The New York Time's paywall has hidden an amazing column by Bob Herbert about what may have motivated Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui.
Because only those of us crazy enough to cough up almost $50 annually can get to this, I'm quoting at length. This puts a lot in perspective.
But a close look at the patterns of murderous violence in the U.S. reveals some remarkable consistencies, wherever the individual atrocities may have occurred. In case after case, decade after decade, the killers have been shown to be young men riddled with shame and humiliation, often bitterly misogynistic and homophobic, who have decided that the way to assert their faltering sense of manhood and get the respect they have been denied is to go out and shoot somebody.
Dr. James Gilligan, who has spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts, and as a professor at Harvard and now at N.Y.U., believes that some debilitating combination of misogyny and homophobia is a “central component” in much, if not most, of the worst forms of violence in this country.
“What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”
Violence is commonly resorted to as the antidote to the disturbing emotions raised by the widespread hostility toward women in our society and the pathological fear of so many men that they aren’t quite tough enough, masculine enough — in short, that they might have homosexual tendencies.
In a culture that is relentless in equating violence with masculinity, “it is tremendously tempting,” said Dr. Gilligan, “to use violence as a means of trying to shore up one’s sense of masculine self-esteem.”
The Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung-Hui, was reported to have stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate told CNN that Mr. Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.
(The 1966 University of Texas sniper) Charles Whitman was often portrayed as the sunny all-American boy. But he had been court-martialed in the Marines, was struggling as a college student and apparently had been suffering from depression. He told a psychiatrist that he absolutely hated his father, but he started his murderous spree by killing his wife and his mother.
The confluence of feelings of inadequacy, psychosexual turmoil and the easy availability of guns has resulted in a staggering volume of murders in this country.