American Culture

The Virginia Suicides

That fat bastard, Michael Moore, has had a lot to say about the tragedy in Virginia. His answer is simple: “America is a violent country.” Oh, and he blames the NRA for encouraging weapons sales. I’m sure he’s filming a follow-up to Bowling for Columbine right now; call it The Virginia Suicides.

America is not a violent country. South Africa certainly is. This is a place where robberies generally result in slaughter and where life is sufficiently cheap that people regularly arrange hits on people they don’t like. In a country of 45 million there were about 20 000 murders in 2004 – I’d give you more accurate statistics but our government no longer releases them.

That means we have, per capita, 11 times more murders than the US. Believe it or not, our death toll simply from car accidents in the past year dramatically exceeds the death toll in Iraq during the entire conflict.

So let’s get that entirely out of the way. The US is not a violent place when put in context with places that really are violent – and Cape Town, I’d like to add, is a lovely place to live. Yet, you still have some pretty unpleasant stuff going on.

Would making guns harder to get be useful? Probably, but a maniac is a maniac and there are plenty of places online where you can learn how to make bombs and then blow yourself up. Unless you’re planning to regulate fertilizer or phosphate sales you’re not really going to stop a determined person willing to die as they murder others.

Do free societies open themselves up to this? You only have to look at Spain, France, Northern Ireland or even Germany to realise that – each in their own way – they suffer from high levels of violence brought about by individuals who feel alienated from those societies. In France the immigrants lash out regularly; in Spain the Basques blow people up; in Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants still loathe each other; and Germany has a wonderful crop of neo-Nazi thugs who burn down houses with African foreigners in them. Depending on the news week any developed nation can show a sudden propensity for excessive violence.

Your real efforts should be at looking to those who feel excluded in some or other way: socially, economically, politically or simply tragically horny and spurned one-too-many times.

2 replies »

  1. An interesting piece, but I wonder at your paragraph on Germany, France, and Northern Ireland. While I see the reasonableness of pointing out the violence fostered by political, religious, and social forces at work in those countries, I find those examples less analogous to what happened at VT yesterday than perhaps you do. In each of the examples you cite, there are groups of people who act in more or less organized fashions to protest (albeit in violent and unacceptable ways) their perceived mistreatment.

    In Seung Hui’s case, we have a classic American scenario – an individual decides, for PERSONAL reasons, that his/her INDIVIDUAL rights/feelings/space/whatever has been in some way violated – and in classic American fashion, he/she buckles on the gun and holster (symbols of that most American of genres, the western) and goes to face down his/her “enemies.”

    While Hui is technically South Korean, his having been an American resident since childhood (since he was seven or so) surely exposed him to these American archetypes of the rugged loner who settles scores according to his own code of rough justice. It’s an archetype he’s seen portrayed grandly in our literature (Hui was an English major here), our films, and our television programming – even in our video games. Then, perhaps, like Klebold and Harris, or like that early prototype of revenge, Charles Whitman, he twisted that American mythos of “lone ranger justice” into a self-jusification for mass murder.