A quick preemptive disclaimer here: Some may find a few of my comments in the following column regarding the recent shootings at Virginia Tech inappropriately flippant.
I apologize in advance and offer this as explanation. Experience has taught me that I have two responses to real-life horror: I can find something ridiculous to laugh at, or I can slam my head repeatedly into the nearest wall until I pass out and the pain goes away. My neurologist has advised me that I really need to stop doing the second one. Anyway....
When a senseless mass killing like this happens, your heart has to go out to the victims and their families. But for some, sympathy isn't enough. They need to find someone other than the killer to blame.
First up: Virginia Tech itself. It seems that the killer, a South Korean immigrant named Cho Sueng Hui, first killed two people in a dorm room, who were discovered two hours before the main rampage began. How, some say, could Virginia Tech not have immediately gone into lockdown, canceled classes, and maybe averted the shooting spree two hours later?
Well, for one thing, there's a difference between murder and mass murder. Finding one doesn't necessarily mean that another's about to occur.
Think about it this way: VT has 25,000 students, according to its Web site. Southern Pines has a current population of 11,586. But if someone gets shot at a house on May Street, even if the shooter has fled the scene, they don't lock the whole burg down from Midland Road to the Weymouth Center. Plus, I've visited Virginia Tech. The place is huge. I'm not sure you could shut down anything that big, in two hours, with a crew of campus police.
But, they say, Virginia Tech should have seen it coming because the shooter was kind of weird. Take, for example, his writing. Someone dug up a couple of plays Cho Sueng Hui wrote for English assignments and posted them on the Internet as "Virginia Killer's Violent Writings."
I actually read the pieces posted online, and I'll say this: Even if you take into consideration that English was probably this dude's second language, these are terrible, even by the standards of college English-class writing. But they're also filled with disturbing references to pedophilia and violence. So shouldn't Virginia Tech have seen this whole thing coming and done something?
Well, friends, If you think violent and disturbing writing is a sign that someone needs to be locked up, then I'd have to ask you to please refrain from reading Chapter Five of my novel "Good Day in Hell" (available in bookstores everywhere). In fact, much as I hate to say it, you should probably give my whole oeuvre a miss. And you'd best not look at any Stephen King, or Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy.
And as for Cho, or Hui, or whatever, being off-kilter, this sort of person is not unknown on college campuses. There are a lot of angry, alienated misfits in college. A lot of them turn into professors.
But for truly mind-boggling stupidity here, you have to look to my old friends at Fox News, who have tried to find a connection between a South Korean who moved to the U.S. when he was 9, and -- get ready for it -- Islam.
The shooter, according to Fox's usual unnamed "sources," was found with the words "ISMAIL AX" written in red ink on his right forearm. This, according to the Fox News Web site, "may" have been a reference to Ishmael, son of the biblical patriarch Abraham and the alleged ancestor of the Arab peoples. Why a South Korean would be an Islamist is not explained, because that would, you know, require Fox to make sense.
A mass murderer like Cho Seung Hui robs his victims of their lives. But when he turns the weapon around at the end of his rampage and obliterates himself, he robs the rest of us of something: the ability to make sense of it, the ability to look him in the eye and ask him "why?"
With the actual shooter dead and gone, there's also no one to do the on-camera Walk of Shame into custody, into court, and eventually, into prison. There's no one to be the focus of that media-ready ceremony whereby the whole watching world can hang the blame where it belongs: around the neck of the actual perpetrator.
Robbed of those comforting rituals, people, especially the pundits of what some have dubbed "the chattering class," want to rush in and fill the void. With the shooter out of their reach, and nothing much to say to or about him, they want to find someone else to blame. And I have to say that some of their targets are pretty silly. But the victims deserve better than this sort of blathering.