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Now he knew the truth that is known to all fighters, and hunters, and climbers of cliffs. He knew that even his animal life could only be saved by a considerable readiness to lose it.

G.K. Chesterton – The Ball and the Cross

As we reflect upon the tragedy at Virginia Tech last week, and mourn with the Hokies in response to a senseless act of violence which shattered so many lives, we are naturally treated to the garish spectacle of media hand-wringing and blame-finding. Unlike President Bush, whose speech to a mournful Hokie audience struck just the right note, we must listen to the bleating of media talking heads and pundits. And as these pundits talk about every possible aspect of the horrible events, we should pause to reflect upon the one clear lesson of this and every similar tragedy:

Cowardice Kills.

I am not primarily speaking here of the real heroes of the day, men and women who stood in doorways or classrooms to bar the gunman’s way or offer their lives for their fellows. Their virtue is heroic and courageous, and their sacrifices saved many. They could indeed show well the power of courage and how many lives can be saved by just one person willing to lay their own life down. Truly, they are worthy of better words than mine.

But such heroic courage would not be so needed if our society taught and learned basic everyday courage more effectively. Consider how this last outrage progressed:

A single gunman, armed with two pistols (one 9mm and one .22 cal) and a great quantity of ammunition, moved slowly and methodically through a building, entering classrooms and shooting people one at a time, sometimes taking aim to ensure head shots or otherwise make sure of his “kills”. Over the course of more than 10 but less than 30 minutes, he left a trail of 32 dead and almost that number wounded.

Who were these unfortunate victims? Some, as mentioned above were the very brave who confronted the gunman or stood in his way, delaying him and giving others time to escape. Some were simply unlucky, shot before anyone knew what was happening, or as they fled, or as they reached windows or other exits. But many, many of them were shot as they sought shelter under desks or meekly lying on the floor.

Let us be very clear: their deaths are not their fault nor their responsibility. That lies with the gunman alone. And there, but for the grace of God, go we. Unless we have been under fire, we cannot say with any certainty that we would not have done the same. But we can say, and must say, because lives depend upon it, that what they did was exactly the wrong thing to do. It is what our society, almost unconsciously, teaches us to do. It is what the average civilized person naturally thinks he should do. And it is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Against a rational attacker, such as a soldier of a Western power, or a policeman, or even a common thief, such abject surrender can often work. But against anyone bent on terror or destruction, it is a death warrant. And it is what signed the death warrants of so many that day.

A pistol is not an easy weapon to kill people with. It has poor range, is difficult to aim, and usually produces non-fatal wounds (killing by blood loss rather than immediate injury). All of this is made clear in the FBI’s classic study of the effects of handguns. Against a lone gunman armed with pistols, simply running quickly away is a pretty good strategy. Holding doors shut against the man is also quite effective, since pistols don’t penetrate very well. And, indeed, whenever a door was succesfully held shut against the VT gunman, his shots through the door were relatively ineffective.

Most importantly, whatever time the guman spends hunting down fleeing victims or trying vainly to get through a door is time he isn’t methodically killing more people. If the first few classrooms had consistently barred his way, and if everyone else had fled rather than meekly waiting, the death toll might well have been less.

And if those in a position to do so had fought back, the toll would have been less still. Here I’m not speaking of some super-commando, or even of a dedicated rush by a dozen men (though that would probably have worked well if it could somehow have been agreed to). But, as the guman moved through the building, he doubtless came to doors, corners, stairs, etc. Simply throwing heavy objects at him before running might well have delayed him substantially. Two or three people charging behind a thick table or attacking from multiple directions might have managed to reach him. One brave ROTC student did attempt to reach him, but—alone and unaided—he was killed before he could subdue the gunman.

Are all of these acts riskier than simply running away? Almost certainly. Are they riskier than cowering beneath desks and tables? Not at all.

