Thursday, April 19, 2007

V Tech POV

For the past two nights, the Virginia Tech massacre has come up in conversation, during our recent TRAK meet and my guama's 80th birthday dinner. When a tragedy like this happens, particularly in the US, it's bound to get talked about a lot, and it's interesting to note the varying reactions and points of view from people who live half a world away. There's sympathy, there's anger, but mostly there's criticism, and an underlying sense of smug gratification in seeing a First World country suffer.

My uncle Biao (Abi's dad) related that some South Koreans were being interviewed on TV, and when asked for their view on their fellow Korean Cho Seung Hui's murderous rampage, one of them retorted, "He's not Korean. He's American." Another reportedly said, "In all the years of Korea's history, this has never happened here. Only in America." Touche.

My dad went on to opine that gun laws in the US make it ridiculously easy for people to buy firearms. Even if there are psychos in other countries, it's harder for them to get their hands on guns, so you don't hear of school shootings like what happened in Columbine and now V Tech. He said it's the Bush administration's fault for not passing stricter measures regulating the possession of firearms.

My mom then commented that it's going to be hard now for the many Koreans living in America, because for sure there's going to be some sort of racial backlash, overt or otherwise. Anyone with an Asian face is now going to be regarded in a different light. Since the shooting happened, many Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese are by now probably sick of hearing "Hey, you're Korean right? What was that kid thinking?" It might even stir up the hornet's nest that is the issue of illegal immigration (never mind that Cho had a green card and was legal).

Dad, who has never been a fan of journalists, also disgustedly recounted how he saw a reporter hounding a student who had survived the shooting. The kid and another student had used a desk to block the door of their classroom, so Cho hadn't been able to enter, and everyone in the room was saved. The reporter kept trying to slap the label "hero" on the still shell-shocked student, and finally when asked "Do you feel like a hero?" the kid burst into tears and said, "I'm just glad I'm alive."

As I listened to my dad talk, I realized, that's what gets lost amidst the media frenzy and the political furor: the human element. We tend to focus on the killer and his psychological state, on the lapse in campus security, on the racial aspect, on the government's fault, on inspiring portraits of heroism and touching stories of young lives cruelly cut short, that we forget that there's more to those lives than a juicy news feature or another tearjerker episode of Oprah. Real kids were in that school, trapped and terrified; real parents were at home worried sick that their children could have been one of the casualties; real lives were lost in a senseless, brutal way.

So while I agree with some of the criticisms my uncle and my parents voiced out, I would much rather not harp on those right now. This was an educational institution, a place where parents send their children to make better, brighter futures for themselves. A school is supposed to be a place of hope, a haven for learning, a venue for growth, and a symbol of human progress and development. A massacre would be tragic anywhere, in whatever country, no matter who the victims, but this one seems more painfully so because it happened in a school. Perhaps it's the former teacher in me talking, I don't know.
But for all the many angles to this incident, the V Tech story that struck me the most was about the professor Liviu Librescu, who blocked the door of his classroom to protect his students, buying the kids enough time for them to jump out of the windows. One student remembers that right before he leapt from the window sill, he turned his head to look back as the gunman burst into the room, and he saw him kill his teacher.

How's that for perspective?


At Wednesday, April 25, 2007, Anonymous Jenica said...

I heard about the professor's heroic act during homily last sunday... I was inspired.

My roommate's Korean :)

At Wednesday, April 25, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

It's one thing when one acts on the instinct of self-preservation, but an entirely different thing when one acts to protect others. That's true, selfless heroism, and Professor Librescu showed it that fateful day. He's really an inspiration.


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