Why Virginia Tech killings happened
Published Apr 17, 2007 11:36 PM
Yet another rampage has occurred at a school, this time leaving 33 people
dead at Virginia Tech—the worst such incident ever at a U.S. college
The news media seem stunned and surprised, yet their coverage sounds so similar
to the stories about Columbine eight years ago. They dwell on the personality
of the young man the police say did the shooting, before killing himself. They
talk about him being a “loner,” depressed, perhaps angry at
But aren’t there lonely and depressed people all over the world? Many
countries have high suicide rates. Why is it that here some become mass
The U.S. is the world leader in seemingly random acts of violence by
President George W. Bush rushed to Virginia to speak at a large convocation the
day after the killings and tried to set the tone for what could be said about
them. “It’s impossible to make sense of such violence and
suffering,” he said.
Don’t ask why, don’t try to understand. It makes no sense.
“Have faith” instead, was Bush’s message.
But there ARE reasons these things happen here, and they are pretty clear to
the rest of the world. It’s just in the United States that no one is
supposed to talk about the reasons.
What distinguishes this country from the rest of the world? It is neither the
most affluent nor the poorest. It is neither the most secular nor the most
religious. It is not the most culturally homogeneous nor is it the most
But in one area, it stands virtually alone. It has the biggest arsenal of
high-tech weaponry in the world, way surpassing every other country. It has
military bases spread all over; most countries have no troops outside their
It is conducting two hot wars at the moment, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has
sent hundreds of thousands of troops abroad over the last few years. Every day,
the public here is supposed to identify with soldiers who burst into homes in
Baghdad, round up the people and take them away for
“interrogation”—which everyone knows now can mean torture and
It also sends heavily armed “special ops” on secret missions to
countless other countries, like the ones who just facilitated the invasion and
bombing of Somalia, or the ones who have been trying to stir up opposition in
Iran. This is documented in the news media.
The immense brutality of these colonial wars, as well as earlier ones, is
praised from the White House on down as the best, the ONLY way to achieve what
the political leaders and their influential, rich backers decide is necessary
to protect their world empire. Do lots of people get killed? “Stuff
happens,” said former war secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “Collateral
damage,” says the Pentagon.
At home, the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Over 2
million people are locked up in the prison system each year, most of them
people of color. When commercial armed security guards are also taken into
consideration, the U.S. has millions of employees who use guns and other
coercive paraphernalia in their jobs.
In the final analysis, the military and the police—the “armed
bodies of men,” as Marxists used to define them before women were added
to their ranks—exist to perpetuate and protect this present unjust system
of capitalist inequality, where a few can claim personal ownership over a vast
economy built by the sweat and blood of hundreds of millions of workers.
And the more divided, the more polarized the society becomes, the higher the
level of coercion and violence. Assault weapons are now everywhere in this
society, as are Tasers, handcuffs, clubs and tear gas. They most often start
out in the hands of the police, the military and other agents of the state, and
can then turn up anywhere.
Violence is a big money maker in the mass culture. Television, films, pulp
novels, Internet sites, video games—all dwell on “sociopaths”
while glorifying the state’s use of violence, often supplemented by a
lone vigilante. By the time children reach their teens, they have already seen
thousands of murders and killings on television. And these days even more
suspense is added in countless programs that involve stalking and terror
against women—and increasingly children.
As the Duke rape case and so many “escort service” ads show, women
of color are particularly subject to exploitation and have little recourse to
any justice. And as the murders along the border show, immigrants of color are
fair game for racist killers.
The social soil of capitalism can alienate and enrage an unstable and miserable
person who should be getting help but can’t find it. If, as reports are
saying, the young man accused of these killings was on anti-depressant
medication, it is all the more evidence that, at a time when hospitals are
closing and health care is unavailable for tens of millions, treating mental
health problems requires more from society than just prescribing dubious
Many liberal commentators are taking this occasion to renew the demand for
tougher gun laws. Yes, assault weapons are horrible, but so are bunker buster
bombs, helicopters that fire thousands of rounds a minute, and the
ultimate—nuclear weapons. Disarming the people is not the answer,
especially when the capitalist state is armed to the teeth and uses brutality
and coercion daily.
The best antidote to these tragedies is to build a movement for profound social
change, for replacing capitalism with socialism, so that people’s
energies can be directed at solving the great problems depressing so much of
humanity today, whether they be wars or global climate change or the loneliness
of the dog-eat-dog society.
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