Massacre at Virginia Tech caused barely a flinch worldwide
COMMENTARY | April 23, 2007
The overseas press: Mass shootings are seen as the same old story by now, with only the place name and the number of the dead changing. No stronger gun laws are expected.
By John Burke
No shock. No awe. Barely a flinch.
That’s how news of the tragic events at Virginia Polytechnic Institute last week was greeted by the foreign press. They’d seen it all before.
Perplexity about Americans’ right to bear arms and determination to maintain that right was restated. Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning anti-gun documentary “Bowling for Columbine” was oft cited. And a “shame-on-you”, reprimanding tone was the op-ed angle of choice.
Despite the carnage, I found no one in the foreign press who thinks America will modify its gun laws. Most are convinced that a like event will undoubtedly happen again. Instead they pointed to gun proponents in the US who went so far as to say that if students had had the right to carry concealed weapons on campus, the disaster might never have occurred.
For the foreign press, this type of mentality, which they consider backward, is exactly what separates the United States from the rest of the world, not only in matters of gun control, but in other, more recent American policies such as preemptive war:
The Times of London is not at all surprised by the news, saying “Only the names change. And the numbers,” and wondering why America doesn’t change its gun laws:
“By the desensitising standards of routine American gun violence, yesterday’s shootings at Virginia Tech university were shocking only in their scale. Over more than 20 years, Americans have got grimly used to a ritual that plays out on the cable news every few months… It’s so familiar you could write the script yourself. Only the names change — Jonesboro, Columbine, Lancaster County and now Virginia Tech. And the numbers…
“There is something slightly unsettling about the way news reporters seize on these landmarks with the kind of statistical excitement with which you would announce a new sporting record. You can’t blame them. It is the only thing that really distinguishes one of these events from another in the public’s mind.
“And the truth is that only an optimist would imagine Virginia Tech will hold the new record for very long. Surely in a year or two the news networks will be replaying the same footage from another college, with only the numbers different.
“Perhaps of all the elements of American exceptionalism – those factors, positive or negative, that make the US such a different country, politically, socially, culturally, from the rest of the civilised world – it is the gun culture that foreigners find so hard to understand.
“The country’s religiosity, so at odds with the rest of the developed world these days; its economic system which seems to tolerate vast disparities of income; even all those strange sports Americans enjoy – all of these can at least be understood by the rest of us, even if not shared.
“But why, we ask, do Americans continue to tolerate gun laws and a culture that seems to condemn thousands of innocents to death every year, when presumably, tougher restrictions, such as those in force in European countries, could at least reduce the number?
“The NRA is deemed to be so influential that it can force members of congress or state representatives to support permissive gun laws, for fear of losing the association’s useful financial support at election time.
“But this is overblown. The NRA is certainly a powerful body but cannot on its own outweigh the views of millions of ordinary Americans.
“The simple truth is that Americans themselves remain unwilling to take drastic measures to restrict gun availability. This is rooted deep in the American belief in individual freedom and a powerful suspicion of government. Americans are deeply leery of efforts by government to restrict the freedom to defend themselves. A sizeable minority, perhaps a majority, believe the risk that criminals will perpetrate events such as yesterday’s is a painful but necessary price to pay to protect that freedom.
“The sheer scale of the carnage yesterday may after all make the Blacksburg killings truly unique in American history. That will doubtless lead to more self-examination and perhaps calls for new restrictions on firearms. But it won’t change America’s deep-rooted and sometimes lethal commitment to its own freedoms.”
In An American Tragedy, the French daily Le Monde struggles to understand American thinking. How can the country continue to support the right to bear arms, after such a tragedy?:
“The slaughter at Virginia Tech University forces American society to once again confront itself, its violence, the gun fetishism that preoccupies part of the population and the dissoluteness of young people subject to the dual-tyranny of abundance and competition. It would be unjust and false to reduce the United States to the image it often attracts - of rages of death to which isolated individuals occasionally yield to. But if events of this kind are exceptional elsewhere, they frequently disfigure the ‘American Dream.’
