[Viewpoint] Shooting spree: A mental disorder

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[Viewpoint] Shooting spree: A mental disorder

It is an incomprehensible imbalance of development. Having won the bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2018, the international status of Korea has been upgraded. Korea’s reputation is improving day-by-day. In contrast, the sociocultural reality has not progressed from the old and backward vices. The recent shooting rampage at a Marine base clearly shows the marks of a violent culture that is widespread in Korean society.

A victim who is repeatedly exposed to violence may one day kill the aggressor. Such a case is called “a victim-precipitated murder” in criminology. A wife who was a victim of domestic violence kills her husband and a child who was abused kills the parents. A young boy who suffered from bullying and violence kills their fellow student. The core of these cases is the truth that “violence begets more violence.”

In some cases, a killer may believe that he or she is a victim of violence and harassment when no assault had actually been committed and murder innocent people out of false belief. There have been cases of murder sprees in Korea and abroad and the biggest problems that these killers share are antisocial tendencies and mental disorders.

A classic case of a killing spree is that of Officer Wu Beom-gon’s mass murders in 1982. Officer Wu was psychologically unstable and was suffering from extreme anxiety and persecutory delusion. He had stolen grenades and carbines and moved around a village to kill 57 people in eight hours.

There have been many similar shooting rampages in other countries. We all remember the shocking news of the Virginia Tech massacre. Korean-American student Cho Seung-hui killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in three hours. According to school records, he had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and persecutory delusions.

Of course, not everyone with schizophrenia or other mental disorders is potentially dangerous. However, if you look at the domestic and foreign cases, the killers often suffer from mental disorders, especially anxiety, paranoia and delusion. The risk is more serious when they constantly have trouble with those around them and have been involved in minor violent incidents.

Despite the potential danger, they would have been able to adjust to the environment and society if the people around them had taken good care of them. However, when they have to live isolated in a hostile and oppressive environment, they often struggle to live with the stress of everyday life.

Some suggest that we need to look at the successful case of the U.S. Marines in ending violence and harassment in the military. They propose that the marines should report any inappropriate act of violence and assaults, and any charges should be reflected in the evaluation.

However, in order for the formula to work, the culture that tolerates active reporting of wrongdoings committed by seniors and colleagues should be created first. Yet, in any organization, excessive surveillance, reporting and accusations often cause problems in trust among the members.

The Armed Forces of Korea have chosen conscription over enlistment, and therefore, the members of the Korean military are serving mandatory military duty. The ROK military is by its nature different from the foreign militaries that select their forces through a strict procedure of recruitment. People in Korea from various backgrounds have to live together regardless of their level of intellect or personality, so the Korean soldiers have to endure the stress from interacting with different individuals.

In reality, the most basic solution is to acknowledge the personal differences of one another. Before enrolling in the military, personality testing and psychological evaluations should be conducted and military authorities should provide specialized care for those who pose a risk.

Depending on the individual circumstances and degree of struggle, early discharge from military service should be allowed.

Knowing the risk and letting it grow is a foolish choice that puts everyone in danger.

If it is not easy to change the culture of discipline that is inherent in the military, the most realistic alternative would be selecting the members who are capable of enduring the culture of the organization.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of criminology at Kyonggi University.

By Lee Su-jeong
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