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A loner's killing spree at Virginia Tech
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Cho in a video sent to NBC: 'You decided to spill my blood.'
(source: AP/NBC News)
What happened

A sullen, seething loner went on a bloody rampage at Virginia Tech University this week, killing 32 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a Korean-born English major who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 8, began his rampage in the early morning, killing a female student and a residential advisor in a dormitory. Two hours later, he entered a main classroom building on the Blacksburg, Va., campus, using chains to fasten the doors shut behind him.

For the next half-hour, an expressionless Cho walked among the classrooms, methodically firing two legally purchased, semiautomatic handguns. "I saw bullets hit people's bodies," said student Erin Sheehan, who lay on the ground, pretending to be dead, as Cho calmly took aim at everyone standing. She was one of only four students not killed in her 25-student German class. "There was blood everywhere. He seemed very thorough about it."

As police and SWAT teams closed in, Cho put one of the guns to his head and committed suicide. His body was found among the dozens of bodies of his victims. In a package of 27 short videos, 29 photos, and 1,800 words of rambling writing he mailed to NBC News, Cho railed bitterly against the wealth and "debauchery" of his fellow students, and spoke of feeling humiliated and scorned. "You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today," Cho said. "But you decided to spill my blood. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people."

Cho's roommates and professors described him as a withdrawn loner who avoided eye contact, signed his name with a question mark, and harassed female students by taking cell phone photos of them in class. Last year, a creative-writing professor suggested that Cho seek counseling, after he submitted several rage- and violence-filled plays in which the male protagonist is sexually abused. Cho was briefly committed to a mental health facility after two female students accused him of stalking them. But a judge ordered him released when a counselor said that while Cho seemed mentally ill, "he does not represent an imminent danger to himself or others."

What the editorials said
On another April morning, eight years ago, two other troubled youngsters set off on a similar mission in Colorado, said The New York Times. The facts are still coming in about the massacre in Virginia, but it's a safe bet that as with Columbine--as with so many of these tragedies--"it will turn out to be another instance in which an unstable or criminally minded individual had no trouble arming himself." In April 1999, as in April 2007, the nation's first reaction is sympathy for the victims and their families. Now, as then, sympathy isn't enough. We need "stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable loss."

Traumas like this automatically provoke calls for more gun control, said The Wall Street Journal. The fact is, as it has always been, that "there are evil and psychotic people in this world willing to do great harm to others," whether or not they have a gun. For our part, we'd like to see the restoration of those unfashionable societal taboos that helped to keep anti-social behavior in check. But we also recognize that even those "benevolent influences" can't stop a "malevolent soul" like Cho Seung-Hui.

What the columnists said
Mass murder wasn't invented by the Columbine killers, said James Alan Fox in the Los Angeles Times, or by sniper Charles Whitman when he killed 16 from the clock tower of the University of Texas in 1966. But it's significant that seven of the eight most deadly shooting sprees in U.S. history occurred in the last 25 years. Part of the story is that killers now have access to semiautomatic guns with clips containing many bullets, enabling psychopaths to kill more people in less time. But another major cause is that our society has embraced a "dog-eat-dog" ethos in which "losers" are scorned, and community and family bonds are less important.

In such a society, said Bob Herbert in The New York Times, periodic killing sprees are almost inevitable. There's "a remarkable consistency" in the profile of these killers: They're almost always isolated young men filled with rage at women and fear of homosexuality. They decide that the only way "to assert their faltering sense of manhood" is to get a gun "and go out and shoot somebody." In a culture that equates manhood with violence, is it any wonder that 30,000 people in this country are killed by guns every year?

Don't blame the guns, said Mona Charen in National Review Online. Blame popular culture, which has lifted all inhibitions on immoral and selfish behavior, and which "marinates" young people in fetishized images of gun violence through video games, TV, and movies such as Kill Bill and The Matrix. "For all of us, but especially for the borderline types, this is pure poison to the soul."