Why then is courageous behavior not natural? While they may not win awards for design, human beings are definitely predators. So why no killer instinct? Because human beings aren’t governed by simple instinct. We learn behaviors. While it doesn’t always seem that way, kids and teens really do take the lessons they learn to heart. When we, as a society, socialize kids from early years to be passive or to respond to aggression in passive ways, that’s what we’ll get 9 times out of 10.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that in our Brave New World of the 21st Century, such a response is badly out of place. In a world where individuals have nearly unprecedented power to alter the world through technology, each individual must accept responsibility for defending his society. We can’t afford a culture of passivism or a society of sheep. We don’t have to embrace violence, but we do have to embrace courage.

At Virginia Tech, those who showed heroic courage were a shining few. They often paid the ultimate price. More, but not nearly all, showed natural courage, and usually gained their lives. But many, too many, reacted as they had been taught, passively. And, many times, they too paid the ulitmate price.

If we want to survive and flourish as a free society in the years to come, courage and action must be impressed into every citizen. Heroism will always remain rare, but we must produce the most fertile ground possible for it. And we must all do our part with courage, so that our heroes don’t have to take up our slack. Relying upon others to be courageous won’t work, not when you can’t afford the minutes or hours it will take them to respond.

Because the lone madmen aren’t going away, and as time goes on, their weapons will only get worse.

There has been a lot of hand wringing from the hippies lately about the attention given to the deaths at Virginia Tech, despite the fact that more people died in Baghdad on the same day. Quite frankly, those people need to put down their megaphones and pick up some common decency. I’m not saying that deaths in Iraq aren’t tragic, the ongoing war in Iraq is a horrible thing which we should be endeavoring to end to prevent the further loss of life. Context, however, is important.

These supposedly bleeding heart types are ignorantly pissing on the collective sorrow felt by many Americans and trying to make us feel guilty for the worry and anguish that these killings have caused us. But we aren’t the ones who should feel guilty. The context is important. Just as we would grieve more over the loss of a family member or close friend, than we would over the loss of soldiers in a far away war, so too do we grieve more for the deaths of people we or our close friends know than we do for Iraqi civilians. It isn’t callous of us, it is natural. Grief hits harder when those who die are closer to the those doing the grieving.

Just as NBC has trampled the memories of those slain at Virginia Tech by airing the atrocious final wishes of their brutal killer, so too are certain segments of the Anti-War camp committing horrible crimes against the dead by trying to make us feel guilty for our grief. That we as a country grieve more for those young men and women with whom we share closer bonds, than unknown civilians in a country far away, is only natural. We should feel no shame. We are after all, only human.

-Angry Midwesterner

The shooting deaths of 32 faculty and students at Virginia Tech is an [insert your adjective here] case of societal chickens coming home to roost. This week, it is imposible to view any news not related to his incident. Poor Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson — their luscious feeding trough of a la Imus does in fact have a bottom. Al Qaeda and Hamas are grinding their teeth in impotency that their viewer share (or more importantly media share) is gone. (I’m sorry — what was the Iraq body count Monday?)

I am angry. I watched Fox News (and CNN for that matter) and hear about the 2 1/2 hour gap. This is as infuriating as the question proposed in Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore as to why Bush did nothing for 12 WHOLE MINUTES after hearing about the first plane into the trade towers. Why oh why (excessive handwringing) did the administration wait 2 1/2 hours and not shut down the campus?

Each network lines up its chartered experts: psychological profilers, ex-FBI experts, presidents of security consulting firms, a student from Columbine (actually he was pretty cool with his comment about inane media drivel and shallow continuing analysis, quickly cut to commercial). The ex-FBI agent commented on the statistical probability of the event and the difficulty in securing an open campus — not to the liking of the anchor who was flogging his agenda of the 2 1/2 hour gap and how or why could and did this happen (more verbal excessive handwringing).


