As usual, Jon Carroll says it well.
Jon Carroll - April 19, 2007 in the SF Chronicle:
The tragedy at Virginia Tech this week has provoked lots of deep thinking about What It All Means, because when you've got endless airtime to fill, deep thinking is the only alternative to replaying the same five minutes of videotape you've played 28 times before. And newspaper columnists have of course weighed in, because we are the world's leading experts on the Meaning of Everything. We are the FIGJAMs.
("Figjam" is allegedly a nickname given to professional golfer Phil Mickelson by his peers. It stands for "f -- I'm good, just ask me.")
To get this out of the way: I don't think the tragedy at Virginia Tech means anything at all. I think it's just a tragedy. There are 300 million people in America, and some of them are crazy and violent. There are always warning signs that the crazy person might do something crazy and violent, but usually the warning signs do not presage slaughter, or they presage a basically harmless manifestation, like room trashing or poster defacing. How is one supposed to know which warning signs are the warning signs? One cannot know. The ratio of warning signs to acts of mass murder is just too large.
Bad things happen in life. People grieve. The pain is entirely and absolutely real, but the pain does not require meaning. Would it ease the loss of the relatives of the deceased to know that the killer was a product of an abusive foster care system? No, it would not and, anyway, he wasn't. He was a brooding student who thought about death, and I knew lots of people like that. They became graduate students. They took up golf. They worked in regional theater.
One trend in the What It All Means debate is the "it all means that what I said all along is right" discussion. For people who are for tighter immigration laws, it proves that immigrants are dangerous invaders who are going to kill us in our beds while taking away our jobs. We must stop them at the border because God knows no white third-generation American would ever commit an act of violence. Except for the exceptions.
It's true that the killer was an immigrant. But so too were many of the victims. Of the 32 of the 33 victims of violence identified as of this writing, there were two from India (G.V. Loganathan and Minal Panchal) and one each from Peru, Romania, Canada, Vietnam, Indonesia and Puerto Rico. I should say their names: Daniel Perez Cueva, Liviu Librescu, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, Henh Ly (usually called "Henry Lee"), Partahi Lumbantoruan and Juan Ramon Ortiz.
Two more (Ross Abdallah Alameddine and Reema Samaha) were first-generation Lebanese Americans, and another (Christopher James Bishop) was a German teacher, and had been a Fulbright scholar at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany. These were apparently random killings; it is interesting to me that a random sample of the Virginia Tech population included so many immigrants.
These, of course, are not the immigrants the frothers and the foamers are talking about. These immigrants' stories do not advance the case for closing our borders against the hordes. Certainly best not to dwell on Liviu Librescu, the Romanian Holocaust survivor who emigrated first to Israel and then to the United States. He was 76 years old. He was a teacher of aeronautics. He used his body to barricade a classroom door so that his students could escape out the windows. Shocking, the people they let in to this country nowadays.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that the anti-immigration fanatics are wallowing in nostalgia. Their train has left the station; their time has passed. We are a multiethnic nation, both in San Francisco and in Blacksburg, Va. A lot of us have names that do not trip lightly off the English-speaking tongue. Sometimes we have accents that make us hard to understand.
People under 20 are already dealing with this reality. They live in the place where the melting pot has already melted, and people really are judged by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin. (Well, OK, not really -- in grade school or high school, people are still judged in the same bogus way they always were. But it's multicultural bogosity; everyone gets to share in the American nightmare.)
Immigration is a complicated social issue. There are people of goodwill working on the problems associated with a continued influx of people from other countries. But immigration is also what keeps us healthy. There's no point in closing the door now that our people have arrived, because our people need the new people to help us understand the new world. Too bad it takes a massacre to make us realize that.
One had a Web site called ResidentHippy.com; another helped found a French school in Nova Scotia; yet another was attending college on an Air Force ROTC scholarship.