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Wednesday, April 18, 2007
(10:16 AM) | Stephen:
More Thoughts On VA Tech Because It's Inescapable

According to this article, the family of Cho Seung-Hui moved to the US because they were having trouble making a living in Korea. They figured to have a better chance of making money here than there, certainly a common sentiment. That Cho's writings complained of "rich kids" 14 years after moving to the US implies that his family didn't meet their goals, or at least not to their own satisfaction.

What's interesting is the reaction over in Korea. President Roh Moo-Hyun has apologized 3 times and counting, and various levels of the Korean government have sent letters to their counterparts in the US government expressing sadness and shame - yes, shame - that the killer who left that country as a child is ethnically Korean and still a technical citizen. The above-linked article quotes a worker at a shipping company as saying, "it's a tragic incident. But to find out that he is a Korean, I am ashamed and confused."

I've mentioned this before, but when we lived in Korea there was a nationwide manhunt going on, with daily updates in the papers, posters everywhere. I asked what the fugitive had done, and was told that he had committed murder. It wasn't even of Korea's version of a blond woman. Violent crime just isn't common there.

But that's not really what's driving Korea's reaction to this. When we filled out our applications to teach English at the university, we had to provide information not only about ourselves, but about our families. I had to list my parents' names, ages, education and occupations. Same for my siblings and their spouses, and they wanted to know their children's names and ages. Completely illegal stuff in the US, of course, but in Korea a person doesn't stand alone. No one is "self-made" there. Stephen as Stephen wasn't applying for anything. Stephen the child of an engineer and teacher, the youngest of 5 children, Stephen the uncle and Stephen the husband was applying for a job there.

Cho Seung-Hui, in the eyes of Koreans, didn't walk into those dorm rooms and classes simply as Cho Seung-Hui. Here in America we might call him a loner, but that type of description really doesn't exist in Korea. Cho Seung-Hui the son, the Korean walked around that campus shooting innocent people.

The Korea Herald's editorial on the subject put it this way:
The slayings were a crime committed by a member of the Korean community, one rotten apple. But the savage act was not sponsored by the Korean community or the Korean state. Nonetheless, there is no denying that the shocking incident will taint the good image that the Korean community and the Korean nation have strived to build among Americans.
I doubt that anyone - other than deranged racists - has entertained the notion that Korea is somehow responsible for what Cho Seung-Hui did. But that idea has certainly come up in Korea, and they are concerned that his actions will affect not only perceptions about Koreans as a whole but the official relationship between Korea and the United States.

It's an admirable system of thought, isn't it? The reason Koreans are so shocked that this happened, so surprised that one of their own was such a "loner" is because their culture produces so few loners, such a small amount of people who do not feel strong connections of family, nation and race. My wife, who grew up in Korea, who spoke not a word of English until she was headed into kindergarten, whose family lived "on the economy" the whole time while she was growing up, said that she was shocked about the killer being Korean until she found out they moved to the United States when he was 9 years old. That gave him enough time, she said, for him to become fully acculturated to the United States and our society's ability to create isolation.

More than our society's fetish for guns, this is what needs to change, this idea that each person must make their way through life alone, with only their own emotional resources to help them. I believe that Cho was probably disturbed enough that nothing could have changed his inner thoughts, his break with normal human behavior. But if we had ideas in this country that everyone should be connected to others, perhaps those who were disturbed by his writings would have felt more of an impulse to actually do something to help him, something that might have kept him away from the means to kill so many.

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