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Cho Has No Connection With Either China Or Korea

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On the day of the Virginia Tech shootings, I received an e-mail and two comments telling me “the shooter” is Chinese and I should run something on this “right away.” One of the comments even went so far as to say the shooter was angry because his Chinese girlfriend had left him for a Caucasian.

I deleted both of the comments and responded to all three people by explaining that I did not see the shooting as having anything to do with China. I do not write about murders in China and I am certainly not going to write about a Chinese person murdering people in the United States. And who am I to write about this sort of stuff anyway?

Even more fundamentally, the fact that this shooter was believed to have been Chinese has absolutely no significance to me. None whatsoever. There can be no extrapolation from what some evil and crazy college student does in Virginia to a country of 1.3 billion.   Unfortunately, no country and no ethnicity is without its crazy killers.

Of course, it has since turned out the shooter was Korean and my views on extrapolation hold equally true for Korea. The American media have Korean-Americans talking about how they hope this rampage will not lead to hatred towards Koreans in the United States.

Do not worry, it won’t. I promise you.

Yes, there will be racists who will use this shooting somehow to seek to spread hate against Koreans and to argue for closing our borders to “those not like us,” but I know my fellow countrymen well enough to know that a shooting like this will not create new racists among us.

After 9-11, I received countless phone calls and e-mails from friends all over the world expressing sympathy for what had happened.  They really meant a lot to me. I received at least three such e-mails from Korea. I have been going to Korea 4-6 times a year for more than a decade and I have many friends there, some of whom are Koreans and some of whom are Korean-Americans. I have Korean-American friends here in the United States as well. My law firm’s receptionist is Korean.

I want to tell them I know they feel as badly about the shootings as anyone and also let them know that neither I nor anybody I know attributes responsibility for this tragedy to anyone other than to the shooter himself.

I want to do this but I won’t. I won’t because the idea of giving “absolution” to someone for a heinous crime simply because it was committed by a fellow countryman is completely absurd and my doing so would be at least somewhat of a concession to anyone crazy enough to seek to draw some sort of link.

I know this post is way far afield from that on which I ordinarily write and, most importantly, from what you come here to read, but I just have not felt like writing about anything else. The shootings are depressing as hell and they hit home. I have a 16 year old who in the middle of exploring colleges and a 9 year old who asks absolutely endless questions regarding the whys and what fors.

China law will have to wait for another day. I am not in the mood. Sorry.

40 responses to “Cho Has No Connection With Either China Or Korea”

  1. It is unfortunate, yet all too common, that Americans (I only say this because I am American, other countries are probably the same) like to rush to quick emotional decisions based on isolated events. While 9/11 and the Virgina Tech shootings are both events which affect our deep emotions (and rightly so) we should not let them get in the way of logic driven policy change. In 2001 we lost roughly 4000 people to heinous acts of terrorism. It affected us all deeply, and nobody would argue that it did not have its effects on Capitol Hill. However, in 2001 we also lost 17,400 people to drunk driving related car accidents (statistics from MADD). Does it strike anybody else as unfortunate that you can be detained at the airport for having dark skin or wearing a turbin, but people with multiple DUI convictions are still able to retain their drivers’ licenses? This is the result of allowing our emotions and our perception of safety (mainly from the media) to get in the way of rational policy making. While I am not necessarily opposed to changing gun control legislation, the impetus should not be deriven from a single event.

  2. I had a series of odd experiences related to this yesterday, which will find their way into my own post shortly. It’s weird how this has become as much about national identities as about the tragedy itself.
    “A Korean killed 32 Americans,” as my Chinese teacher put it.
    How we tell the story is as important as the story itself, and in a lot of places, the story is being told in a very peculiar way.