At the University of Illinois, in a similar situation, the only thing limiting the body count would be the amount of ammunition the gunman could carry. It wouldn’t be lack of targets. With a little machining, a silencer on any weapon would quadruple the body count. The university has multiple emergency response plans — this isn’t in any of them. Each of the plans has a line of comunication established which includes various police and emergency response agencies, but they have to be activated. That takes a decision. Decisions at the University of Illinois tend to be consensus affairs, and I doubt that Virginia Tech is any different. But let’s be generous and assume that some authoritative hierachical type calls down the troops. CNN anchors suggested that it was criminal not to inform all the students. Further, let’s overlook the difficulty of contacting all these thousands of students and suppose that the University has a magical means of doing so instantly and flawlessly. Virginia Tech has 26,000 students. The University of Illinois has about 10,000 more.

Now that we have a magical means of communications, tell them what? — to go back to their dorms? Where the original two were shot? How about a collection point — like the Assembly Hall. Hmmm more targets in a restricted space. Tell them to stay in the classroom — Hmm that didn’t work out too well. And assuming that you got them all together what about toilet facilities, congested cellular channels (yes parents would be calling), food. It would make the SuperDome in New Orleans after Katerina look positively inviting. So you can’t “shut down the college” because there is no place for the students to go. And lockdown to classrooms isn’t much better. The reasonable action, which Virginia Tech took, was to try and ascertain the facts of the first shooting and locate and detain the perp. Investigations don’t resolve themselves in 50 minutes as in CSI (even with commercials). So the bottom line is “we’re screwed”; much the same as when the tornado tears the house apart around you. There is nothing to do to get unscrewed — no quick little Planned Parenthood abortions, no mulligans, no do-overs, no ‘saved by the bell’ last minute reprieves. No dodges around real pain and problems that the Hollywood types love to write into scripts.

How about preventative measures – courtesy Fox News. Prevent this from happening. Metal detectors probably won’t work. They don’t work at airports (except for assuring Granny that “no – guns can’t pass through”) where you have an hour before (two for international) instead of 10 minutes between classes, and there aren’t 5,000 students entering one building carrying laptops and iPods and cameras. (Those that don’t have enough piercings to set off a magnetometer in the next state). Gun control — oh wait, Virginia Tech was a “Gun-Free Zone”. And racial profiling is out (what race is goth wearing ankle length dusters with an affility for guns and the on-line Columbine role playing game (RPG) where you get to shoot your friends?) Anyway racial profiling would affect about half the campus.

No, to keep this from happening you have to address the root causes:

1. The media rehashing what little fact there is with sensationalism, attributing superlatives to the event: “the worst shooting EVER; the largest body count”. Basicially inviting any disturbed person to try and top this to get his 15 minutes of glory (infamy);

2. The treatment of students as non-persons not worthy of respect, to be recognized only for their tuition contributions to the welfare of the ruling faculty. The view of the person as consumer and of no intrinsic value save as an instrument of purchase of goods and services. The belief that everyone should be manipulated by advertising and media in such as way as to make them susceptible to all manipulation.

3. The fact that most students don’t really belong in or are cut out to be in an academic environment. Let’s face it — you can’t get a decent job without a sheepskin. It’s a checkbox on an employment application. There is no love of learning, no questioning of how or why things work, no wonder of the mechanism, except in a few students — those who belong in the system. To the others, the system is a provider of stress, and the more the mismatch, the higher the levels of stress.

4. The loss of civility in discourse. Look to our leaders as shining examples of this. A political discussion of divergent philosophies is impossible without character assassination, inuendos and rabid attacks on the person, not the ideals. Why argue logically and resolve a conflict when you can assassinate?

5. Lack of respect for the person. The same phenomemon which led Imus to make his comment about the Rutgers team. The constant barrage of Rap music and Gangsta reducing all women to “nappy headed hos”. If it’s in the national lexicon, its usage is pre-ordained.

To fix this requires all of us to step back from the abyss of our society and ask what are our essential values? What is the foundation of this society and what must we do to preserve it? Ethical relativism is the rooster, and a mean-spirited, narcissistic, alienating member of a consumer henhouse it is; and it’s laying some nasty nappy headed little eggs.