“All that George Bush found to say after expressing his condolences, was that, ‘schools should be places of safety, sanctuaries devoted to study.’ For this Republican President, former governor of Texas, champion of the states of the central and southern American states where "prairie" culture endures, the Blacksburg massacre cannot be anything but the tragic aberration of a single individual. In the eyes of Mr. Bush, the question of gun control in the Unites States is not and should not be raised…
“Firearms bear such great importance in American ideology that Democrats, however inclined they might be that the cult of personal freedom must be balanced by the public good, can tackle this issue only with caution…
“But in a country where "the right to own and carry a firearm" is written into the Constitution and where one estimates the number of firearms at 192 million, the issue isn’t limited to one specific lobby. After the tragedy, voices rose deploring the fact that professors and students aren’t authorized to carry weapons, since one of them could have neutralized the killer. With such reasoning, America is far from getting its violence under control.”
South Korea may be most affected by the shootings, at least that’s what some in the Korean press feel. With a free trade agreement and possible visa exemption for South Koreans in the works, the tragedy came at a time when relations between the US and South Korea are particularly strong. The Joongang Daily for one hopes that the shooters origins don’t result in anti-Korean sentiments in the US:
“We pay tribute to those killed and wounded, their bereaved families and the country beyond the level of our alliance with the United States…
“It may be said that this case would not have happened if people were not allowed to carry guns in the United States, no matter how much he got infuriated. However, the gravity of this case is huge. Even if the motive is personal, the spectacular crime is having serious and far-reaching consequences.
“We are scrambling to express condolences to the country even though Korea and its people have no responsibility for it. President Roh Moo-hyun issued statements of condolences to the country three times and made a call of condolence to President George W. Bush. Presidential candidates offered a silent tribute and military leaders sent a letter of solace to U.S. commanders stationed in Korea. The general public is also expressing its consolation and sorrow through the Internet.
“The first thing that the two countries should do is recognize the sheer shock and distress of 2.5 million Korean Americans and students in the United States. Koreans may feel distressed in the same way as Arab-Americans felt after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We hope that the U.S. government and citizens will embrace Koreans there.
“The most effective helping hands to appease the terrible wounds will be from Koreans living in the United States. Koreans should display their strong willingness to share the sorrow, take mental responsibility and heal the wounds together with the United States. They should offer prayers, plan memorials and scholarship projects, and take measures to prevent this from ever happening again. They should roll up their sleeves to volunteer in the region where they live.
“If both governments and Korean- Americans share thoughts and wisdom, then the 33 fallen flowers will serve as a precious tribute in fostering mutual relations.”
The Financial Times Deutschland ponders the affects that the shootings will have on the race to the White House, but foresees no ban on personal gun ownership:
“The ritual following each new killing frenzy at an American high school or university is always the same: U.S. proponents of stricter gun control - and as if by reflex commentators in Europe - demand stricter regulations, so that confused young people could be rendered unable to so easily pull the trigger…
“Again there are loud calls for stricter controls. Again the question is being raised about whether tougher laws and stricter security checks have had any impact. And again the debate comes in the run-up to an American Presidential campaign.
“The likelihood is that in the coming days, one of the Democratic candidates will side more strongly than ever with firearms opponents. Candidate Barrack Obama, for instance, advocates a ban on guns in urban centers - and if he must - to strongly oppose the gun lobby. On the other hand, however, he voted several times for weapons-friendly legal changes…
“Much is at stake. Anyone candidate who sides too strongly on the side of firearms opponents can expect somewhat more from these quarters. But large numbers of voters in the U.S. South and West, where gun laws are still closely associated with individual liberty, will feel abandoned by such a position. And not just by ultraconservatives. Many local NRA clubs were originally organized by Blacks as a means of defending themselves against the lynch mobs of the Ku-Klux-Klan.
