When it turned out that the perp in the Virginia Tech shootings was South Korean, I actually chuckled mirthlessly at CNN and said aloud, “Well, at least no one’s going to work the race angle on this one.”
What a moron. Salon.com has a selective but interesting roundup of commentary on whether and how Cho Seung-hui’s Korean-ness relates to his having shot at several classrooms full of college students.
I don’t think some of the more ignorant commentary is necessarily motivated by sheer axe-grinding against Korean culture or violent movies or what have you. Treatments for mental illness have come such a long way that no one seems to want to conclude that it’s possible for someone to be just a plain wrong’un who may not be reachable by drugs or counseling. The emerging evidence seems to indicate that Cho might have been schizophrenic; at the very least, he was seriously screwed up in the head.
Maybe his parents’ Asian background made them chary of involving counselors, psychiatrists, and other outsiders in what they saw as a family matter. But, even in this therapy-everywhere age, there are plenty of native-born Middle Americans who would do the same thing. And even when people do try to get help for family members they can’t handle, it’s not always forthcoming. After Sylvia Seegrist killed three people outside a mall near Philadelphia two decades ago, it came out that her mother had tried unsuccessfully to keep her institutionalized. (It was reported, IIRC from the local news shows, that she’d told the officials who wanted to release her, “But she’s psychotic!” and been told back, “Lady, half of Philadelphia is psychotic.”)
One of the blogs Salon singles out for opprobrium is Michael Hurt’s Scribblings of the Metropolitician. Hurt lives in Seoul, and his post asks several thorny questions about how Korean men are acculturated. It’s worth reading and thinking about; if you know Japan, you may find quite a bit of it familiar.
I still don’t buy one of Hurt’s key, if vaguely stated, points, though:
So the top two spots for shooting sprees in history are now held by two Korean men. Hey–I just find this interesting. Is this information not somewhat relevant to the issue at hand?
Well, no, not if the overwhelming majority of Koreans don’t go on shooting sprees and the overwhelming majority of shooting sprees aren’t committed by Koreans. That two major killing sprees have now been committed by Korean men is a catchy-sounding little fact to mention in news items, but in and of itself, I don’t find it very suggestive. After all, millions of guys, Korean and otherwise, are sexually-jealous hotheads who rant and throw tantrums like little boys when their lovers (actual or imagined) cross them, but they still manage to stop short of opening fire on a few dozen people.