Wednesday, April 18, 2007


“It’s just so senseless.”

I feel like I should write something about what happened at Virginia Tech, should say something, have something to express about the horrific events of Monday.

But I don’t. I don’t have anything to say, at least not anything already said - and probably better - by others. I don’t feel moved to, and I’ve been wondering why.

I have to admit that when I first heard the story, I just heard about a “campus shooting.” I shrugged it off as just another sensationalized crime story. It wasn’t until later that I realized the extent of what had happened. Even then, I didn’t feel the stunned horror that seemed to engulf so many. It was almost as if I was numb. Not numb with shock or grief, just numb. Beyond caring.

But no, not numb. Not beyond caring. Tired. Just damn tired. Tired of it all. Tired of the killing. Tired of the blood. Tired of the grief. Tired of the mourning. Tired of the public fears and pains that result from such tragedies and tired of the private fears and pains that drive them. I’m just ... tired.

“It’s just so senseless.”

I’m tired of ranking of deaths, of making some lives more important, more worthy of notice, than others. I’m tired of the truth of the saying that one death is a tragedy, 50 deaths is a horror, and 5,000 deaths is a statistic.

I’m tired of days of wall-to-wall coverage of what was, yes, a horrific event, but coverage that goes on and on, covering the same ground over and over because there is nothing new to report while the misery in Darfur barely raises an eyebrow and the continued massacres in Iraq, in a number equal to two Virginia Techs a day, every day, becomes mere background noise for political posturing aimed more at the 2008 election than at our war.

I’m tired of making human lives into political bargaining chips, of deaths as the basis for political banter and one-upping. For one specific, I am tired - indeed, sick and tired - of the stupid, inane, pointless sniping over body counts, specifically, the Iraq Body Count versus the John Hopkins study. The IBC, using a very conservative approach of only counting civilians killed directly by war violence in incidents verified by two independent media accounts, now reports a number of killed of around 65,000. The John Hopkins study, using a standard survey methodology and looking to uncover all war-related deaths, including the many more resulting indirectly from the war, came in at 650,000. Despite the difference in approach and breadth of focus, and more importantly despite the fact that due to those differences the two numbers are not in conflict, IBC was slammed in some quarters as not only underplaying but even of actively concealing the destruction caused by our war, even of trying to somehow justify the occupation. As if 65,000 dead was a trivial number. As if 65,000 dead humans were not important enough for our outrage. As if the dead in Iraq, coming so fast that there would seem barely enough time to mourn them, mattered only as political talking points. As if the horror of the number wasn’t our concern but only the size of it.

“It’s just so senseless.”

I’m tired of the pomposity, the self-important ignorance of our pundit class, declaring with all the gravitas they can muster that the tragedy at Virginia Tech has nothing to do with gun control, nothing at all - because we certainly don’t want to have to go through all that nonsense again, do we? And why did it have nothing to do with gun control? Well, because - and yes, this is precisely the argument I heard from more than one source - Cho Seung-hui bought the guns legally.

Excuse me, dipwads, but isn’t that the exact argument about gun control - that it’s too goddam easy to get guns legally? Even for someone who was hospitalized just 16 months earlier as a “danger to himself” and ordered to undergo outpatient treatment? Oh god I am so tired of the “any excuse to keep my guns ‘cause they make me feel so macho” crowd.

And macho? You want macho? How about the cheap, swaggering, sneering, Dirty Harry fantasies of some columnists who considered the VT students wimps and wusses because they didn’t “rush the guy?” One even proposed counting the shots to catch him between clips. And then there was the well-known conservative blogger who advanced the argument that the problem was that there weren’t enough guns on campus. Yeah! That’s the answer! Everybody packin’ heat! A real shootout at the OK Corr- er, Quad!

There was overlap here with those who laughed at the British sailors taken captive by Iran, who were mocked and ridiculed as weaklings, as “pansies” and even sell-outs; even some ostensibly liberal bloggers opined contemptuously about making “propaganda films for the enemy.” All mixed in with stalwart assurances from members of the US military as to how they would have fought back and kicked some Iranian butt, not like those surrender-monkey Limeys.

I am just so tired, so very tired, of that sort of arrogant, conceited, condescending crap mouthed for the most part by people who have never been in a situation any way even remotely similar and who have no flipping clue how they would respond, who as much as they like to fantasize themselves as John Wayne or perhaps Kwai Chang Caine, could just as easily turn out to be Falstaff or Shaggy or Doctor Zachary Smith if not some cowering, weeping victim in a teenage slasher flick.

“It’s just so senseless.”

