Cho’s Dark Manifesto Points to Lessons Not Learned

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So maybe you’re feeling news-blitzed about the Va. Tech rampage. I was feeling that way until about 10 minutes ago, when I stepped out to get some coffee. On the way, I saw the huge headline on the local paper: “Nation Asks Why.” When I returned, there was breaking news that Cho had sent a “multimedia manifesto” to NBC news and that it was “disturbing” and “incoherent”: more evidence that Cho was mentally ill.

Really it’s a simple math equation. Mental illness exists. Specifically, schizophrenia (which despite April’s earlier post is almost certainly what Cho suffered from) occurs in about 1 percent of the population. Untreated schizophrenia almost always leads to violent behavior, and mental health care in this country is abysmal and difficult to come by—and yet Bush is still cutting funding for it. You know what’s easy to come by? Guns. If you don’t have a record, just pop in to a gun store and pick one—or two, or three—up. There’s no legal limit on how many rounds each of them can fire. If you do have a record, just go to a gun show and voilà. As long as guns are easier to get than mental health care, we will continue to have tragedies like this.

The other thing that the mystified question “Why?” overlooks is that mental illness can look kind of banal from the outside. Cho was aloof, quiet. The warning signs were not especially dramatic. He inappropriately contacted two female students. He wrote violent things in creative writing class. But it wasn’t until his private thoughts were submitted to NBC and made horrifyingly real to the students of Virginia Tech that we could see how devastating mental illness is. Maybe the university could have done more, but they did force him into a mental health facility at one point and he still slipped through the cracks. You can’t detain every deranged person. But you can keep them from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. And the Rambo-like photos of himself Cho sent NBC also make it pretty clear that glorifying violence doesn’t help either. Americans talked a lot about that after Colombine and then did exactly nothing.

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