It isn’t surprising to see the top posts here on WordPress this morning are mostly concerned with the tragedy that unfolded at Virginia Tech. Our morning papers are full of it too. Here, for example, is the Sydney Morning Herald on the shooter. There is a good chance someone close to these events will read this entry. To them and all those concerned I extend heartfelt sympathy, and I just can’t imagine what the young perpetrator’s family must be feeling. The whole thing is just awful.
Inevitably a debate opens up about what these events might mean more generally. We had a not dissimilar set of events here in Australia in 1996, the Port Arthur Massacre. Mike in Tasmania has some good posts on that; for example:
Friday, April 28, 2006
…There was a special broadcast of the Commemorative Service direct from the Port Arthur Historic Site on 936 ABC Hobart…
The radio broadcast was a very moving time. The words of sadness and consolation were made all the more affecting by the many pauses in which we could hear the sound of the native birds singing in the surrounding forest.
It brought back that awful Sunday ten years ago when we heard the unbelievable news that a gunman had run amok at a popular tourist spot and shot down 35 people. Then as now, it seems completely inexplicable.
What I remember even more acutely is being in the city the following day. The populace were subdued. People sat quietly, talking in soft voices and looking off into the distance every so often. It wasn’t hard to know what they were thinking; we were all dwelling on the same thoughts.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
…I toddle along in some sort of parallel universe, vaguely aware that somewhere in other places people are being shot, stabbed or strangled, but for all the effect it has on me it may as well be happening on Mars.
Maybe that’s why the Port Arthur shootings shook Tasmania so badly in 1996. It was the sort of thing that happened “somewhere else”. It was many years before we regained our traditional equanimity.
In fact a couple of years later when one of the tabloid television programmes broadcast an item about killer Martin Bryant that included a sound grab of his voice, I reacted badly to the string of previews for the show.
It was completely out of character for me, but I grabbed the telephone and rang through to the answering machine of the programme in question. “How can you do this?” I barked. “Have you people no shame??”
Apparently the producers were taken aback by the hostile response to the segment and made some token apologies (though it didn’t stop them running it). Many people must have felt the same way that I did.
In fact just writing these few words and looking up the exact date of the tragedy is enough to make me feel uncomfortable, ten years on.
Especially noting the number of idiots with web pages claiming that the shootings were part of some conspiracy. If I’d happened to be at Port Arthur that day, I would probably have been dead at the end of the day. Pardon me if I don’t feel like considering your crazy ideas objectively…
Partly as a result I live in a country where there is no unfettered right to bear arms, though I should point out that my brother is a responsible gun-owner, using his weapon to reduce the feral animal population in the bush near where he lives — in Tasmania. But gun politics here are different: Gun politics in Australia. The debate in America is for Americans.
Even so, I could hardly believe my eyes yesterday, within hours of the events and even before it was clear what had happened, when one ultra-right blog I encountered via BlogExplosion was maintaining that “political correctness” was to blame…!!!!
On Journalspace today
Among the many comments and reports I have been reading on this, Raincoaster’s the worst school massacre in American history: not Virginia Tech is one of the most interesting.
No, it was not yesterday’s attacks at Virginia Tech. It was Andrew Kehoe’s murderous rampage in Bath, Michigan, in 1928…
Do I think the solution is to arm the innocents, turning them into potential killers? No, I think the solution is to disarm the perpetrators. There are only so many people you can kill by hitting them with a big rock. And these mass murders are not, let me point out, conducted by career criminals; they are committed by tightly-wound people with clean records and easy access to powerful guns.
You can’t buy certain kinds of music in WalMart, but you can buy guns…
It is obvious from what I wrote yesterday that I find US gun culture puzzling, and in that at least I am at one with our Prime Minister, John Howard, whose response to Port Arthur was tighter gun control. At the same time I think too many bloggers, left and right, have been taking free kicks over this incident.
I sympathise with this Georgia Christian, Sooz, who is at least open to the questions anyone must ask:
I have been troubled, as I know you have, over the shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech that took place on April 16. The thoughts that have consumed me have been around the young man who has been identified as the shooter for at least most of the killing that took place that day. He was of Asian decent, from a Christian, middle class family in a Maryland suburb of Washington D.C., obviously an academic achiever since he was a student at Virginia Tech, and, as we can gather from the after-the-fact accounts from people who know him, emotionally and perhaps psychologically unstable. Some of these are typical descriptors of people involved in taking the lives of others. Some of them we expect to hear learn about people who do these crazy and frightening things we hear more and more often on the news. We ask the question, “What is the world coming to?” over and over. All of that we are used to in these kinds of situations. But I am struck by this student’s background as the canvas on which such a horrific attack was designed.
Aren’t we conditioned to think that this kind of crime occurs in schools where students are not high achievers? Recently I attended the Town Hall Meeting held by our Georgia House Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan where much of the discussion was about our local school systems. There was some discontent over conditions parents find less than satisfactory, and I have heard much of the same kind of things from many of you. There are many problems in our schools, but there are hardly any workable solutions. The solution so far seems to have been for individual families to move away to a new place, where things will be better, where violence may be less likely to occur, where drugs are not as prevalent, where students are leading less angst-ridden lives and are, in general, happier. These students then graduate with better test scores and are more likely to head off to colleges and universities and major technical institutions…like Virginia Tech.
Maybe the schools, the neighborhoods, and the families are not the problem. This tragedy took place at a highly regarded school, with successful athletic teams, well-known faculty and research departments, and promising students. There was no escaping violence in this situation. Like in Colorado 8 years ago, it popped up where we least expected to find it: in a smart kid from a good family in the suburbs.
These stories from around our nation, I believe, beg a few questions to be asked. Is there a role that we, as followers of Christ, can take to face the problems in our schools and look for ways to help? When will we realize that the call of the gospel is not to serve and help when it is easy but when it is very hard to do so? Should we re-examine our society and what drives young adults to this kind of rage and how easy it was for this young man to go out and purchase a weapon that allowed him to take more than 30 lives in a matter of minutes?
With much qualification and uncertainty, I offer some thoughts that may be relevant in On welfare issues with Korean-Australian students on my English and ESL blog.