Seoul does some soul searching over Virginia massacre

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Seoul does some soul searching over Virginia massacre

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<p>Wednesday April 18 2007

<b>By <a href="http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/global/mark_tran.html">Mark Tran</a> / <a href="http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/news/archives/usa/">USA</a></b> 04:39pm

Like others around the world, South Koreans have reacted with horror to the killings at Virginia Tech university, but they are also nervous about a <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ny-woreax185176196apr18,0,2034052.story?coll=ny-worldnews-print">possible backlash</a> against the large Korean community in the US.

The headline in the <b>Korea Herald</b> <a href="https://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2007/04/19/200704190004.asp">encapsulates</a> the sense of alarm: Massacre puts US-based ethnic Koreans on alert.

"I and my fellow citizens can only feel shock and a wrenching of our hearts," said the south Korean president Roh Moo-hyun at a press conference, the third time he has offered his condolences.

The government has already held several cabinet emergency meetings since the killer was identified as a South Korean, although he had been in the US since the age of eight.

South Korean citizens pray for the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre in front of the US embassy in Seoul.

For the blogger, Michael Hurt, an American of Korean and African-American descent who lives in South Korea, the incident raises <a href="http://metropolitician.blogs.com/scribblings_of_the_metrop/">interesting questions</a> about South Korean society and the "cultural context" of the killing, which he admits is highly sensitive ground.

Hurt believes that the South Korean fears of retaliation are misplaced but argues that such fears are a "fair extrapolation of how foreign Others are treated as scapegoats and categorical symbols of many Koreans&#39; opinions of other nations and races".

But he raises more troubling points such as the apparent problem that Korean male students have in adjusting to the US.

From conversations he has had with American academics, he says:</p>
<blockquote>"What came out is that many Korean men felt displaced and disempowered as males who lived in a society that catered to them, while in the US, those forms of automatic power and status - being male, rich, or having come from Seoul National University - mean nothing. And at the same time, Korean women experience a social liberalisation compared to where they would often be in Korea."</blockquote>
<p>In further food for thought, Hurt notes that the record holder for the worst shooting in modern times was an off duty South Korean policeman who went on a drunken rampage in 1982, killing 57 people and wounding 38 before blowing himself up with several grenades he took from the police armoury.

The <b>Marmot&#39;s Hole</b>, however, has <a href="http://www.rjkoehler.com/2007/04/17/virginia-tech-shooter-a-korean-student-report/">no truck</a> with cultural explanations about the Virginia Tech killings.</p>
<blockquote>"Cho Seung-hui is about as representative of the Korean community as the Columbine shooters were of the white community, that is to say, he&#39;s not. In fact, if there is any group that seems "predisposed" to this sort of violence in the United States, it&#39;s not foreign Asian students, it&#39;s white males."</blockquote>

<p><b>Contemporaria</b>
<hr size=1 noshade></p><p>
This post was last changed at 04:39 PM, April 18 2007, at a time when the top headline on Guardian Unlimited was <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,2101677,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront">Secret UN report condemns US for Middle East failures</a>, and the top headline from the BBC was <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/-/1/hi/uk/6746965.stm">More &#39;chemical castrations&#39; plan</a>, and there were posts elsewhere tagged with these same keywords: <a href="http://www.technorati.com/tag/Korea">Korea</a>

The post was written by <a href="http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/global/mark_tran.html">Mark Tran</a>. You can email the author at <a href="mailto:mark.tran@guardian.co.uk">mark.tran@guardian.co.uk</a>


<b>Comments</b>
<hr size=1 noshade></p><p>
well, that&#39;s all very interesting, but if he had been in the US since he was eight years old, I can&#39;t help feeling that it&#39;s American culture which would have had the larger impact. Not saying US culture is inherently fucked up, just that the examples given of removal of status / general culture shock leading to &#39;disempowerment&#39; are probably not applicable here.

