having personality disorders. Is a personality disorder the same as mental illness? Perhaps the Amish are right in spirit to leave judgment to God although unlike the Amish, I believe we do need courts for the sake of public safety.

At 5:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't have the same pity for the Columbine killers because I don't consider them insane. They bear full responsibility for their actions.

Cho was insane, in my opinion, and bears less responsibility ... though I wouldn't discount some degree of responsibility on his part.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cho was insane.

Yes there was an effort to place token to him. That an effort was made says enough.

The living remain and shall remember. May the living recall the admonitions.

As one gathers years replacing friends and things, one realizes the limitations of pity. So too does one realize the hope of the extent of sympathy.

The time for judgement has not come. In saying this I merely refer to our wonderings. I shall not have the years upon this vale to comprehend a judgement. This is koan.

I am just bright enough to know I lack the intellectual wherewithall to add to the debate among your regular commentators Jeff. Most of what I see in this world, have seen, despite my having learned the lessons necessary to navigate, remain a mystery to me.

I, having read much on this site today appreciate (being so close to a milestone) it's civility,and the wealth of it's resources.

I look forward to perhaps seeing the occasional allegorical reference to your mountain heritage. It widens my appreciation. It narrows my quest.

This I know is not the proper subject to interject a congratulation on your 100,000 visitor but, nonetheless.


At 4:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK. You're an eloquent man. Poetic, even.

If I feel the call, I'll gladly post on my poor-mountaineer-barely-kept-my-family-fed heritage.

I'd even like to post more poetry, but I fear that I must wait upon the muse to come calling, when I can then once again "pluck till time and times are done, / The silver apples of the moon, / The golden apples of the sun."

Meanwhile, I ought to update my blogroll now that Blogspot seems more stable.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try looking like this:
Satan (and) ax

Check out the story in Norway. This is where mind control works best. They work on what will work best. If your stong minded (as opposed to what I call most victims) "weak minded". The phrase "SNAP OUT OF IT!" Will work sometimes. (we have what's being refered to as a DEMO going on in our town.) kind of like Norway just more low key.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

E, Pa. -- I don't understand your comment. You didn't make a link, and I don't know anything about a story in Norway.

Jeffery Hodges

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