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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Death deserves respectful response, not ‘understanding'”

    Justyn Dillingham columnist
    Justyn Dillingham
    columnist

    Of all the characters who inhabit Bruce Springsteen’s great 1982 album Nebraska, the most indelible may be the narrator of the title song, a reckless teenager who goes on a killing spree across the Midwest and explains it this way: “”You want to know why I did what I done/ Sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.””

    The terror in that line is bottomless. I thought of that line when confronted with the terrible hush that seemed to take hold of the UA campus after the killing of freshman Mia Henderson. It’s been weeks since her death, but there’s still a slight chill in the air.

    People talked about it, but not the way one is used to hearing people talk about terrible events – not with that same distance. This one was scary. It could have happened to any of us. A girl was paired with the wrong roommate, and that was it. It wasn’t that she was slow to react. She reacted just the way most of us would have – and still she died.

    One heard very few outraged opinions about it. The death was so senseless, so arbitrary and so terrible that it seemed impossible to say anything at all about it.

    And that, I think, was the only honest response.

    This response could not be farther removed from the April massacre at Virginia Tech. People took that event as an excuse to say whatever they liked.

    There was something creepily deja-vu about the way the media response played out. People had been prepared for it – by Sept. 11, by Columbine, by a constant parade of tragedies turned into media “”events.””

    Just as Sept. 11 freed Ann Coulter to say what she had always believed but never dared say (“”We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity””), Virginia Tech freed people to say things that would have seemed insane the day before. I never thought I’d hear anyone react to the news of a mass shooting by declaring that students should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus – but never say never.

    Then there were the people who said just the opposite – that this proved beyond doubt that all guns ought to be banned. Other people thought the university was to blame – why had they been so slow to react? All across the country, people shouted, droned and blathered on as if what had happened was little more than an excuse to act indignant.

    I found many of these comments disgusting, but none more so than the kind of comments I heard from people who were undoubtedly the most well-intentioned of all.

    “”Why don’t we try to understand why Cho did this?”” they said. Couldn’t we have prevented this if we had tried harder to understand him? Why don’t we learn to accept that, in some way, we’re as responsible for what happened as anyone?

    No matter that, from all the evidence, plenty of people had tried to understand the guy. Plenty of people had tried to help him. He didn’t care to accept their help; he preferred oblivion.

    Listening to well-meaning liberals spout comments like these, I could hear an echo of Springsteen’s narrator in “”Nebraska”” laughing at them. You want to know why I did what I done? Sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.

    Most of the pundits – professional or amateur – who commented on the Virginia Tech shootings gave no sense that they were talking about the brutal physical deaths of 32 people. What they never said was that we owed it to those people not to treat their deaths as an excuse to blather on about the terribleness of our society and how it was all “”our”” fault. To treat their killer’s “”motives”” as legitimate grievances is simply the flip side of the callousness that led someone to, before the day was out, start a Facebook group making fun of the students who had died that day.

    How should we have reacted to the event? To start with, we shouldn’t have treated it as an “”event.”” The second we started casually referring to a massacre as “”Virginia Tech,”” we had already started to distance ourselves from it. To react to it with horror, with sympathy for the bereaved and with a full understanding of the gravity of what had happened -ÿthat was precisely what most of us did not do in April.

    But that was how we treated Henderson’s death, and that’s what we owed her. In an ideal world, every death would be granted the same respect.

    Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in history and political science and the wire editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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