I’m tired of the search for someone to blame, the urge to point fingers, to make sense of the senseless by finding someone to label as “at fault.” As always, after the fact we find “warning signs,” oh so many warning signs, and we wonder, loudly and repeatedly, why someone didn’t notice, why someone didn’t “do something,” why someone didn’t accurately predict the future.

In this, we don’t blame the shooter. Not because we think he’s innocent or not responsible, but because nothing we do can touch him. He’s dead, beyond our reach, beyond our ability to castigate, to humiliate, to punish. Worse yet, he killed himself. He died not by our hand but by his own and not because he was trapped with no escape but apparently because it was his intent from the start. There’s no retribution possible, no way to strike back, no way to balance the blow. So we look to others.

We blame the school administration for not locking down the campus. We blame the police for a “sluggish” response. We use our knowledge of what did happen to condemn them for not knowing what would happen; we implicitly assume that we would have acted differently, that we would have known what no one involved knew, seen what no one involved saw.

Contrary to early notions, the police were called soon after the first shooting. They thought it was a “domestic dispute,” another in a much too-long list of boyfriends inflicting violence, in this case as in again too many others murderous violence, on their girlfriends. They even had a suspect in mind. Yes, they were wrong. But the fact remains that at that moment, there was no reason to expect more shootings. There was no reason to lock down the campus, no reason to immediately inform faculty and students, no reason to suspect further danger. No reason to think this was the one in a million exception.

Oh, even if it was one in a million, they should have taken steps? They could have, yes - and they would have been wrong 999,999 times out of that million. After how many thousands - hundreds - dozens - tens - of times of being wrong would it be before such precautions were resented and then disregarded as crying wolf? What about all the previous times police anywhere have not locked down an entire neighborhood in the wake of a shooting - was that a failure on their part? Or was it okay because it turned out not to be a case of someone on a rampage?

But we can’t deal with that, can’t deal with the tragic reality that at the very moment police were investigating what they thought was a single incident, the blood-soaked afternoon was approaching minute by minute and nothing was being done to stop it because no one knew it was coming. We feel that someone must have known, someone must have been able to do something, somehow.

But no one did. Because no one could. Because there was no reason to.

And I’m tired. Tired of the frustration, tired of the bitter taste of futile anger, tired of grief unleavened by any emotional sense of justice, tired of the search for living victims to join the dead ones.

“It’s just so senseless.”

And oh my dear lord I am most tired of all of the exploitation of this, just like, it seems, every other human tragedy that breaks through our emotional walls and touches us in some deep way, as grist for every damned political mill.

For example, I saw a progressive blogger who insisted that the afternoon bloodbath took place because campus officials and police didn’t take the matter seriously because it was “only” some guy “killing ‘his’ woman.” To her, the significance of the event was that it “proved” that police just don’t care about women getting murdered by men, in fact that they regard that as something to be shrugged off. What if the initial victim had been a male professor, she asked. Do you think the response would have been the same?

Probably not. Because it would not have looked like the same sort of crime. Do you think in that case they would have assumed a mass murder was running around and locked down the campus? What if there was reason to think the said professor had been killed by someone with who he was romantically involved? How different would the response have been then?

But no, that was not the worst, far from it. One conservative columnist, in a display of wretched excess and gut-wrenching paranoia, made a flaming big deal out of the fact that Cho had “Ismail Ax” written in ink on his arm. Because “Ismail” is the Arabic version of “Ishmael,” somehow, somehow, this meant that Cho was actually a Muslim (in fact a "Paki" - a Pakistani) and this was some sort of terrorist hit, thus proving the need for everlasting venom for all things Muslim or Arabic or maybe Middle Eastern or, anyway, non-American. (The “Ax” part didn’t seem to enter the analysis.)

To top it off, Fred Phelps his loonies from the Westboro Baptist Church plan to picket the funerals of the victims, claiming that this was all God’s will, a divine punishment for - well, for something, I’m actually not sure what.

Dammit, 33 people are dead! A dozen more wounded! This is a tragedy, not a fucking debating point for paranoids! It is the brutal, irredeemable massacre of dozens of innocents by a tormented, twisted soul who could no longer bear the weight of his own demons. It’s a time for grieving, not grandstanding.

And - and I say this both knowing I could be accused of some of the same use of this tragedy to make points of which I have accused others and thinking this may bring me back to the very start of this, may be the root of my difficulty in responding as so many others so naturally did - I am so tired of having to grieve. I look at Virginia Tech, I look at Darfur, I look at Iraq, I look at Zimbabwe, I look at Israel and Palestine, and I am just so damned tired, so very damned tired, of having to grieve.

“It’s just so senseless.”

Indeed it is.

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