He was mentally ill, as are many human beings, and it led to the worst possible consequences. His &#39;heritage&#39; is irrelevant as far as I&#39;m concerned.
<b>Posted by Joshy on April 18, 2007 5:50 PM.</b>


Have to agree with Joshy here. Race and national heritage are largely irrelevant. America is a nasty place full of guns.
<b>Posted by Carts on April 18, 2007 6:36 PM.</b>


Not necessarily. You don&#39;t know how much of an influence American culture played in the boy&#39;s life. Asians sometimes stick together in their new country. The common language and culture binds them together in a foreign land. Just because he grew up in the United States does not necessarily mean that he accepted US culture and was integrated into US culture. His parents may have been the type to only socialise with other Koreans, and that may have trickled down to him.

I was born in Asia, and have been in the US since I was 3 (with a brief, 6 year stay in the UK for university and graduate school). My parents primarily socialised with other people from their country. I chose not to, but then again I was younger when I came to the United States than Cho was.

He probably felt very alienated in school when he first arrived, and if he didn&#39;t get over that alienation and those feelings of exclusion and isolation, coupled with his mental and emotional problems... Well, we can see the result.

It&#39;s too bad that his teachers treated him like such an anomaly. They probably exacerbated his problems and fed his resentment. His peers also may have exacerbated his problems by not knowing how to reach out to him, and by not making an effort to get to know him as a person. A lot of people, particularly people at the margins, do not react positively to the social environment found at universities. He actively resented the people there, and by extension, the way they chose to socialise. Because he couldn&#39;t integrate himself, and probably because he was rebellious towards integration, and because of all his problems, well -- I think it&#39;s understandable that he could be pushed that far. I&#39;m not excusing his actions, but as we are slowly becoming aware of the facts, it&#39;s clear that he was extremely disturbed.
<b>Posted by Brinstar on April 18, 2007 6:38 PM.</b>


Surely the sick young man was American, he had American citizenship, evn if he was of Asian background. But the point is being missed, in a typical American way, blaming the perpretator completely while choosing to ignore the environment. I live in China but am from Ireland, each has it&#39;s own proportion of troubled young men but the law doesn&#39;t give them ridiculously easy access to guns. This is not a racial problem it&#39;s a gun law problem.I&#39;m saying that if every country had the same law as the one which exists in America, the same proportion of massacres would occur. But the gun law lobby will always place the blame on the victim, it suits their purposes. Am I saying the guy was right or innocent? - no, I&#39;m not. I just want to make that point clear, but he was a sick man living in a society that has a sick law.
<b>Posted by Tomco on April 18, 2007 6:44 PM.</b>


I agree with the sentiments pertaining to race and nationality - these had nothing to do with his behavior. Rather, it was his mental illness that had everything to do with it.

Koreans are very successful in America, and my experience has been that they assimilate well.
<b>Posted by cafeej on April 18, 2007 6:45 PM.</b>


Brinstar is correct. Immigrant communities often stick together in ways that prevent full assimilation to US society. Many such communities live in subcultures of their own making. Not placing any blame here, just making a statement.

It&#39;s very sad to see a situation like this turning into a knee-jerk political debate on why people hate the US and its&#39; people.

While I completely agree that stronger gun laws should be in place in this country, I find the rants I have seen on these blogs to be pathetic.
<b>Posted by Alwick on April 18, 2007 6:55 PM.</b>


The above clowns seem to think national origin is irrelevant, unless, of course, one is American.

School related deaths are down by half since 1990, with 50 million more citizens today.

The above posters only display their bigotry, by ascribing some intrinsic essence of the 300 million who live in the States.

Interestingly, 19 people were gunned down in Rio yesterday, but I don&#39;t see any amateur sociology about the diseased Brazilian culture in these pages.

Hypocrisy....
<b>Posted by ambivabloke on April 18, 2007 7:09 PM.</b>


I&#39;m a British guy and I&#39;ve been learning Korean for about one year, which isn&#39;t easy. Throughout that time I&#39;ve met quite a few Korean people in London and, just as in South Korea, they have been kind, very helpful and supportive.

I&#39;ve been helped at night in Seoul by a young man who asked me if I was a Christian and then told me his name and plenty of other episodes that leave me with a very positive impression of Korean people and the culture.