To prevent further mass killings, we need more guns, not fewer, said Glenn Reynolds in the New York Daily News. Gun laws only take weapons out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, giving killers like Cho "a free hand" to shoot the unarmed. In recent years, two school shootings were cut short when armed citizens confronted the killers. The body count at Virginia Tech would have been far lower had the university not barred students from carrying guns on campus, based on the foolish notion that armed students "are a greater danger to those around them than crazed killers."

What next?
Though newspaper editorials and some liberal Democrats reacted to the shootings by renewing calls for stronger gun-control measures, there's little chance the Virginia Tech massacre will result in new gun laws. The Democratic Party decided after the 2000 presidential election that it could not win national elections if it was seen as the party of gun control, and party leaders have consciously decided to downplay the issue. Before last November's elections, John Conyers, Democratic head of the House Judiciary Committee, pledged not to "support or forward to the House any legislation to ban handguns."

Violence and political turmoil shake Iraq
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Another attack in Baghdad
(source: AP)
What happened

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew his ministers from the Iraqi Cabinet this week in a move that could further weaken the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Sadr said it was time to end the U.S. "occupation," and pulled his six ministers to protest al-Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Rival politicians said al-Sadr was also frustrated by his lack of power within the government. "Iraq is like an old, sick man, and we need treatment," said legislator Bahaa al-Aaraji, one of 30 al-Sadr loyalists in Parliament.

Baghdad was staggered by a new wave of bombings, including the worst attack to date inside the heavily fortified Green Zone. A suicide bomber detonated a massive blast inside the Iraqi parliament building, killing two legislators and six other people. The same day, a truck bomb destroyed the Sarafiya Bridge, a Baghdad landmark, toppling cars into the Tigris River and killing at least eight. A few days later, insurgents set off several massive blasts in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing nearly 200 people and wounding 250. "The street was transformed into a swimming pool of blood," said a shopkeeper who witnessed one of the blasts.

What the editorials said
The resignation of al-Sadr's ministers is the last thing Iraq needs, said the San Francisco Chronicle. Al-Sadr is an agent of violence and anarchy, but "it's much better to keep his associates within the tent--duly restrained and accountable." The irony here is that Baghdad's government is being divided by a familiar issue: a timeline for American withdrawal. Al-Sadr's loyalists are demanding that al-Maliki set a date for Americans to go home, arguing that no Iraqi government will have true authority as long as 160,000 U.S. troops are really running the country.

The Iraqi government can get along without al-Sadr, said The Washington Times, but it will be irreparably damaged if congressional Democrats succeed in setting a timeline for troop withdrawal. In order to make progress, what the Iraqi government needs most is security. The U.S. surge is already starting to provide that, and it needs a full chance to succeed. But the war-funding bills passed by Congress send a message to the terrorists: "Hold out for another 16 months or so, and Iraq will be yours." Bush must veto this obscenity.

What the columnists said
Setting a deadline, actually, is the smartest thing the U.S. can do, said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. Ordinary Iraqis hate the occupation because they strongly suspect the U.S. has "nefarious designs on Iraq" and its oil, and plans to stay. They tacitly support violence because they think nothing else will persuade us to go. "If it looked like Congress (or a new president) might actually bring the troops home, the tone might change, and we might start hearing pleas for us to stay a little longer."

A timetable is a good idea, said Steven Simon in The Boston Globe, but Democrats are pushing a dangerous and unrealistic version. Rushing out in a year would give the U.S. no time to take such important steps as preparing for refugees and assembling a coalition of nations to oversee Iraq after our departure. It wouldn't even be enough time to move all our equipment out. An exit date of late 2008 or early 2009 would give us more maneuverability.

If there were any remaining doubt that our efforts in Iraq are doomed, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com, President Bush ended them this week. He was reported to be secretly trying to find a "war czar" to oversee day-to-day management of the war, because it's currently such a chaotic mess. One of the three generals who have turned down the job so far, John Sheehan, summed up the problem thusly: "The very fundamental issue is they don't know where the hell they're going." Hey, Mr. Bush: Our government already has an official who is supposed to manage the war. "He's called the president of the United States."

