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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sometimes They Do

Update: The Anchoress has been pondering some of the same issues. Fausta has a big roundup with more on Professor Liviu Librescu. End update.

I wrote a couple of years ago about my fourth grade teacher. She was quite a character. Never married, an older woman then (who remembered the Great Depression, and the teachers getting paid with scrip because there was no money), and the daughter of a fireman who used to teach the classes on fire safety with a few extra tips. For one thing, she would tell us that as a last resort, if we were trapped and couldn't get out and the fire was getting close, to stand up and breathe in the smoke. "It's a better death," she would say. She made us write a little essay about our home escape plans for a fire. If we were in a room upstairs, and there was only a staircase, we had to have a way to get out of our windows.

She also advised us that when we got older, we should read "Mein Kampf". "No one believed he would do it," she told us. "If people had read Hitler's book then and taken him seriously, millions of lives would have been saved. Something like this may happen again - when you are older, read the book, think about what could have been, and pay attention to the news. You can't assume they just won't. Sometimes they do."

It was obviously a very different era. Children were not so sheltered, and worries about the harshness of grading with red pen was the furthest thing from anyone's mind. It was taken for granted that people died and bad things happened, and it was also taken for granted that children had the resilience to deal with such matters. Adults of that age had been through a great deal and didn't doubt that very bad things would happen in the future, so they believed that it was as necessary to teach children about such matters as it was to teach reading, writing and arithematic.

I think the contrast between the then and now is haunting me with respect to the Virginia Tech shootings. There were nutcases like this back then, but I just don't believe that a group of Mrs. J's fourth graders who found themselves in college facing a deranged man with two pistols would have stood there to get shot and not tried to fight back. I think this is what Shrinkwrapped is saying - there's a change in us that makes us not believe in such things, and so we don't fight back. Because all the guy had was two handguns, and if four or five students had thrown books at him and then charged, more people would be alive today.

Isn't it ironic that one of the few functional responses was from a professor who was a Holocaust survivor? Because he believed, and acted, more people are alive today.

Dr. Sanity wrote about the media and the therapeutic frenzy, and I thought there was wisdom in what she had to say:
There is this strange belief among the intellectual elites; even among many psychiatrists and mental health professionals that feeling anguish and grief are wrong and must be avoided at all cost. Or if you must feel them, then they must be instantly transformed into a focus on this thing called "healing". Bring out the healing! Open those clinics! Stop those oh-so-negative emotions--before they have an impact on your life! Move forward!
Sigmund Carl and Alfred finds some of the response a bit narcissistic. I don't know. I don't think we should wallow in the incident, but I do think we should take the victims' deaths seriously and ask what might have made a difference. Making ourselves feel better about it won't change a darned thing, in the past or in the future.

They say now that Cho had been involuntarily committed before, and that he stopped in between the first killings and the final massacre to mail a media package. Obviously he had been planning for some time to go out in a blaze of sick revenge upon people he didn't even know. There have always been people who succumb to the desire to destroy; the only thing left to society is to nurture the ability to defend itself. We aren't always going to catch them before they act. There was no prior warning like this in the case of the Amish shooter, for example.

As for gun control, that won't stop such incidents either. It is, after all, just as easy to set fires or bomb, or rent an SUV and drive it through a crowd. There is not always going to be a way to stop these people before lives are lost. We should remember that, and be ready to react.

Ace's reaction strikes me as completely functional; in anger at the media play the guy is getting, he asked for photoshops of Cho. Mock them, he writes, and let everyone understand that they will be remembered not with fear or awe, but with scorn.

I hesitated to write this because I feel so sorry for Cho's family and for the family and friends of those who were murdered and injured. It seems disrespectful to point out that the students should have acted differently, and a heaping of coals on Cho's family to photoshop him like this. But lives depend upon us not being patsies like this, and maybe it is time for us to be less concerned about hurt feelings and more concerned about dead bodies. I have the uneasy feeling that our reaction to this may be feeding unlovely ideas in a certain quarter.

If Mrs. J were still alive and teaching, I am quite sure she would be drilling her students in ways to react, given the various incidents. Acceptable responses would not be passive. Another way to state it is that it was not those who jumped from the World Trade towers (some already on fire) who were disfunctional; it was those standing on the ground screaming "don't jump" who weren't dealing with reality. Sometimes your best choice is a very bad one.

Btw, it was illegal for Cho to buy the weapons if he had been involuntarily committed, so the problem is that current law wasn't followed. Ironically, if the students or professors had been permitted to carry weapons with the appropriate permits (see this Confederate Yankee post), lives might have been saved.

Here is something else to think about: the worst US school massacre ever was an attack on an elementary school in Bath Township, Michigan, in 1927. It bears some surprising similarities to this incident as well - there was the first killing of an intimate followed by the planned attack on the school. Forty-five people were killed without guns. No simplistic answer for this type of thing will provide safety. There is no absolute safety to be had in life.

I hesitated to write this because I feel so sorry for Cho's family and for the family and friends of those who were murdered and injured. It seems disrespectful to point out that the students should have acted differently, and a heaping of coals on Cho's family to photoshop him like this.

Because somewhere out there, a Cho-like loser is thinking "If I top Cho's score, I'LL BE FAMOUS, TOO! I'LL BE ALL OVER THE NEWS! EVERYONE WILL STAND IN AWE AND FEAR MEEEEEEEE!"

Anyone remember the main bad guy in Peter Jackson's movie The Frighteners? ("I topped Starkweather -- he only killed 11! I'm topping Ted Bundy! And that Russian cannibal guy -- he did over 100!")

The Headless Unicorn Guy
Yup, exactly. I don't think the media should have publicized his screed, but since they did, the only thing left is scorn and mockery.

We need to write a giant "Pathetic Loser" over top those images.
A comment thread on another blog (Shrinkwrapped, I think) claimed the AP just reported the first copycat -- another Korean, somewhere in Israel of all places.

Morning drive-time radio was speculating on copycats, and that a lot of strange stuff seemed to happen in mid-April, from Adolf Hitler's birthday to Waco to Ruby Ridge to the Oklahoma City bombing to Earth Day. All within days of each other on the calendar.

The Headless Unicorn Guy
Oh, I expect copy cats, but I thought the Israel thing was a sick joke. It would be on the news, and it isn't.
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