I think this guy could have been from any country and cultural background. Killing can&#39;t be justified in anyway but maybe the winner takes all culture of American society can be traumatic to those who feel left out or don&#39;t feel suitable to the challenge.
<b>Posted by simeonbanner on April 18, 2007 7:15 PM.</b>


I have seen no significant evidence of anti-Korean or anti-Asian sentiment since the events at Virginia Tech this week, at least none that I have seen. I read a fairly geographically broad number of online newspapers every day.

Someone may use it as an excuse eventually, or decide to blame some event on what has happened. Nevertheless, the "stereotype" for Asians in the US is positive, with exceptions in areas where there is gang activity that breaks down along national lines, primarily in some western states. Asians frequently are viewed as industrious in the workplace and high achievers in academic pursuits by other Americans; to the point where (in the past) some of my friends of Chinese and Korean background said this so-called positive stereotype was driving them nuts. It was as if they were not allowed to be "average."

I am thanking god the killer was not a Muslim. There would have been hell to pay.
<b>Posted by Phosphat on April 18, 2007 7:21 PM.</b>


Tomco,
He was not an American Citizen, but a permanent resident, which is why the media refer to him as a "South Korean" rather than "Asian-American" or other term.

simeonbanner,
What does learning the language have to do with anything? Sorry, but, one cannot say all South Koreans are nice, polite, etc....do you know the level of racism levelled against ethnic-minorites (blacks, chinese, SE Asian, etc) in South Korea (you should go there)? Even the large Korean-American community has tensions with other communities...but then again, that is the problem with the US...all ethnicities have their demarcated lines and cannot leave their respective communities.

I do not think this has anything to do with race, nationality or anything, but certainly US youth culture is a bigger problem.

But what I can&#39;t understand...why is the Asian/Korean-American community shocked that &#39;one of theirs&#39; has gone off the rail? As if to say it is (or should be) only white/black/latino people that could ever commit a crime. The level of (over)reaction by the Korean-American community is a little too much...yes, he was Korean, but he was also crazy and disturbed, which was the reason why he did such things.

And South Korea...feeling a backlash....maybe the way they treat(ed) Americans in their own country, especially minority Americans after a tragic, unexplained accident a few years ago. Again, an over-reaction to a tragedy done by a crazy person (or is it still &#39;alledged&#39;?). I don&#39;t see why the whole nation has to apologise; the US is not sensitive enough to want to attack a whole nation because of one man&#39;s actions...oh, hang on a minute...
<b>Posted by fraggler on April 18, 2007 7:30 PM.</b>


Offensive?...No...Unsuitable?...Not at all...Sadly Misguided?...YES
<b>Posted by TorontoAnthony on April 18, 2007 7:40 PM.</b>


@ Brinstar: "it&#39;s understandable that he could be pushed that far".

Bollocks. Millions of people around the globe live in countries and cultures that are different to their own. They don&#39;t go on killing sprees when it all gets too much.
<b>Posted by Ringpeace on April 18, 2007 7:43 PM.</b>


I think it was Ian Fleming who wrote that if you wanted a really precision contract killing carried out, get a Korean assassin to do the job.
<b>Posted by brenzone on April 18, 2007 8:09 PM.</b>


brenzone: your comment is incredibly crass but I hope it does not get deleted.

Not sure there is very much that can sensibly be said, apart from a call for a serious examination of American gun laws. If you need to pass a test to drive a car, I fail to see why gun ownership should not be contingent on extensive testing and a medical exam. You&#39;re not allowed to drive if you cannot see adequately enough, why on earth should deranged people (as Cho clearly was) not be filtered out through some sort of psych profiling?
<b>Posted by Zerotolerance on April 18, 2007 9:05 PM.</b>