What next?
The Pentagon announced last week that soldiers currently doing 12-month tours of duty in Iraq would be told they're staying for 15 months instead. "Our forces are stretched, there's no question about that," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Many soldiers were surprised by the news, which they learned from family members or news reports. "It's so unbelievable, it's humorous," said one soldier. "I'm fixing to lose my girlfriend," said another.

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He gave his life for his students

On the morning of April 16, professor Liviu Librescu was lecturing on solid mechanics inside Room 204 of Norris Hall on the Blacksburg campus of Virginia Tech. At 9:40 a.m., gunfire and screams erupted from the elementary German class across the hall. The diminutive, 76-year-old Librescu slammed shut his classroom door, which had no lock, and used his body to barricade it against the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, as he tried to force his way inside. Librescu's action allowed several students to escape through the second-floor windows before Cho broke through and shot him to death. "He saved my life," said class member Alec Calhoun. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him."

Librescu's "violent death came with a special irony," said the Los Angeles Times. Born in Romania, he had lived through the Nazi Holocaust as a teenager, surviving both a labor camp in Transnistria and a Jewish ghetto in Focsani. After the war, he earned degrees in aeronautical engineering and a doctorate in fluid mechanics. As an adult, Librescu endured a new oppression when his country came under the iron rule of the Soviet Union. "He was harassed for refusing to embrace the communist government and for secretly circulating his scientific papers in the West." When he asked to emigrate to Israel, he was fired from his job at Romania's aerospace agency. "Only after a personal appeal by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977 was he allowed to leave."

Librescu taught engineering in Israel for almost a decade, then went to Virginia Tech on a sabbatical, said the Chicago Tribune. The sojourn turned into a 20-year stay. Librescu achieved an international reputation in aerospace engineering, compiling a curriculum vitae of 61 pages and serving as a mentor and advisor to many students. "Often he would work well into the night at his Norris Hall office or his second-floor home office, the one with the giant window." A specialist in composite structures, Librescu received many awards, including an honorary degree from his university and a citation from NASA; in June, he was due to deliver the keynote address at a scientific conference in Taipei. Though diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago, he kept active, "climbing mountains and swimming in oceans."

"He certainly showed his true character trying to protect the kids," his colleague Joseph Schetz told The New York Sun. "I'm not surprised by what he did." Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said, "Destiny came knocking on his door. Any survivor of the Holocaust knows how helpless he felt. This man decided he would not let this act of evil occur. He was not going to be a bystander."

Librescu "was killed one day after Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed in the United States and on the day it was observed in Israel," said The Washington Post. Survived by his wife, Marlena, and two sons, Arieh and Joseph, he will be buried outside Tel Aviv.

From the editors

It was morning when a troubled young man walked onto the campus of a peaceful university, carrying a gun instead of textbooks. At first, no one knew what was happening. But as he loaded and reloaded, and the victims fell, word of the horror spread quickly. He shot them according to his own whim, students and teachers alike. Within a few hours it was over and the killer himself was dead, leaving behind a jumble of disturbing writings and a slaughter whose memory will permanently haunt the campus.

Forty-one years ago, Charles Whitman perpetrated what was then the nation's worst mass shooting, at the University of Texas at Austin. Since then, there have been more than 30 major school shootings, including this week's massacre at Virginia Tech. In every case, the killer was a young man or boy with a grudge against the world, and in many ways, the stories are all the same, though the details differ. In coming days, talking heads and armchair shrinks will sift through the troubled life of Cho Seung-Hui, looking for clues as to why he snapped, and proof that someone should have known it would all end in mass murder. The depths of the human psyche, though, defy such glib analysis. Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist who has written more than two dozen books on murder and mass killings, admits he and his colleagues really can't say why most angry loners fail to act on their violent fantasies, while every few years, a Whitman or a Cho arms himself and fills classrooms and hallways with bodies. "We're still in the dark about where this comes from," Levin says. We probably always will be.

Thomas Vinciguerra, deputy editor

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