Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia killer was a Korean, so what?

The shootings at Virginia Tech were sickening and tragic. I'm still saddened when I look at the photos of the victims, survivors and students mourning. My friends, or even myself could've been there, and just thinking about it scares me. Apart from the emotional reaction, it got me thinking about many things.

This kind of things should never happen, but it happens in every society - that's life. We all have seen worse things happening in the past, haven't we? Still, among others, Koreans were particularly shocked, because the shooter was a Korean, and surely, it had never happened before. The Korean government even apologized - I heard on the radio that the Korean government said it regrets the incident with "a deep sense of sorrow and 'shame.'"

I guess it's fair to say that's how a lot of Koreans feel. A majority of comments on Korean Web sites say the incident is an an embarrassment to the country, it's shameful and they lost face because of Cho.

But is it, really? I don't think so. The shootings happened because of whatever personal issues Cho had and internal social problems the U.S. has - it has nothing to do with Korea and Koreans owe Ameircnas no appology. As far as I know, it wasn't an international terrorist act - at least there has been no evidence of it so far.

Then why do Korean have to feel so guilty? I guess part of it has to do with Korean culture, where people don't want to harm others, people tend to appologize for even the smallest things they did wrong, and people always tend to think as a group. But it's also because of Korean media that played up the fact Cho's a Korean way too much. As soon as he turned out to be a Korean, the whole focus has shifted to that little fact that doesn't really explain anything about his motives for the killings. So it all boils down to this line of thinking for Koreans: a Korean killed these people in the U.S., so Koreans as a group all have to feel ashamed.

Do Americans think the same? Probably not. True, Cho's race has been all over the headlines, but in many cases, his race and nationality have been a relatively small part of the story. I still don't think it's fair to even mention his race or ethnicity in the headlines or in top parts of stories, which some U.S. media did. But I agree his personal background could give some context - even if the killer was a white kid, the media would've talked about where he's from, although it wouldn't have likely been in the headlines or anywhere high up in stories. And overall, I think the U.S. media see the incident as an internal social issue.

That's because Cho is a product of American society, and he apparently went through issues Ameirca uniquely has. He's an immigrant - not fully American, but even less Korean, a unique identity issue people don't have to deal with in many other parts of the world. He was disgusted by upper class Americans - a issue America has long had. He could easily buy guns - again, a unique American issue. The incident could reveal problems of American society on multiple levels later one, such as what immigrants go through in the multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic society Ameirca is, the class gap and gun control issues, etc.

So Koreans, get over it and move on. It's not your problem.