it seems like everyone is talking about the Virginia Tech massacre right now, and rightfully so – thirty-two people lost their lives when a disturbed young man, Seung-Hui Cho, went on a killing spree a few days ago. it’s definitely important to discuss this tragedy, and to try to find some sort of sense in it. at least, that’s what i’m sure many of the people personally involved in this tragedy are trying to discover – what was the reason behind Cho’s actions? what motivated him to kill someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend? and all around the world, people are trying to determine the same thing. what could possibly drive someone to commit such a horrendous act against his fellow man?
it was a tragic incident, and needs to be discussed. so was it wrong of American broadcasting network NBC to air and distribute portions of Cho’s multimedia suicide note? many seem to think so. the parents of one of the victims even went as far as cancelling their appearance on NBC’s TODAY Show. but as far as i’m concerned (and my husband Dylan backs me up on this one), pissing off a bunch of viewers and offending the victim’s parents is a small price to pay to allow us, the disattached masses, a glimpse into the mind of a killer. i’m sure my remarks sound callous, but let’s be realistic – for a start, what could the parents of one of the victims say that we, the viewers, don’t already know? we know the families and friends of the victims are grieving – we grieve with them. we know that losing a loved one is one of the most painful events anyone could possibly experience. there is nothing that these people personally affected by the tragedy could say that a compassionate public doesn’t already understand. what we don’t understand, however, is what the killer was going through at the time, and how he could commit such a brutal act. we can’t comprehend how one man could take thirty-two innocent lives. and quite often in these situations, we will never know.
however, this killer left us a clue in the form of the multimedia “manifesto” that he compiled and sent to NBC on the morning of the massacre, after he had already killed two people and was about to kill a whole lot more. this “manifesto”, and Cho’s sketchy past, are the only real clues we have to what was going on in his mind at the time, and it is not until we take all this information into consideration can we formulate any sort of theory about why he did it, and what we, the compassionate public, can do to prevent this sort of thing happening again.
unfortunately, one of the first articles i read about the incident immediately delved into the conspiratorial aspects of the tragedy, and suggested that instead of blaming lax firearms laws, we should blame violent video games and antidepressants. i remember the good old days when television was blamed as the root of all evil, but now, instead of taking into account the thousands of people being killed in George W. Bush’s illegal war, or the graphic violence shown in our movie theatres, we point the finger at… video games? yes, Cho was disturbed, but was this really due to a combination of first-person shooters and prozac? video games don’t kill people – guns kill people. and why was he taking antidepressants in the first place? was it due to the bullying he recieved at school? was his intense anger caused not by videogames but by everyday people in everyday society?
don’t get me wrong – i’m not trying to blame the victims, nor am i defending the killer. all i’m saying is that the answers aren’t always so easy to find.
i’ll be the first person to admit that i’m a loner. i was bullied a bit at school. i take prozac for my depression (ie, stress) and social anxiety. and guess what – i also play violent video games. fortunately, this combination of factors hasn’t turned me into a gun-toting maniac, and to be honest, i’m not afraid it ever will. i’m also reasonably confident that even having possession of a gun wouldn’t be enough to sway me to kill someone. but let’s face it – the likelihood of these people dying would have been greatly decreased had Cho’s access to guns not been quite so easy. apparently, one of his guns was purchased from a pawnshop, and the other was ordered online. it’s the ease with which he purchased these weapons that causes me the most amount of concern. but naturally, Americans want to protect their second amendement right to bear arms, so the fact that a 23-year-old college student had two guns is not as important as what he did in his spare time. after all, if another student present during the shooting had had a gun of their own, there is a possibility that they could have prevented (some of) the killings by shooting Cho themselves. someone needs to remind people sharing this point of view that two wrongs do not make a right. conversely, Cho’s troubled past does not justify his actions either. all i am trying to say is that there are two sides to every story, even if one (or both) of the sides is “wrong”, and it’s important that we, the public, is able to see all sides, if not just for the basic human right of being allowed to make up one’s own mind.
so was NBC wrong for making Cho’s final words available to the public? in my humble opinion, no. sure, i found many of his personal photographs chilling, and probably just watched the clips to satisy a morbid curiosity to see what all the fuss was about. but i saved the clips i watched, and have filed them in a multimedia folder on my hard drive next to “911 truth” clips and the Daniel Pearl execution. does viewing – and saving – these clips make me a sick bastard? i’m sure my family, partner and kitty cat will attest to the fact that i am not evil or mentally disturbed. so why did i keep them? because they’re real. because these types of events happen all too frequently, and we, as a society, need to learn from them to stop history reapeating itself.
recently, my father sent me a link to a clip compiling 60 sniper shots by Iraqi insurgents against the US military, and for a moment, i was a little taken aback. why was my father, one of the most gentle and compassionate people i know, forwarding clips showing American soldiers being murdered? but the answer’s really quite simple – because it happened. these things happen every day, but we’re lucky if it’s featured in the crawl along the bottom of the screen during a news programme. we’re told about these soldiers being killed, but without seeing it for ourselves, the reality of the horror is often completely missed by the audience. the deaths become a statistic, merely faceless numbers. sometimes we need to be reminded that these are real people committing these horrific acts, and that these are real people that are dying.
i’m sure some people (ie, manga fans) will be horrified by my making this connection, but i can’t help thinking about this whole Cho/”manifesto” business while i’m watching the anime Death Note. the main protagonist in the story is Light Yagami, otherwise known as Kira, who has the power to kill using a supernatural notebook dropped by a Death God. by simply picturing his victim’s face while writing their name in the Death Note, Light takes it upon himself to rid the world of evil by killing all the criminals. he hopes that when society realises evil deeds will lead to certain death, a form of utopia will be created – a utopia where he is the “ruler god”, where he is justice. all the while, he is being pursued by the world’s most brilliant criminal investigator known as only as L. i’m usually not a huge fan of manga, but i find this series both engrossing and incredibly thought-provoking. the line between right and wrong is often blurred, and it’s difficult not to sympathise with Light. although we know that two wrongs don’t necessarily make a right, and technically we know that Light’s actions are morally (and socially) objectionable, we can’t help thinking that if we were in a similar situation with the same sort of power, perhaps we would do the same thing – for the “good” of all mankind. and this has been happening throughout history for as far back as we can remember – the religious crusades, ethnic cleansing and even the actions of people such as Seung-Hui Cho were all committed because someone thought the world would be “better off” without certain types of people. the compassionate human knows these ideas are not right – are not good – but usually we don’t really know how or why someone else would think otherwise. that’s the beauty of Death Note – it lets us into the mind of the highly intelligent and charismatic Light, helping us to understand that sometimes good intentions are, in fact, morally reprehensible, even though they may seem perfectly sane and reasonable.
English-subtitled episodes of Death Note are available in a number of places online. You can get them through BitTorrent, or download them from couple of websites. my preferred choice is Death Fan, which has all the episodes available through MegaUpload, but Death Note TV also has most of the episodes, including some you can watch online.