It doesn&#39;t matter what culture this disturbed young man grew up in, trying to analyze it from that point-of-view only leads to generalizing and jingoism. Every society and culture on Earth has mentally ill individuals and many countries, if not all of them, have had incidents where an individual snapped and reacted with violence towards innocents. We can try to blame US culture like American movies, video games, heavy-metal music, anti-depressants or what have you, but the bottom line is that there are millions of Americans who grow up in the United States without ever using violence towards others. If you took away all the guns in the US, which would be nice, wouldn&#39;t have stopped this man from murdering people considering how pre-meditated the massacre appears to be. That said though, I think the real discussion should be the US&#39; loose gun laws especially in Republican dominated states like Virginia.
<b>Posted by BlueJayWay on April 18, 2007 9:12 PM.</b>


Tomco - the shooter was not a US citizen. He was a legal resident alien.

It doesn&#39;t matter what culture this disturbed young man grew up in, trying to analyze it from that point-of-view only leads to generalizing and jingoism. Every society and culture on Earth has mentally ill individuals and many countries, if not all of them, have had incidents where an individual snapped and reacted with violence towards innocents. We can try to blame US culture like American movies, video games, heavy-metal music, anti-depressants or what have you, but the bottom line is that there are millions of Americans who grow up in the United States without ever using violence towards others. If you took away all the guns in the US, which would be nice, wouldn&#39;t have stopped this man from murdering people considering how pre-meditated the massacre appears to be. That said though, I think the real discussion should be the US&#39; loose gun laws especially in Republican dominated states like Virginia.
<b>Posted by BlueJayWay on April 18, 2007 9:14 PM.</b>


as a trainee shrink comment, lets be clear "mental illness" neither can explain or remove culpabilty for such actions; such actions are explained quite uniquely by the individual here concerned and his life story experience and then his actions, and they are not so generalisable to other people in ie the "mentally ill" population and a repressive backlash to those considered "mentally ill" would only increase the burden of human suffering!

but that is not to say those who continually express violence and violent phantasy as a subgroup should not indeed be very carefully helped/ and the general public protected.
<b>Posted by ladolcevita on April 18, 2007 9:14 PM.</b>


It is disheartening to read what most of you feel about Americans. I am an American from North Carolina, and I think it is ridiculous to think there is going to be some backlash towards South Koreans over the Virgina Tech tragedy. Not only is it ridiculous, it&#39;s insulting. I have to assume you bas your opinions on our post-9/11 society. Granted, issues of racial tension in our society, and there is a population of people who were angry with Muslims after 9/11. I won&#39;t deny that, but it is a completly different situation. The terrorists who attacked the US were representatives of an evil and radical ideology. They were part of a population who hates America and its people. (How comfortable were Britains with Germans after WWII?)

Even still, the majority of Americans understand the difference between Islam and radical Islam. The Virgina Tech murderer, however, was an individual who acted on his own. Americans are not all Axe-wielding white supremacist barbarians. Just because he happened to be a Korean doesn&#39;t mean we are going to begin hunting down Koreans and getting our revenge. Give Americans some credit.
<b>Posted by byronimation on April 18, 2007 9:48 PM.</b>


It&#39;s all pretty tragic. The guy was clearly mentally ill, he had easy access to guns and he decided to use them. The question of his nationality/race etc is rather beside the point. I have lived in several countries and ALL of them have their fair share of disturbed individuals either through abuse, disenfranchisement or physiological mental problems. For example, seemingly random attacks by students on fellow students or teachers in Japan are a fairly commmon occurence and in the UK people regularly lash out at others in violent ways. The main difference is quite clear - in most US states guns are easy to get, in most other parts of the world they are not. It&#39;s hardly rocket sicence now is it?

If America as a nation wants to retain the right to bear arms then that is their choice and I wouldn&#39;t presume to tell them otherwise, but is it not alright to point out that maybe, just maybe it might be a good idea to look into exactly who you are selling guns too? Is that really so hard? As someone mentioned earlier, it&#39;s easier to buy a lethal firearm in Virginia than drive a car because you actually have to prove yourself competant to get behind the wheel. Madness.
<b>Posted by JawbreakerWiseman on April 18, 2007 10:23 PM.</b>


Interesting point about the sexes in Korea. The Korean-American women I know are amazingly successful and ambitious. Don&#39;t know any Korean-American men though.

