[Editor's view]Lessons from deathIn 1999 I covered the Columbine High School massacre, in which 12 students were killed by two of their classmates. The images from the Virginia Tech massacre brought back unpleasant memories.
Just like Columbine, there were people running for their lives, desperate students leaping from windows and shooting heard but not seen in footage taken by amateur photojournalists.
The United States seems to have a mass shooting every few years, like a bad movie that keeps getting remade, except the blood and tears are real and the anguish felt by survivors and relatives lasts forever.
In this case, the fear and desperation has leapt, in seconds, via satellite, from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia to the streets of Seoul.
Because the 23-year-old assailant in the hideous attacks, Cho Seung-hui, is a Korean, with roots in Seoul, this country has been transformed from the role of startled observer of another American tragedy into that of participant.
Every Korean parent who has a child in an American university, and that would be more than a thousand in the case of Virginia Tech alone, is likely to fear that their offspring may be victimized due to Cho’s rampage.
At a time like this, those who profess some faith pray to their gods. Those without any religious affiliation are left puzzled, saddened and, often, they are angry.
In fact, both groups are in the same boat. Neither prayers nor anger will change the fact that 33 people died and that more may follow, either among those wounded by Cho, or through reprisals against the Korean-American community.Reportedly, the FBI has already placed Cho’s parents under its protection.
As Virginia Tech grieves, we need to look to the future. There are lessons to be learned from this tragedy, for Korea, the United States and the world.
Newspaper reports say the Cho family was poor and lived in the basement of a three story house in Chang-dong. They moved to the United States because Cho’s father, according to one of his neighbors, believed that life would be better there.
Many Koreans think the same way, but there is a flipside to the American dream. Some who go to the United States find riches, but many discover a harsh environment in neighborhoods with a high crime rate.
Cho’s writings reveal a sullen, isolated young man who fantasized about violence and had seen America’s many problems in vivid close-up.
Yesterday his student screenplays were subjected to extensive psychological analysis, as if they were a diagram of the massacre he perpetrated. They were no such thing. Had they fallen into the hands of a Hollywood agent, Cho might have become the next Quentin Tarantino, because there is nothing in this young Korean’s work that isn’t found in dozens of films released in the United States each year.
The truth is that Cho seems to have been an immature boy with financial and emotional problems.
In Korea, where handgun control laws are extremely tight, he would have been obliged to act out his fantasies with his fists or a knife. In the United States, where gun control laws are lax, especially in Virginia, Cho, not much more than a child, was able to get easy access to deadly weapons, even though he was not a citizen.
If guns are put into the hands of angry children there will be bloodshed.
The United States has had many opportunities to learn from its massacres, but instead it has annual new gun sales of 3 million with more than 200 million guns already in circulation. That’s enough weapons for every adult under 65, with plenty left for any kid with a grudge.
Guns, in themselves, do not create a maniac, but a madman without a gun is far less dangerous. Korea must maintain vigilance to keep guns from its streets and it should take a stand against movies and video games that encourage violence.
One of the most pathetic things about Cho’s two screenplays was that they were so derivative. They contained ideas and images that he could have seen in American music videos, arcade games and gangster rap movies on a daily basis.
In this sense, he was acting out the American nightmare, the dark winter of a soul that has been overexposed to desensitizing violence in a culture that makes it easy for the mad and the bad to own a gun.
Let America do more to tighten its gun laws. Let Korea make sure that guns are never allowed a free market in this country and that the cultural values which have been incinerated in America’s bonfire of the verities are not immolated on this soil. There are some truths in life. Family is important, as are dignity, humility and modesty. Korea, it seems to me, has these in much greater measure than the United States, and they are its greatest protection against incidents like that which took place in Blacksburg.
And then there’s the world. The death of innocents always represents the triumph of darkness over light. As a correspondent in the United States for a decade I covered too many stories in which violence had been chosen as a solution. In Korea, in the United States, in any country, this is a good moment for us to teach our children that violence is never an answer.
*The writer is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Daily. He was based in New York for 12 years for the BBC and the London Daily Mail.
by Daniel Jeffreys