  3. Does Virginia Tech massacre make you want stricter gun control laws?
    I came across this real time poll website called and they currently have the subject, and are asking: Does Virginia Tech massacre make you want stricter gun control laws?
    As of 6:25.48 PM-PDT today. This is a up to the second sampling of close to 350 online users polled said No!
    347 votes since 4/17
    Yes, current laws are too lax: 44%
    No, protection is our right: 55%
    This site BuzzDash says it’s a community-driven website that provides a real-time dashboard showing continuously updated snapshots of popular opinion and people can gauge the pulse of the nation on the Virginia Tech tragedy and whether it should affect current gun control laws.
    I say, whether “yes” or “no” America, PLEASE make your opinion known!
    Roanoke, VA

  4. If anything, this incident says more about American gun culture than anything ostensibly “Chinese.” I arrived in Detroit from China on the afternoon of the day the event occurred. I had no idea that I would be greeted in the airport by television sets playing back long, horrific tapes of a violent shooting.
    Welcome to America. Nothing in Chinese culture that I have confronted would prepare me to understand a Columbine or a Virginia Tech Incident. And yet in rural America, on the airport shuttle, prominently displayed is a huge sign offering ‘guns for sale.’
    Further, one of the arguments that has emerged, at least in rural America, is the argument that if the students had been armed, they could “greeted the lone gunman with a fusillage of bullets.”

  5. “long term decisions should not be made based on aberrational events”
    Very true, but it’ll never happen. People (the general public and politicians both) react to events, not statistics, that’s just the way politics works.
    To look at it in a more positive way: shocking events can be said to crystallize public opinion that wouldn’t otherwise translate into legislation. So far as I can tell, there isn’t any consensus about gun control in the US, and this event hasn’t manufactured one. If and when US public opinion changes, it’ll still take an exceptional event to spark legal change, but exceptional events happen every day. Though not, thankfully, as exceptional as this one.

  6. Another way that this carnage would could have been prevented would have been if the campus cops and administration hadn’t been so incompetitent. Their excuse was “we couldn’t just email or call everyone on their cell phones”.
    I imagine in the “good ole days” the campus would have put squad cars at the entrance to the campus, drove around with bull horns warning everyone on campus to stay inside and actually calling the local PD to provide manpower. Instead, these cop-wannabes did things their way while the administration sought to maintain an image of peace and tranquility.
    I’d say the administration and campus (keystone) cops are as much to blame for this tragedy as the severely disturbed guy who committed the act.
    CLB, please post this slam on the VT administration. They need to be steamrolled for incompetence.

  7. Ben Ross —
    I completely concur.
    In my small legal world, whenever opposing counsel pisses me off and I come up with a “brilliant” idea to counter, I always want to both run the idea by others and sleep on it.
    There are rarely simple solutions to big problems and equally rarely is there going to be ONE absolutely best solution for a big problem. As much as we all want to prevent recurrences, we must think and we must plan and we must be patient. “Great plans” (how about shipping the Japanese off to internment camps?) often can have very negative repurcussions.

  8. Chris —
    You are so right. Here’s how I tell it, “Some crazy, evil, motherf–ing asshole went off and …” If Cho had none this to advance Korean nationalism, or to show Korean superiority, or to extract revenge for something that had befallen Korea or for any reason relating to Korea, then maybe the description should be different. Or maybe even if some huge number of Koreans had been doing this in the last few years. And what about how the hero in all this is always being described as a Holocaust survivor. Is this the media’s politically correct way of saying “Jew Saves Lives?” I actually would have far less problem with that than with the “Korean Kills” headlines because Judiasm so much emphasizes the value of human life that one can certainly argue that his Jewishness played a role in his actions. But nothing in Korean culture or history or anything calls for the random slaughter of innocents.

  9. Phil —
    I agree with you completely. I am not saying we should ignore events like this in making our decisions. I am only saying that our decisions should not be based too much on events like this and certainly should not be made while events like this are still so raw.

