Korean Reaction to the tragedy at Virginia Tech

By David English of Milwaukie, Oregon. David currently lives in Korea where he teaches English. In 2005, he contributed "Remembering Hiroshima" and "National ID".

The last couple of days have been weird to say the least. Since the authorities in Virginia have released the name of the person who shot thirty people at Virginia Tech, the reaction has been one of heartache, embarrassment and sorrow.

As someone who has lived here in South Korea and taught English as a Second Language for over three years, I wondered what the reaction would be from Koreans after I heard the news. It is sometimes difficult to gauge how they deal with things as they are much more emotional, but at the same time they keep things locked inside.

When I heard the news, I was in the bedroom scanning the internet as I usually do on any given night. My wife, who is Korean, was watching the news in the other room and came running into the bedroom to tell me that the gunman was a Korean immigrant. I can tell you her first reaction was that she was sorry it was a Korean who did this. I told her I don't blame Korea, I blame the person who did it.

The sadness of this tragedy overshadowed another piece of news which was that the City of Incheon won the right to host the 2014 Asian Games. When I heard this, I knew there would be no celebration in light of the shootings and the fact that they had such a close tie to Korea.

This morning I arrived at work and the first thing I happened to ask the English Coordinator at my school was about the Asian Games. But right off the bat, she asked if I'd heard about the identity of the shooter at Virginia Tech. I told her yes I had. She also expressed her regret and sorrow over the shootings that took place.

On the website for native-speaking teachers in Korea, many lashed out at Koreans because of the shooter's nationality. I for one was shocked by this. Certainly in a time of tragedy like this, it is no time to take advantage of an incident to browbeat someone of another nationality.

What we should be taking from this tragedy is that both Korea and the United States need to take seriously the treatment of mental illness.

Today is a sad day for both the United States and the Republic of Korea.

  • Harold A. Maio (unverified)

    What we should be taking from this tragedy is that both Korea and the United States need to take seriously the treatment of mental illness.



  • Randy2 (unverified)

    Whilst at a local watering hole yesterday (which was blaring Fox News, as they always do), I asked one simple question of those staring and muttering.

    If we'd spent 1/10 the amount we've spent on Iraq on mental health services, do ya think maybe this kid could have been helped before he imploded?

    Huh? Do ya?

    All the administration's bleating about Homeland Security misses the fact that until we can take care of our domestic needs better than we currently do, random violence will remain a fact of life.

  • (Show?)

    Harold, you're yelling. Do you need mental health treatment? Who gets to decide?

    We have laws protecting an individual's autonomy and privacy. Where do you get the info that Seung Cho was denied treatment? I haven't seen any report to that effect in the media. Unless a person can be demonstrated to be an imminent danger to himself or others mental health professionals can only do as much as the person allows. In the case of an adult student they can't even contact his parents and tell them there's a problem, heck, even if his parents call they can't tell them anything at all without explicit permission.

    One of the many tragedies of serious mental illness is that it often alienates people from their personal human support system at a time when it may be the only thing with any real chance of standing between them and utter disaster.

  • (Show?)


    Good point, my mom just emailed me saying close to the same thing. She works in a hospital business office and has to deal with privacy laws regarding patient confidentialty all the time.

    From what I know it's hard to prove that someone is a danger to themselves or others unless there is concrete signs that something is happening. The stories Cho wrote (which I haven't read and probably won't) sounded pretty eery to me from what I heard on the news. The problem is people are left with a lot of "what if's" and Monday morning quarterbacking in terms of saying what could have or should have happened.

    By the way I agree with you Randy2. In the last six or seven years we have totally lost focus on dealing with problems here at home as the sole focus has been the war in Iraq and terrorism. Over the next two years your going to see Bush cut more funding for mental health and social services to pay for the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the rich.

    It's about time we get our shit together and start demanding these problems are taken care of.

  • Ted Foster (unverified)

    The Korean people aren't to blame - the gunman is.
    I don't feel any resentment whatsoever towards Korean people. The best thing to do is try and figure out what can be done if the future to prevent this - not hold Koreans responsible.

    This event does prove that a 'gun free' zone is of little value!

    I certainly hope things will change for the better. These events seem to be sensationalized in the media for profits, ratings - and I believe this is fueling the fire.

  • Stumptown Girl (unverified)

    At the end of the day this is such a complicated event that we can't just say it was about guns or the failure of mental health professionals. It's a paradox of sorts, illustrated by the crudeness of the media parade alongside the social need to be riveted by this horrible event. And while there is a lot to think about we can't forget that this is about one individual within society.

    As for Cho being South Korean - it seems marginally relevant since he'd been in the States since he was 8. He's bicultural and more American than anything else.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Having had a Korean roommate in college and attended several Korean Club events with her, I am appalled that anyone would make a blanket criticism of the Korean people after what happened. I found every one of them that I ever met to be warm, generous, and pleasant.

    I think one very big question that we ought to be asking and addressing immediately is how someone with a known mental health problem was able to buy guns. Yes, our mental health system has some serious problems, but addressing them is very complex and expensive and will take a long time. But fixing that hole in our background check system should be relatively simple, so long as nobody tries to tack other issues onto it.

  • Jon (unverified)

    I think one very big question that we ought to be asking and addressing immediately is how someone with a known mental health problem was able to buy guns.

    And yet another big question should be how someone who is not a US citizen was allowed to buy a gun?

    And please, dont do the "anti-immigrant" thing on me. Im not. I just think that allowing people who come here from other countries to purchase a weapon is insane. Do they do a backround check into their life in their home country? Or just from the date their VISA was approved?

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    David [English] currently lives in Korea where he teaches English. In 2005, he contributed "Remembering Hiroshima"

    But not "Remembering the Rape of Nanking".

    Bob Tiernan

  • (Show?)


    Possibly you should read the column to actually see what it's about before you opening your mouth. Maybe that's why your creditablity is in the toilet these days.

guest column

connect with blueoregon