I do think however that the central debate here should focus on the ease of obtaining a gun. The gun laws here in the U.S., especially Virginia and most other states in the south, are absolutely antiquated. My hope is that Virginia and other states with lax gun laws use this incident as a wake up call and pass stronger gun legislation, instead of letting the NRA and the hunting lobby decide our policies.

I just don&#39;t understand gun culture. I grew up in Connecticut, which is probably one of the safest, boringest states to grow up in. CT has strong gun laws, and our schools were pretty much violence-free. It seems to me that saving innocent students lives is more important than placating a small minority of white men obsessed with guns.

On another note, I think teachers, especially at the middle school and high school level, need to be more involved in sticking up for students that are on the fringe. When I was in school, I remember teachers often just letting kids be picked on, or worse, joining in. I really upset me to see that. Teachers can help prevent students from forming "cliques" by assigning seating and making classmates work occasionally with other classmates that might not normally hang out with. That&#39;s how I would approach teaching, it I was in the position to do so.
<b>Posted by AC89 on April 18, 2007 10:24 PM.</b>


What I notice is the focus on 32 deaths on an American university campus, while today 160 people died in Baghdad from an insurgency caused by American imperialism. Certainly this says a great deal about the relative importance which the media places upon humanity: Americans are worth much more than Iraqis, if one is to believe them. And the fact that we pay more attention to Virginia says we too are being successfully manipulated by the same media which does little to contribute positively to a sense of community locally, nationally, and throughout the world.

Sorry if this sounds a bit self-righteous, but I include myself in this, so to hell with the media, including the Internet. I&#39;m going to read.
<b>Posted by Leftacentre on April 18, 2007 10:58 PM.</b>


Does the leader always have to have a pun in it?
<b>Posted by Level7 on April 18, 2007 11:35 PM.</b>


Virginia Massacre:

Isn&#39;t blogging a twee yuppie distraction.

Myriad blogger&#39;s who take the time to recant their ancestry, and hopefully ad lib assassin Cho&#39;s raison d&#39;etre should really be ashamed of themselves.

Without doubt he was a walking time bomb waiting to blast off - that it took so long, speaks volumes !!

Virginia Tech officialdom should be incarcerated, quartered and hung out to dry. They failed their staff, alumni and students miserably. Therein lies the NUB - not sociopath Seong Hui.Migrant, permanent resident, green card holder, and would be Martin Byrant ( Australia&#39;s mass murderer. Sentenced to Life in Port Arthur. Tassie )

His Teacher&#39;s and room mates were well aware of his idiosyncratic behaviour, yet conveniently overlooked it, and mildly chastised him ? Perhaps most US Uni students go through this form of weaning, and hopefully ..just.. grow out of it. It&#39;s a crass understatement. Staff should undertake counselling to set them straight. Administrative procedures and protocols ( were there any ? )should have set alarm bells ringing, especially after 9/11. Zero tolerance - this guy should have been expelled or shunted sideways. Yes, irrespective of his paying fees. There are standards to uphold which are universally accepted, and unless one has a valid reason for weird dialogue or &#39; lone-wolf &#39; conduct, it may have in the short term prevented this tragedy. He was student iomcompatible. The Psycho&#39;s would have forseen his condition..day one. Like in the Armed Forces, he wouldn&#39;t have made it pass recruitment.

Perhaps, we are all guilty by association.We condone all sorts of burlesque, risque standpoint behaviour at some time of our lives. In hindsight, could we have prevented such a horrendous oucome ?? Guess again.
<b>Posted by aussiechick on April 19, 2007 6:22 AM.</b>


Nice point LeftofCentre,

I was in Europe in 2001 whilst some 3MM people (over a 3 year period) died in a civil war in Congo. This amounts to ~3000 people per day. People in Europe were more concerned over Bush&#39;s stumblings, the Kyoto protocol..etc. News coverage was terrible (do a search of BBC and see how many articles pop up). The only reason Europe cares about Iraqi deaths at the moment is because the US invasion is the direct/indirect cause. There was little concern over the 100,000 deaths/year (mostly children) that the UN (and I might add Europe-supported) sanctions caused.

