Rob Olson: A question of humanity


Rob Olson: A question of humanity


By: Rob Olson
Posted: 4/19/07

This is how it happens, a tragedy so great that if we were to truly comprehend it, we would find ourselves incapacitated with grief.

Speeches, national debates, 24-hour news channels, investigations, prayers and vigils. Feelings of confusion, anger, sorrow, despair. Politicians and community leaders across the nation issuing statements with identical tones and meanings. The same words appear in every one: tragedy, grief, horrific, shock, violence prevention, counseling services, thoughts and prayers, and so on.

We go through the same motions and emotions. We find the old familiar paths in our minds that we've tread before with other instances of mindless slaughter: Columbine, the Amish schoolhouse shootings, people going postal at work.

At least 9/11 and other terror attacks were part of some greater war of ideologies, a "clash of civilizations," as historian Samuel P. Huntington has dubbed it. This was about nothing. It had no larger purpose, no thought or reason, none of the usual gains for the perpetrator, like money or power. This was evil in its purest, most basic form. Evil for the sake of evil. Killing for the sake of killing.

I write a political column. So what's my political angle? The abhorrent way some in the world community have spun the tragedy, with the Italian Il Manifesto newspaper calling it "as American as apple pie"? A vessel to expand the debate on gun rights versus gun control in America? No, I don't feel up to the task of such columns. They feel like hollow diversions in the face of such an atrocity.

I want to take no political angle. Politics is about division and conflict. A tragedy of this magnitude should not be used for political debate; not yet, anyway. I don't know if justice can be done to the topic, or if I have the capability to address the worst school shooting in United States history. But here I write, attempting to describe the indescribable. How naive of me.

Sueng-Hui Cho, 23, killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus and then turned one of his guns on his own face. His rampage was probably inspired by an argument with an ex-girlfriend, who may have gotten a new boyfriend. She was the first of his victims.

It seems Cho simply lost it, just like the killers at Columbine, and hated the world so much that he sought to do as much damage as possible before ending his own life. Killing so many people without a logical motive required a ruthless mixture of hatred, insanity and, as one friend pointed out to me, selfishness.

The terrible truth that no one talks about is that we really have little power to prevent these occurrences. Supposedly a number of people around this psychopath were afraid of what he might do, and referred him to counseling and to authorities. At first glance, people around him acted correctly in response to various warning signs. But only so much could be done, and it wasn't enough.

We rely on some sense of sanity from our fellow man that stops us from doing what Cho did. When that is gone, when sheer malevolence and bloodlust find home in someone's heart, what are we to do? How can atrocities like what happened at Virginia Tech be prevented from occurring on our own campus? Usually these catastrophes are headed off, but other times they slip through, and all we can do is pick up the pieces, and mourn those lost to us forever in this world.

But when we "pick up the pieces," we have one overriding but unspoken goal in mind: to restore faith in our own humanity. When we hear of what Cho did, we no longer believe in ourselves and in our species as inherently good, and we are compelled to respond. We cannot let Cho have the final word. That's why the politicians make their pronouncements of grief, why we write our columns, congregate for our vigils and join our Facebook groups that reach thousands of members before the first day is even over.

The tragedy of Virginia Tech isn't a political debate, but a debate on the soul of humanity. No wonder we feel it so keenly.

You lose, Cho. Humanity wins.


Original Source:<a href=>The California Aggie - April 19, 2007</a>


Rob Olson


The California Aggie




Sara Hood


Eddie Lee <[email protected]>




Rob Olson, “Rob Olson: A question of humanity,” The April 16 Archive, accessed September 25, 2017,