Friday, April 20, 2007


Cho not McVeigh

Some pundits are drawing spurious links between Cho Seung-Hui and Timothy McVeigh. I'm not referring to those contrasting the response to McVeigh with ethnic/'racial' guilt-by-association targeted at East Asians because Cho was Korean. I mean the idiots who casually lump McVeigh and Cho together into some blanket category of mass murderers, as if they were driven by similar psychodynamics. True, McVeigh was a mass murderer but his motivations, like those of the 9/11 perpetrators, were overtly political. Americans seem to like to pigeonhole 'terrorists'/mass killers in the "crazy bin" or its ideological equivalent so that they don't have to actually grapple with understanding the ideas behind the deeds. Thus, the 9/11 perps just "hate our freedoms" and McVeigh was "little more than a misguided coward."

These may be comforting platitudes but they don't advance our ability to understand or prevent similar acts of violence in the future. Conspicuously absent in many of the recent discussions about McVeigh and/or yesterday's 12th anniversary of the Murrah building bombing in Oklahoma City is any mention of the 14th anniversary (on the same day) of the murder of 79 people at Waco by federal agents or the deadly shooting in Ruby Ridge in 1992, again by federal agents. As McVeigh made clear in his biography, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, these two incidents and his war-time service in Iraq figured prominently in his motivations.

Of course, a similar struggle is underway over Cho, with some folks wanting to decontextualize Cho's actions from the life experiences that led to them. These are, by and large, the same folks who fight against anti-bullying and hate crimes laws. This is not to offer a blanket endorsement of hate crimes laws--I'm with the American Friends Service Committee and many civil libertarians on that question--but the mentality of many opponents of anti-bullying and hate crimes laws is often to deny any larger social context or, perhaps, blame the perpetrators' families and, sometimes, even the victims, esp. in the case of LGBT youth. Sure, the fact that Cho was bullied doesn't excuse the murders he committed but it helps explain them.

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