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Tragedy at Virginia Tech

I’d like to express my heartfelt condolences to everyone connected with Virginia Tech.

Tragedies like this inevitably cause inward reflection and a search to destroy “the cause” so that the tragedy will not repeat itself. There are, of course, many candidates for this “cause” – the relatively free availability of handguns, the decisions of law enforcement and university officials, the sparse delivery of social services to genuinely troubled individuals, even our commitment to free and open campuses. I would, however, like to say a few words about another potential “cause” – Mr. Cho’s Asian heritage and immigrant status – in hopes of raising awareness of what we as a society might or might not learn from our inward reflection.

Almost every news report I have read, seen, or heard has given considerable attention to the story of Mr. Cho’s immigration from Korea. This is perfectly understandable. We’re all curious about the person who did this, and it’s natural for “us” to find ways to distance ourselves from “him.” Nevertheless, I worry that our fascination with Mr. Cho’s race and immigrant status will distract us from more important “causes,” leading us to unproductive conclusions about the reasons for the tragedy. For example, we might conclude that more stringent background checks should be conducted before granting or renewing green cards on the theory that such a check might have identified Mr. Cho as a troubled and dangerous individual. Even worse, we might be tempted to think that immigrants, or particularly Asian immigrants, pose threats to the public because they are somehow “different” from “us.” Perhaps then they should lose the right to purchase firearms.

We must remember that Mr. Cho’s race or immigrant status do not differentiate him from his victims. His victims include people of diverse racial background, men and women, native-born and immigrant alike. If we are tempted to find the “cause” of the tragedy in Mr. Cho’s race or immigrant status, we should realize that those very characteristics describe Mr. Cho’s victims, and by extension “us.” I worry that our understandable zeal for destroying the “cause” of the tragedy will turn our fear or hate on “us,” destroying the very unity on which our collective security depends. Of course, I also hope that we will all discover and remember the many things we share – including pain and grief – with those who have suffered such terrible loss.