“Nothing happened to me… I happened.”

“…I think you can provide some insight and advance this study.”
“And what possible reason could I have to do that?”
“About what?”
“About why you’re here. About what happened to you.”
“Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everyone in moral dignity pants—nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil? Am I evil, Officer Starling?”
The Silence of the Lambs

For whatever reason, this bit of wisdom from Dr. Lecter didn’t find its way from printed page to theatrical release. As far as I know, it didn’t even make the deleted scenes or the shooting script. If these lines were cut in order to improve the scene’s pace, I understand—but I suspect it was rather for reasons the doctor would have mocked as surely as he’d mocked those offered by Clarice.

Cho Seung-Hui may have been depressed. He may have been bipolar. He may have written crappy plays. He may have been drug-addled. A drunkard. Heartbroken. Troubled. Obsessed. Detached. Psychotic. Insane. Hypersane. Overmedicated. Undermedicated. Whatever. A co-worker this morning asked if they’d figured out why he did what he did—my response was that they had: “Turned out he was an evil a—hole.”

I will grant that my response was a bit flippant, as is most of what I say, write, think, do, ask, insinuate, suggest, and imply. Certainly, it is important to investigate the massacre at Virginia Tech through careful scientific methodology, for doing so could help limit or prevent such events in the future. But in searching for the reasons that a person might do what Cho did, we must take care not to view that person as a mere function of his environment or his physiology, his actions disconnected from his will. We run the risk of allowing “reasons” and “explanations” to turn into “excuses.” The more we allow people to explain their lives in terms of “what happens to them” rather than “what they did,” the more we can expect to see behavior ranging from the merely unhealthy to the truly malacious.

Cho himself claimed, in one of the few excerpts of his writings that have been released, that he was made to commit murder–“You caused me to do this,” et presumably cetera. But his hand was not forced. “What happened to Cho” was not sad, nor disturbing, nor horrifying. What Cho did—consciously, with premeditation, with enough lucidity to kill himself rather than suffer for his crime—was sad, and disturbing, and horrifying, and evil. Whatever bad place people might say he was in before, he’s in a far worse place now.

6 Responses to ““Nothing happened to me… I happened.””

  1. gatorbob Says:
    April 22nd, 2007 at 4:22 PMI wish I had the solace of religious conceptions such as heaven and hell this week. Instead, I have to rely on two more temporal thoughts:

    1) The unhinged have been with us since the dawn of time – Glock 9 millimeter semi-automatic weapons just give them the opportunity to do more damage.

    2) If two students from your school were killed one morning, don’t you think the administration would at least cancel classes?


  2. VDV Says:
    April 22nd, 2007 at 10:37 PMTo clarify– you rely on those thoughts for solace? Just kidding.

    (Calling all college buddies to correct my memory if necessary): When I was at Clemson, a girl was beaten to death near Lake Hartwell–the cops were pretty certain it was the boyfriend, though no arrest was ever made. Classes weren’t cancelled–but the killer’s M.O. did not suggest someone presenting an immediate, imminent danger to the student body.

    That said, it seems that VT should have gone into immediate lockdown, whereas cancelling classes would have put people out in the open as they walk home. I think VT was caught without a plan. Hopefully, schools, universities, etc., will take this as a signal to develop better emergency response plans, look harder at their regulations for committing students with mental problems, and hire more police/security.

  3. gatorbob Says:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 3:59 PMNo, what I meant was that there is little solace in this life. It would be nice to have some kind of overarching metaphysical philosophy that makes sense of the randomness of reality, but none have any appeal to me.

    That said, the reason that I had suggested that VT should’ve cancelled classes is that the first shootings happened just after 7 a.m., at least an hour before classes start here at UF. By not cancelling classes, the VT administrators allowed students to unwittingly walk to class and then then sit in classrooms for several hours while a maniac was on the loose. I agree with you – they were caught without a clear plan of action.

  4. VDV Says:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 9:15 PMI forgot that the first shootings happened that early; I had it backwards, thinking that kids were already in class and would have been returning to their dorms upon cancellation of classes…

    Do we know whether Cho left a gun in the dorm near the first two victims? If so, I can see the authorities (mistakenly) thinking it was a murder-suicide and assuming it was over. If not, then someone needs to be fired.

  5. Que si Says:
    April 25th, 2007 at 8:02 PMWell, I think my school could use a better plan in the case of a shooting. Take for example April 23, 2007: during lunch, someone robbed the sandwhich shop across the street from my shcool with a loaded gun. The administration immeadiatly called all the teachers and told them to lock their doors; however, they neglected to tell anyone at lunch about this incident. Let me remind you that we eat lunch OUTSIDE in full view of the store being robbed. The helicopter circling overhead was the first clue that something was amiss. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out what had happened from a teacher. We were given a strict warning not to go across the street anymore. They have made this plea to students before, but this time they were SERIOUS so that should be all it takes to keep students away from the alure of french fries in the morning. God bless the public school system.
  6. VDV Says:
    April 27th, 2007 at 4:42 PMQue Si–

    I took my time posting your comment because I wanted to make sure that what I am about to type is factually correct (forgive the redundancy):

    1. There was no armed robbery. The Sandwich Shop was not robbed–the convenience store was, and certainly not at gunpoint. The convenience store clerk trapped the robber, who, again, was unarmed. This is according to the owners of both of the stores.

    2. The administration did not order a “Code Red” that day. I will triple-check for accuracy’s sake, but having been on-campus that day, I would remember an administrative “Code Red,” which is different from a teacher going around in a panic, mistakenly telling other teachers that there is a “Code Red.”

    I will say that you’re right to be concerned about student safety, but the story needs to be derumorficated.