“What will be hotly debated is whether to expand the prohibition of semi-automatic weapons, impose stricter gun registration and background checks on purchasers, and whether the industry should build child-proof devices into firearms. But for the time being, the right to possess firearms will not be on the agenda.”
The Economist looks at numbers showing that there are 200 million privately-owned guns in America, half the world’s total. It also looks back in history, one that leads the weekly to doubt gun laws will be tightened:
“It is surely an American oddity that, after the worst mass shooting in the country’s history, some are already saying that such horrors would be less likely if only guns were easier to own and carry… (The right to bear arms) is part of the national religion…
“The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), an activist group, counts 41 school shootings in America since 1996, which have claimed 110 lives, including those in Virginia this week. IANSA also looks at school shootings in 80 other countries. Culling from media reports, they count only 14 school gun killings outside America in the same period. Putting aside the Beslan massacre in Russia—committed by an organised terrorist group—school shootings in all those countries claimed just 59 victims…
“Residents of other countries may fret that criminals, gang-members and insane individuals are increasingly likely to use guns and knives. But in comparison with America, few other developed countries have much to worry about. The gun-murder rate in America is more than 30 times that of England and Wales, for example. Canada—like America, a “frontier” country with high rates of gun ownership—sees far fewer victims shot down: the firearm murder-rate south of the Canadian border is vastly higher than the rate north of it. America may not quite lead the world in gun murders (South Africa probably holds that dubious title) but it has a dismally prominent position.
“What might be done to improve matters in America? The intuitive answer, at least for Europeans and those who live in countries where guns are less easily available, is that laws must be tightened to make it harder to obtain and use such weapons. Not only might that reduce the frequency of criminal acts, goes the argument, but it may also cut the number of accidental deaths and suicides. Yet some in America are reaching the opposite conclusion…
“…Gun laws may be tweaked after the Virginia massacre, there will be little significant change to come. The Columbine killings of 1999 failed to provoke any shift in Americans’ attitudes to guns. There is no reason to believe that this massacre, or the next one, will do so either. As striking are the overall rates of violent death by handguns in America.”
Brazil’s O Povo relates the killings to “something very severe (that) is happening in the mental health of American society,” and tirades against the individualism and superficial atmosphere it has created in the US:
“Within the context of a society that tends to depersonalize as the process of production becomes ever more efficient, questions relating to social assistance and the creation of institutions to help those less adapted to this environment of extreme competitiveness have always been looked on with some reservation. Part of this culture is that the self-made man is worshipped, while those unable to achieve success in their personal lives are regarded as "failures."
“As this way of viewing the world has gained prevalence, it has created unbearable pressure on individuals battling within the limited arena for material success, power and prestige. Because of this, human and transcendental values have become less and less influential. Success is looked upon as the primordial goal toward which all others must be subordinated.
“In this context, consideration for others gives way to a fight for the imperative of competitiveness. There is little space left for compassion or paying attention to those who have had bad luck or are unable to obtain success within the context of these extremely horizontal values. The final result is the dehumanization and the suffocation of being, which is produced by this extreme form of individualism.
“Without a source of internal strength, without an anchor that can keep them on the ground and in good condition - like beings trapped in a trans-historical wormhole and deemed expendable by others - people end up losing any reference to their humanity. Once in a while they explode in a destructive and murderous fury, going against everything and everyone, randomly identifying them as the executioners of their misfortune. This is a phenomenon more and more present in post-industrial society, and it's an unequivocal sign of the imbalance and severe illness that affects our hedonistic civilization.”
Australia claims the worst shooting deaths in number of fatalities, a 1996 event in Tasmania after which strict anti-gun laws were passed. The country’s Daily Telegraph sees the Virginia shooting as a reaffirmation of those laws:
“(Virginia is) the state of General Robert E. Lee, the great Confederate general who was offered a post in the Union Army before deciding his allegiances really lay with the South; the state of ante-bellum. Virginia is America, in a word.
