I have attempted to resist the temptation to comment on the shooting on the campus of Virginia Technical College. The shootings were terrible. There is really nothing else to be said about them. While we all strive to gain some meaning behind the untimely deaths of so many young people, there is no lesson to be learned, here. There is no measures to be taken that could have prevented this. It was just a horrible act by a single individual, and we have to learn to live with the fact that these things happen in the world.
However, there is one point that becomes more and more apparent to me, that I must mention. During the shootings, there was one individual who stood out because he did what he could to resist the shooter; Professor Liviu Librescu, a 74 year old holocaust survivor, attempted to bar the shooter from entering his room, and was killed, through the door, for his efforts, while his students were escaping through the windows.
The question that comes to mind is, was this the only heroic action during this period? Did not another student think to try to save lives by attempting to stop the gunner? How does a deranged student wander through the halls of a college, shooting at random, without anyone trying to stop him?
I realize this is a sensitive question. I was not there, I do not know the circumstances, and, perhaps, there was nothing anyone else could have done. Perhaps someone did, in fact, attempt to do something, and was killed for their efforts. Dealing with the facts that are known, however, I do not see that. I see students fleeing from the gunner.
Some will say that these are just kids, and can not be expected to deal with a situation like this…and that is simply foolish. These are not ‘kids,’ they are young adults, old enough to go into the military and handle multi-million dollar instruments and machines, not to mention carry a gun and kill others. If one studies history, one knows that many of our most famous soldiers became famous while in their teens. There is nothing in a 17 year old’s physical makeup which prevents them from confronting and dealing with danger. What is lacking, I suspect, is the will to confront danger, the experience in dealing with danger, and the self-confidence that these young adults needed to confront danger, rather than running from it.
As an example, I had a woman friend who spent 16 years studying karate…and had achieved a very high level black-belt. She was facile in a tournament, and had many trophies. One day, her boyfriend began throwing her around her apartment…and she did nothing. When I asked her what happened to her karate training, she was stunned…she had never thought of using it!
The point is that her karate training was not connected to the real world, for her. It was something she did twice a week, a spiritual experience, a method of achieving self-confidence, but it is highly likely that it had never occurred to her that she could protect herself from physical harm with the help of her karate.
Instead of teaching students to defend their beliefs, American educators shield them from vigorous intellectual debate. Instead of encouraging autonomy, our higher institutions of learning stoke passivity and conflict-avoidance.
That is quite true, but the rot goes deeper than simple intellectual isolation. The Universities are isolated from the real world. The lessons they teach the students are academic, theoretical, intellectual, but they very often do not reflect what the students are going to face in the real world. In the Universities, violence is what occurs outside and, more often than not, has a cause and a reason for existing, be it Capitalism, Big Corporations or any other sort of anti-Westernism that the particular professor wishes to propagate. Evil, itself, does not exist. It has a cause. If we remove the cause of evil, the world will enter a new age of enlightenment and happiness unlike anything ever experienced before.
Well, on April 16, Virginia Tech faced evil. Later analysis attempted to show that the perpetrator was a loner, had imaginary girlfriends, was suspected of stalking girls on campus, was feared by more than a few of his professors, etc. etc. All good reasons for understanding, in hindsight, what could have been the cause of the shootings. In fact, though, this man was evil, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao or any of a hundred other mass murderers in history. His actions were not caused by Capitalism, Big Business, or anything the professors taught. They were caused by an evil man…and no one on campus was able to deal with that, because it is not supposed to happen.
This issue has enflamed the usual pro-gun, anti-gun debates, where those who oppose the use of guns suggest that if guns had been banned (they were, as a matter of fact, on this campus), universally, this would never have happened, while those who support the use of guns suggest that if the student body had been armed, this would never have happened, nevermind the effect of 9,000 students waving guns in the air might have had on the actual casualty count. Neither point of view has any bearing on this event.
What was the characteristic of this event that could have possibly saved more lives? Experience. Real life experience, facing the trials and tribulations that actually exist in the world. It is easy to convince a student who was brought up in a stable middle-class household in a stable middle-to-upper class community in a safe part of the country that there is no real evil in the world except that evil that is created by economic systems. These kids have had no experience dealing with any kind of real evil. They never see it…except, perhaps, in the movies, and then it is not real for them. The movie experiences never happen in real life.
I am not offering specific solutions, though I can think of many; universal military training and/or ROTC on every campus. Mandatory training with firearms. So the students are familiar and comfortable with guns. Whatever the specifics might be, the goal is to create a generation of adults who are familiar with the world as it exists, not with ideal worlds that never have existed, and never will exist. We, as parents, and adults, must insist that the Universities enter the real world, and stop being islands of idle thought, divorced from the events that are occurring around them. Then, perhaps, our children will understand why it is necessary to fight evil 6000 miles away, so we do not have to fight that evil, here, in the neighborhoods. Perhaps they will understand that the reason we must continuously be prepared to fight evil is not because of faults within ourselves, but because of faults within another.