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Outside of religious context little forgiveness for shooter.

Byline: Kenneth J. Moynihan

COLUMN: KENNETH J. MOYNIHAN

Which was it? The worst massacre in the history of the United States? The largest shooting massacre in U.S. history? The most violent massacre ever on a college campus?

I don't know where one would look to find an authoritative list of the massacres that soil our history, ranked in order of awfulness. One thing I do know is that the killing that went on at Virginia Tech last week was far from being the most costly in our history. In fact the loss of lives was small compared to the hundreds of men, women and children who have been victims of race-related rampages. We can't just dismiss such events as the burning of the Pequots in Mystic, Conn. (1637), the Civil War draft riots that led to open season on African-Americans (1863), or the military massacre of the Dakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, S.D. (1890).

It would not be difficult to expand such a list with episodes that cost more lives than were lost at Blacksburg, but what would be the point? It may be impossible to overcome cultural blindness about the suffering imposed on Indians and African-Americans. Perhaps that's because we also prefer to shield from our contemporary view the lingering effects of colonization and slavery.

None of which is to deny the emotional impact on all of us of the killings at Virginia Tech. We grieve from a distance, but we still grieve, for the losses we can hardly estimate. Thirty-two is a large number when youA[sup.1]re counting up the dead on a college campus. Which brings me to my second question. Should it be 33?

Like everyone else, I had accepted the reality of one shooter and 32 victims. That can perhaps serve for most purposes, but not all. I got to thinking about this as a TV camera peeped into a small circle of Virginia Tech students who, I think, are members of a Bible-study group.

They were talking about what they perceived as their duty to forgive Seung-Hui Cho. They seemed to agree on the duty and were talking about the success, partial success, or failure of their efforts so far. The murderer may have been in their prayers.

If so, there would really be no need for surprise. Their faith taught them what they should do, and they were openly on the path of forgiveness.

I then came across an e-mail message sent out by a campus ministry office. It announced a prayer service in memory of those who lost their lives in the tragedy at Virginia Tech where 33 people, many of them students, were killed. That sounded as if the campus ministers were also making room for Mr. Cho and his family.

The message invited its readers to join in prayer for the victims and their families and for all who are the victims of senseless violence. We continue to hold all affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers. Sounds pretty inclusive to me.

I searched the Internet for a while without finding another 33. That probably means that outside and perhaps inside - the religious context there is not a whole lot of forgiveness flowing in Mr. Cho's direction so far.

Should there be?

This terrible crime may be presenting us with a good opportunity to discuss questions normally discussed in the context of a criminal case. We know who did what and how. We cannot have any impact on his life or his death. On the other hand he seems to have left behind a considerable batch of evidence that will point in different diagnostic directions.

There is evidence suggesting that Mr. Cho had a pretty miserable life, though nothing can excuse his crimes. Is there anything that can be fairly viewed as diminishing Mr. Cho's responsibility? What is the meaning of mental health and what was the state of Mr. Cho's mind at the time of the murders and in earlier years?

If his ghost is looking for forgiveness these days, Mr. Cho had better stick to the religiously motivated. Other people are going to study the evidence before they get anywhere close to forgiving.

Kenneth J. Moynihan's column appears regularly in the Telegram & Gazette.
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 25, 2007
Words:711
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