Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Last Boy Scout

Nothing about yesterday was very real, except for the blood and the panic.

The biggest news story today will not be the missing emails or Alberto Gonzales’ testimony on Capitol Hill about the US Attorney firings or even Iraq but the 32 students, teachers and possibly staff who were gunned down at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia yesterday.

Asian gunmen almost dressed like a Boy Scout killing nearly three dozen people is, if anything, even more of a rarity than the snow that was swirling around the surviving victims as they were evacuated out of the building. Only someone who’d survived Columbine or any of dozens of other school shootings can possibly relate to the surreal horror of having their lives threatened or turned upside down by violence that more readily recalls Quentin Tarantino or Sam Peckinpah than real life.

I don’t know where this shocking lack of respect for human life comes from but it’s obviously not restricted to Iraq. Some of my readers may recall a post I’d written last February entitled “Imagine” in which I’d conjured up an image of America if it suffered a proportionate amount of violence to that witnessed every day in Iraq.

A man walked into two buildings yesterday intent on killing as many people as possible then himself and did just that. The campus police never expected a second, far deadlier wave of violence. 32 are now dead, after initial reports listed the casualties at 21, then 31 and finally, this morning, 32.

This is a taste of what Iraqis live with day in and day out, only sometimes the casualties are much higher, all too often numbering over 100. Welcome to Iraq.

But the only people who will truly come to grips with their grief, the only ones who will have to see the bullet holes in the walls, the blood that couldn’t be readily washed off will be the students, educators and staff members who actually go to Virginia Tech. Them and their parents and other loved ones.

It’s impossible to wrap your mind around this if it doesn’t personally affect you and that sense of disaffection, of disconnect, is perhaps where this and other killing sprees start out. “Schools should be places of sanctuary and safety and learning. When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community,” George W. Bush said in response to the shootings. I’ll suspend my usual snarky and ironic rejoinder long enough to agree with him. You walk into a building intent on getting an education in an environment in which you’re protected by the campus police and the local constabulary. Getting a paper cut and a bad grade would qualify as a bad day.

Then, abruptly, surreal chaos, mind-numbing violence, cell phone calls to family saying goodbye, just in case, incredulity that congeals into grief. No one should ever have to make a call home to say goodbye for the last time.

I couldn’t walk away from blogging for at least a while without commenting on what will surely be considered one of our nation’s greatest tragedies and offering my condolences to the hundreds or even thousands of people directly affected by this. Virginia Tech’s good name now will be as synonymous with senseless mass murder as Columbine, the University of Texas at Austin or Kent State.

Or virtually any town or city in Iraq.

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