As a more ripe example, look at Darfur. More people are dying in Darfur on a daily basis then in Iraq but you could not tell that from the media coverage.

In the end, I believe the media gives people what they want. Many Europeans hate Bush and they like to see him fail (hence the focus on Iraq). Many Europeans resent the worldwide attraction toward US "vulgar" culture and like to see its failings (e.g. gun laws, uninsured, suburbanization, SUVs. materialism). Many often simplify quite complicated issues, over-emphasize isolated incidents, fail to understand that the US is not as black/white as they think, fail to factor in the diversity/scale/dynamism of the USA, and forget the problems in their own backyard (Erfurt in Germany - 16 dead, Port Arthur in Australia- 35 dead, Dunblane in Scotland - 17 dead, Polytechnique in Montreal -14 dead).
<b>Posted by patapsco on April 19, 2007 7:04 AM.</b>


If all of the people that have died in famines, ethnic cleansings, fights over which end of an egg to eat from etcetera, over the past, say two decades, had lived and multiplied; how would they have been fed, sheltered and employed?
<b>Posted by Level7 on April 19, 2007 1:20 PM.</b>


I am a US citizen; my father is Korean and my mother is English.

I think that what happened at Virginia Tech had three main factors: Suung-Hui Cho&#39;s mental problems, his environment and the ease of buying guns here in the USA.

From all I&#39;ve gathered, it sounds like Mr Cho had serious mental problems. One of his relatives was quoted as saying that his mother mentioned that Mr Cho was autistic; however, there has been no indication as to whether this was a diagnosis by a professional or a speculation based on his symptoms and history. Whatever his diagnosis, it seems clear in hindsight that he was a seriously troubled person.

His environment was not helpful, to say the least. I read one account by a former high school student that Mr Cho was bullied into reading aloud in class by the teacher who threatened to give him an F for participation if he did not. The other students started pointing, laughing, mocking his manner of speaking and yelling "go back to China!" This story absolutely gave me the creeps... and a shudder of sympathy for the butt of the whole incident.

My parents met and married at a time in the USA when mixed race marriages were looked down on and actually illegal in some states. They were only able to marry when they showed the justice of the peace their passports because if they had been citizens of the USA, their marriage would have been against state law. I was the first non-white child in my school, all the way up until high school. I was often the target of bullying and harassment based on my race. And not always by the other kids; a fair number of teachers also harassed me.

I think the combination of Mr Cho&#39;s mental problems and the harassment he suffered throughout his life in the USA combined to drive him over the edge. Why did he kill when so many others (including myself) do not? I&#39;m not sure. All I can say is that if you subject enough people to stress, a small percentage, perhaps only a fraction of one percent, will go over the edge and start to kill. The FBI includes having suffered bullying in the ten point checklist they have compiled of other school shooters.

The third factor was the easy availability of guns. I&#39;ve read comments elsewhere that suggest that if students had been allowed to carry concealed weapons to class, Mr Cho&#39;s rampage would have been stopped sooner. This seems to me to be wildly unlikely. If there had been other students carrying concealed weapons, I suspect the headline would read "USA gunman kills three before being shot down himself; forty seven onlookeers also killed in the crossfire"

Without one of these three factors, I suspect that today would be just another day at Virginia Tech and most students&#39; main concern would be whether they would pass their next test.

Only one of these three factors is not readily changeable--Mr Cho&#39;s mental illness. The harassment he suffered and the easy availability of guns could be changed.

I suspect, however, that most people in the USA will simply blame the whole incident on some innate evil in Mr Cho. That&#39;s a lot more comfortable than facing the possiblity that others may have been indirectly complicit, after all.
<b>Posted by MsEithne on April 23, 2007 8:31 PM.</b>

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Mark Tran, "Seoul does some soul searching over Virginia massacre," in The April 16 Archive, Item #992, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/992 (accessed August 20, 2014).