  10. Thank Dan for devoting a thread to this event, which is tragic in international proportion. This is grieving time for all the families involved, V-Tech community, and even the nation. Just couple of quick things.
    While Chinese in China have their own logic to be concerned about the shooter’s nationality, the general public in America is smart enough to know that ethnical background of the man didn’t play a part in the shooting. God forbidden, should there be any thing happening against the Korean immigrants community in the U.S., it should be known that in this country, Koreans and Chinese are largely lumped all together under the name of Asians or Eastern Asians.
    Any related discussions about gun control legislation, and violence culture in America in general are all legitimate. And I even to reflect philosophically that this is one of the inherent flaws of our winner,loser/get more, get less paradigm. It’s by no means an American only problem. There’re people who are bound to be frustrated. Some frustrated people are bound to lose control of themselves. Having said that, on the micro-management level, it’s not entirely impossible that preventative measure be taken knowing Cho’s been a big flag all along.
    On a related note, I have some doubt on whether the V-tech acted properly upon learning about the initial double-homicide at the dorm. Specifically, the issue is whether the massacre would have been prevented should the shool immediately call in the city police, shut down the campus, and alert all people on the campus that a gunman is at large. We’re talking about the two-hour gap. I wouldn’t be surprised that eventually some families will decide to see V-tech in the court.
    One another thing, in my opinion, it’s a shame on NBC’s part in running those video tapes provided by Cho. The media focus at present time should be on victims and healing.

  11. sepa —
    Thanks for checking in and thanks for raising so many important issues. You make a good point that most Americans pretty much lump Chinese, Koreans and Japanese together as “Asians.” Proof of this was in the 1970s (or early 1980s) when a Chinese American was murdered in a Detroit bar by people angry at Japan for “taking” jobs from America’s auto plants.
    I actually talked with my wife this morning (she’s a psychologist) about NBC showing the video tapes and my view on it is that in an ideal world they would not be shown at all, ever. But we do not live in an ideal world and if they are going to be shown I would prefer they be shown accompanied by the commentary of Matt Lauer or Brian Williams than just flashed all over the internet.

  12. Hello,
    Although I’m not Korean (Chinese actually), my dad also told me to just take any kind of verbal abuse that may come my way. His reasoning is not that we as a group are weak, but he thinks in terms of entire groupings. An asian has done a disastrous act in the heart of white America. For him, it is only correct that other asians must make some sort of amend in some small way.
    As an Asian-American in San Francisco, I am fortunate enough not to have felt the need to show my ability to assimilate into my country. However, I live in San Francisco, one of the greatest metropolitan melting pots in the world. However, I have cousins in Midwest and asian friends with families in the South. I think of them as Americans, but I am quite sure that they have often felt that they are considered outsiders. The yellow face cannot be assimilated is something that they have to deal with.
    There is insecurity within the youth of Asian American communities on their role in American society, especially in a locality that does not have many of us. There is also insecurity with the adults as well about being accepted into their communities. It is a fear that because of a single indivual, they will be considered blackened in the eyes of their community. Perhaps by offering the apology of a whole ethnicity, they hope to be brought back within American society as a whole.
    I don’t think there is a need give absolution to an apology that is not needed. But I think it is very important to understand that there are insecurities of acceptance. I think the best way is to show solidarity with the Korean community and toward individuals. It is paramount that others as groups and as individuals communicate to our Korean friends that we are together and that no one is being considered an outsider. This is not a tragedy that belongs to only one ethnicity in the great strata of American society.

  13. “It is a fear that because of a single indivual, they will be considered blackened in the eyes of their community.”
    Howard: That kind of concern on your parents is a psychological projection of how a foreigner in their native country would be treated if such a thing happened over there.

  14. Howard,
    Don’t quite understand what you’re saying. you seem to be seriously confused. I can’t even pinpoint something specific in you post, cos your overall state of mind needs a significant overhaul.I assume that you’re still in college. Working with a mentor or role model in person might help.

