The image of a body hoisted by four police officers, each holding a limb, with blood-soaked legs exposed has been burned into my consciousness.
Shaky and vague cell-phone footage of the violence plays on what seems like constant repeat, while stock footage of parked police cars, Virginia Tech campus, and police officers conversing make complete a play-list of horrific memories of Cho Seung-Hui’s rampage on my TV set.
Round the clock talking heads on every news channel repetitiously spout talking points on the safety of college campuses, dangers of handguns, and “telltale warning signs” of violent behavior.
“What could have been done to help this young man?” they ask. “How could we have possibly prevented this tragedy?” And, finally, “where’d he get the guns and why did he do it?”
The upcoming anniversaries of Adolf Hitler’s birthday and the Columbine tragedy on April 20th are reiterated. “What is the significance of this week, this date, to the massacre? Are they connected somehow?”
But superseding the details of the massacre, the pain of the victims, families, and friends, and the “telltale” symptoms of the suspect is this simple fact: nothing could have stopped Cho Seung-Hui on Monday, just as nothing would have stopped Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Charles Whitman, or any other sociopath or serial killer in history.
The truth of this tragic matter is that Cho Seung-Hui and the rest are all aberrations of society, a few rare sociopaths per hundreds of millions of people who, for whatever emotional, mental, or social reason simply lose it.
The United States will not erupt into college and high-school violence perpetrated by disaffected would-be copycats of Seung-Hui, Klebold, Harris, and the rest. Our campuses are no less secure.
This is a tragic and horrific incident, but an isolated one.
In its August 12th, 1966 issue, TIME magazine struggled with the same questions about the actions of Charles Whitman-who killed 15 and wounded 31 from his perch atop the University of Texas at Austin’s tower- that we will churn through in the coming weeks:
“This week, while the murder of eight student nurses in Chicago is still starkly in the public memory, our cover story turns to the problem of the psychotic and society as illustrated by the still more immediate case of Charles Whitman, perpetrator of the worst mass murder in recent U.S. history. Why do such acts of madness occur? What, if anything, can be done to prevent them?”
It is truly eerie how parallel and formulaic these events appear. The TIME article refers to a mass murder in which Richard Speck killed 8 student nurses in South Chicago Community Hospital in July of 1966.
Charles Whitman’s psychotic rampage claimed the lives of his mother, wife, and passerby before police shot him.
It is critical to see that Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the University of Texas killings are isolated, extremely rare cases of people who got their hands on guns after they “fell through the cracks.”
What comes next is the dangerous part. Media coverage will run for several weeks until every witness, analyst, expert, and Columbine survivor is exhausted.
A fetishism of campus violence will develop; constant exposure and media attention will have the next Cho Seung-Hui, Klebold, Harris, or Whitman convinced they could go out in a “blaze of glory.”
If people want to kill other people, they’ll find a way. Even if gun laws are tightened, classrooms locked, and background checks performed, pipe bombs can be made, crude tools used, and weapons can be stolen for demonic purposes.
What we should take from the Virginia Tech tragedy as well as Columbine, the University of Texas, and many others, is to treat each other well, get people help who need it, and to remember that the fabric of society is not unraveling simply because a psychopath unfortunately chose a violent means to express his pain.
Drew Haugen is a senior International Studies major. His love goes to the victims and families of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Drew’ column appears every Monday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.