Shootings at Virginia Tech

Where does one begin?  The horror is beyond belief, as is the sadness. The facts are beginning to emerge that the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre was a student who went back to his dorm room between shootings.  I cannot fathom how someone so deranged thinks and plans. I can only think of what happened from the point of view of the students and teachers–and parents.
Of course, one personalizes all such horrifying information, so my first thought was of my son who is a young university instructor, developing a university teaching, researching, and writing career. He’s on the “front line” of a major Canadian university, teaching a full class load. At least three Virginia Tech professors and three or more instructors were killed in this incident, one professor reportedly blocking the door with his body. In my illusions, I thought my gentle Buddhist son was in a relatively safe profession, far from the killing and violence that characterize so much of our society and world.  I think of the six years [compacted, my university studies actually lasted from 1962 to 1980] I sat in university classrooms where one is focused on the lesson and taking notes. A gunman entering the room would have been surreal, something that did not compute. The mind does not easily switch from academic content to diving under a desk for protection. I thought of my niece Elizabeth, studying at a large Midwestern university, my nephew Jon studying education in the southwest, and all of my former students in university classes around the nation. I cannot get my mind around the thought of a peaceful classroom violated by a gunman who comes shooting through the doorway, showering the classroom in a hail of bullets.
The shootings at Kent State flashed through my mind, too.   May 4, 1970—so long ago–the U.S. military [National Guard] vs. protesting students—but so unthinkable to my generation—that a university, the place for open minds, would become a killing field.  I was reminded, too, of the shootings at the University of Texas in 1966, the bombings at the University of Wisconsin, and other events.  This horror is similar in that the shooter was a student, shooting and killing his fellow students, as well as professors, with fierce intensity.
My sympathies also go to the university authorities and police. Monday night CNN and other media were pushing and promoting harsh criticism of the authorities for not realizing the connection between the shootings and failing to notify students. Of course, the logistics of notification are complex and shutting down a major open campus is not exactly easy. Today [Tuesday] the criticism seems modified. How hard it is for the authorities to deal with scathing criticism and commentary as they must continue the duties of dealing with the enormous problems of the aftermath. One of the worst things about our news media is that the lowest thoughts, opinions, and comments of traumatized people are broadcast and magnified, as if they are the final say on an event. The viciousness of our media, Paula Zahn, for example, is just appalling; Monday night she challenged everyone she spoke to, trying to spark dissention and hatred towards the police and university officials.  It was most heartening this afternoon [Tuesday]  to watch the memorial service and see the audience rise to applaud—long and loud–the beleaguered university president. He asked for support and thanks for all of the police services—noting how the local, state, and federal agencies had rushed to their aid. The work of the university administration and all of the police agencies continues non-stop, while the arm chair critics blather in the safety of their homes, not involved in the massive job of assistance, clean-up, and support.
While Americans are horrified at the enormity of this shooting, university shootings and killings continue apace in Iraq. Our media gives the problems of the universities in Iraq scant attention in comparison to entertainment, celebrities, sports, and sometimes shootings in America. What if such shootings and massacres were happening all over the US, day after day, as they are in Iraq? What might our passive and complacent citizens do?
After watching the memorial service Tuesday afternoon at Virginia Tech [April 17] , which had many wonderful speakers, I was irked to note that the evening TV news shows [we were watching NBC] played President Bush’s remarks. Of the speakers, I thought he was the most banal, but he received the most coverage.  Professor Nikki Giovanni, poet and English professor, was absolutely wonderful, giving a spark of hope and spirit in the midst of sadness.  
Richard Cohen, commenting in The Washington Post.
For unconventional thinkers, an “otherworld” point of view which is most apt—and the bitter truth  
In the mean time, I am sad, so sad for the students, parents, faculty, administrators, university staff, Virginia Tech, the state of Virginia where many of my ancestors lived and died, and for our country.

Presidential — and other — Funerals

This evening I have been watching the arrival ceremony for President Ford’s funeral in Washington. I do not watch much TV, but I like to watch these grand events. So much that happens in the US is cheap, stupid, and tawdry, but the military does put on grand presidential funerals, full of ritual, tradition, dignity, and respect. I was a sophomore in college in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. We were glued to the TV for days, watching the reports of the assassination, the squalid shooting of Oswald, and finally, the dignified funeral processions and ceremonies. When Lyndon Johnson died, I was angry about the Viet Nam war, but I watched. Anguished, I watched Martin Luther King’s funeral and then Robert Kennedy’s. Richard Nixon was an awkward man, uneasy in public appearances. He gets a lot of bad press, but I admired his intelligence, though not his paranoia. I watched his funeral in memory of my Grandfather Parsons, who admired him. I am not a Reagan admirer–all show and often asleep at his post–but his funeral was grand. Someone had an eye for camera angles and shots that caught the dignity and beauty of the settings. I greatly enjoyed Corretta Scott King’s funeral, watching all seven hours on C-span; it was full of rip-roaring oratory, music, and beautifully dressed women with magnificent hats. Ford’s selection of a more modest funeral fits him. Tears welled up as I watched Mrs. Ford, graceful and dignified at 88, moving through the ceremonial parts. I particularly like the word “repose”; it is so dignified. The families of the service men and women participating as honor guards, bandsmen, casket bearers, and so on, must be immensely proud.

So far, Rummy has not shown up. Woodward’s interview of President Ford was most interesting; he thought both Rummy and Cheney had gone too far in pushing the war in Iraq. I wish we had more men of common sense and modesty like Ford running our government, instead of too many politicians who use their positions to grab wealth and power.

Reflecting on the other events of the day, I am appalled that Saddam was hanged, which could not have happened without American acquiescence, especially since his incarceration and trial took place in American protected areas. Saddam was an evil man, but no more evil than countless other dictators and rulers the US supports or has supported. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo states my view much better than I can. As President Ford pointed out to Woodward, the whole situation in Iraq could have been handed with diplomacy and non-violent methods. I do not believe in executions, for dictators or ordinary criminals. We cannot have Peace on Earth while humans lust for vengeance and revenge.