  15. I am not sure what you mean by “superior,” but I sense you may be posing this rhetorically. I was really trying (very poorly, I guess) to tie the subjective state I was in when greeted by this particular piece of news to a particular moment in time (returning from one country, China, to the US) and to express how it affected me at that moment in time. I would not attempt to extrapolate from that fleeting moment some enduring policy argument that might make sense of all this.
    But, as someone who supports gun control, I do hold to the belief that gun violence in this country is rampant, and, while I would be willing to stand corrected on this point, is less of a problem in China. As one commentator on NBC noted: the two things that struck him when comparing this event to other countries: first, our mass shootings tend to occur on school grounds; second, that other industrial countries don’t seem to suffer these kinds of horrific events as often as we do. Gun laws clearly allowed Cho to find and purchase these weapons.
    By saying “Welcome to America,” I did intend to be slightly sarcastic, and I apologize if anyone took offense by that.
    I would only humbly suggest that there is a very long history in America with guns, for better or for worse, and that this discussion is framed quite differently in other parts of the world. This may not be the proper forum to do so, but it is certainly an important issue about which I care passionately.
    As for whether the argument to allow students to have guns has only been promoted in rural America, my statement was only intended to suggest that this is where I heard it. It is certainly possible that this is being suggested in other places as well.

  16. Howard Lee —
    But isn’t an apology at least somewhat of a concession? Won’t an apology merely feed insecurity? I understand it but I don’t like it. I frankly would prefer that if anyone says anything to your father in any way implying COLLECTIVE GUILT for what Cho did that he reply with something like the following, “first off, the shooter was Korean, not Chinese, so your attempt to ascribe guilt to me is as ridiculous as blaming France for Timothy McVeigh. Secondly, do you really think for one moment that what Cho did was somehow a Korean thing and that anyone in Korea supports him in his actions?
    Racism stems either from stupidity or evil and I am of the view that it should be confronted directly (though very differently) in both cases.

  17. sepa —
    Go easy. I agree with you, but at the same time, it is not crazy for someone, particularly an older person to feel fear about being a minority in America. Lynchings were happening in the 1950s and 1960s and though I am quite proud of race relations in the US today, I would not go so far as to say minorities have nothing to fear. A Sikh was murdered after 9-11 by some idiot who thought he was an Arab and a Chinese-American was murdered in Detroit in the late 1970s or early 1980s by people seeking revenge against the Japanese for “taking” jobs from America’s auto workers. Is it beyond irony that these idiots actually get the ethnicities wrong?
    So go easy.

  18. Doug —
    I did not mean it rhetorically, but I think I better understand from whence you were coming.
    When you referred to America’s gun culture, I misunderstood that to mean “violent culture.” My bad.
    I too am for tightening up our gun control laws, yet I also think we should be careful not to make those who oppose such measures into “the other.” This is America’s problem.

  19. Sepa – I find it interesting that you will judge me and tell me to find help when you have no knowledge of who I am. Thanks for the quick conclusory statement; that really helps the discussion along. Perhaps I should find a role model like you to help me “overhaul” my mind. Instead of attacking me personally, wouldn’t it be better if you can tell me what is so wrong with what I wrote?
    I did not intend for my first post to be about either accepting racism because of the situation or confronting it head on. I am just saying that there is a link between acceptance and assimilation into American society and the need felt by many Koreans to give an apology.
    The apology has always been the most important aspect of justice in Asian society. I still remember observing a vehicular manslaughter trial in Taipei. The magistrate’s most important query was whether the perpetrator has apologized to the victim’s family. The Japanese government still refuses to apologize for much of the actions of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Sometimes, monetary compensation comes after the apology as a priority. But why has the apology been placed at a higher level of importance?
    I am not exactly sure myself. Perhaps the apology is a way for the maligning party to be brought back into society. I asked my asian friends why is the apology so important, and they themselves are hardpressed to give an explanation.
    But the acceptance of the apology is also important for the apologizer. By acceptance there is the possibility that the apologizer is brought back into the norm of the community. However, what happens if there is no one to give absolution? Perhaps it leaves the apologizer with a sense of limbo and not being accepted.
    I would also like to clarify that the apology is a clear feeling. It is more of an abstract need; the absolution is more of a subconscious parth toward acceptance and assimilation.
    A second strange caveat is that amongst the Taiwanese and Chinese friends I have asked, they would not feel the need to apologize for Cho if he was Taiwanese or Chinese. In my opinion, it is the more unified nature of Korean society that creates the need to issue forth apologies for the actions of another just because he is of the same ethnicity.
    I have tried to clarify my opinion. It is one that is hard to get across in writing. I am only in my first year in law school, and I am afraid writing is not my strongest skill. I’m sure that I have not gotten everything I want to say across. Thanks for taking the time to read.