“So the idea that - in America - a gunman could go mad and aim his weapon indiscriminately, could take the lives of 32 of his fellow citizens, is the most vulgar of obscenities, the worst denunciation…
“Now, in our country, most of us take a different view. We're not happy about our record - still intact, courtesy of the Port Arthur massacre - for having the greatest number of shooting deaths in a single incident.
“(The VPI shootings) should remind us of an undeniable truth - there is no ‘right’' to carry weapons. Those who make the tired argument that ‘it's people not guns’ who kill others, should wake up.
“(Australia) should be thankful for our tough gun laws, and recommit ourselves to maintaining them.”
Mexico’s La Jornada ties other violent conflicts, namely the War in Iraq and the War on Drugs, to America’s gun culture, reasoning that the root of all of these problems lies with the elected officials in Washington:
“They are events with no apparent connection: the growing and ceaseless carnage unfolding in Iraq which yesterday claiming over 200 victims; the uncontrollable violence tied to drug trafficking that rocks Mexico and that culminates in deadly shootings like that which took place yesterday at Tijuana General Hospital; and the recurrence of deadly shootings at schools and universities in the United States, like the events of this past Monday at Virginia Technical University. But those realities of destruction and death do share a common denominator: they are all the result of the decisions and strategies of the government next door [the United States].
“The daily massacres taking place on Iraqi territory are a direct consequence of President George W. Bush's determination to invade and occupy the Arab nation - in contravention of international law, elementary humanitarian considerations and common sense. Today, it is the Anglo-American military occupation that is the central and principal factor in the violence reigning over Iraq.
“The loss of life being generated in Latin America by the war on drugs is, in part, a result of a mistaken and hypocritical strategy imposed on the continent by Washington and other governments: the prohibition of psychotropic substances and the prohibition of their production, sale and consumption.
“By creating conditions that allow the extreme enrichment of drug traffickers, governments have transferred the problem of addiction from the realm of public health to that of police officers, military men and national security, thereby creating a monster with unlimited economic power, which exhibits an almost unlimited capacity to corrupt public officials at all levels. It also equips drug traffickers with firepower at least as lethal as institutions of provide public safety.
“Regarding the outbreaks of individual violence that regularly inflict United States society (such as the VPI shootings), these are overwhelmingly due to the extreme proliferation of firearms in the hands of the general population…
“The key to stopping all this violence - the colonial war in Iraq, the drug trafficking and the massive number of homicides within the territory of the United States - is in the hands of Washington's political class. At this point it's clear that the first condition for stopping the daily atrocities being committed against Iraq's civilian population…consists of the immediate withdrawal of the occupying forces from Iraq.
“With respect to the war on drugs, the solution can be found in the very history of the United States itself: the adoption of so called prohibition… It's time to come back to our senses and recognize that public health issues cannot be resolved by the army or police, and that combating addictions requires medical and social strategies other than the prohibition of addictive substances.
“But for now, the paths of death - the war in Iraq, the war on drugs and the bloody shootings in the United States - have one thing common: they all lead to the White House and the U.S. Capitol.”
Why should the world care?
05/03/2007, 05:56 AM
Why do you think the world should care for such a crime in the US?
Does the US media care for the crimes committed anywhere else?
IMO the world gives way too much space for the event in the US compare to what the US media is giving to the world news and events.
In average, the people of the Europe and Asia are much more aware of the events in the US than any American EVER is about the world events. So, why should we care for act of a crazy person in the US when 100s of people are dying every day in the biggest crime of the century committed by the people of the US and UK?
Why should the world spend any time on the tragic death of a few students in Virginia when thousands of people dye every month in Iraq because of a war started and caused by lies? And those atrocities and tragic death of those people is barely mentioned in the country that is the creator of this mess.