  20. Not to bring in an unrelated subject, but it upsets me when people misunderstand the constitutional amendments. When Imus was fired, people said that violated his first amendment rights. No, the 1st only applies to your rights against the government, not your right to an audience or your right to a job. Similarly, the 2nd amendment was meant to preserve our right to overthrow the government, not the right to shoot each other up.
    Can you tell I’m for gun control? Man, if you want to go huntin’, bring your bow and arrow. God knows we need the exercise.

  21. Howard Lee —
    Your writing is absolutely fine and I for one very much appreciate your comments and your honesty. Subjects like these are not easy and I are agree the personal attack was not warranted.

  22. David —
    I agree with you on the 1st Amendment, but disagree with you on the 2nd.
    Imus had nothing to do with the 1st Amendment. He was fired just as an employer might fire an employee who goes out and tells the world that his employer’s product is no good. Would anybody say the employer violated the 1st Amendment for that? Of course not. The 1st Amendment applies to government:
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
    The 2nd Amendment is less clear. For a thoughtful review of the thinking on this, check out the following:

  23. Cho And China — For The Last Time
    Eyes East has a very thoughtful and blissfully short summary on Cho and the China angle, entitled, Virginia Tech and China: Nationalizing a Tragedy. All of the post’s accompanying links (present company excluded) are well worth checking out as well. I …

  24. If you need to know why the 2nd amendment is still relevant, look no further than the labor riots of the early 20th century. Assembly line workers, coal miners and steel workers were able to muster enough firepower against company thugs, local and state police, and even one Captain Douglas McAurthur leading a US Army division against coal miners to create the threat of serious social upheavel and possibly open urban rebellion. So the US government finally backed down from its unwavering support of corporate and political machine bosses and supported national unionization.
    Tim McVeigh caused alot more damage with fertilizer, should that be banned as well?
    Gun deaths are unfortunate and a tragedy, but a corporate police state is far, far worse.

  25. I agree that a police state is far far worse than “gun deaths,” but your having to go back to the early 20th century does make me wonder. And no, fertilizer should not be banned.

  26. In trawling the Internet in the week-past aftermath of the VTU shootings horror, I’ve come across no better (and no smarter) discussion than on your site.
    An interesting sidebar recurring elsewhere seems to highlight a university’s responsibility for the mental health of both its students (who might take up arms) and its faculty (who might ignore the warning signs). All responsible teachers take this as part of their job, but aberrance is aberrance.
    My, but what a hurry there is by so many to jump to conclusions, hammer home an agenda, or use pain to political advantage — maybe aberration of another sort?
    Also, I hope that your kid finds a good school which is as open to temperate debate as CLB is.

  27. Rob —
    Thank you so much for the compliment. Always appreciated. Just read a great piece on it today here:
    More than anything I do want my kid to go to a school where rigorous debate is encouraged. Just saw a quote from David Halberstam today (I was on airplanes for seven hours today so got to read many newspapers!) where he said one of the first things he learned as a journalist was that “just because people disagree with you politically doesn’t make them bad.”

  28. Cho And China — Go Here For The Last Word
    Eyes East has a very thoughtful and blissfully short summary on Cho and the China angle, entitled, "Virginia Tech and China: Nationalizing a Tragedy."   All of the post’s accompanying links (present company excluded) are well worth …

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