Have We Created A Nation Of Wimps ?

Stephen and Mike have both written excellent posts this week which basically ask why someone at Virginia Tech didn’t try to stop Cho Seung Hui during his killing rampage. Mark Steyn has an interesting piece at National Review Online where he basically argues that part of the problem is that we’ve created a nation of wimps:

I haven’t weighed in yet on Virginia Tech — mainly because, in a saner world, it would not be the kind of incident one needed to have a partisan opinion on. But I was giving a couple of speeches in Minnesota yesterday and I was asked about it and found myself more and more disturbed by the tone of the coverage. I’m not sure I’m ready to go the full Derb but I think he’s closer to the reality of the situation than most. On Monday night, Geraldo was all over Fox News saying we have to accept that, in this horrible world we live in, our “children” need to be “protected.”

They’re not “children.” The students at Virginia Tech were grown women and — if you’ll forgive the expression — men. They would be regarded as adults by any other society in the history of our planet. Granted, we live in a selectively infantilized culture where twentysomethings are “children” if they’re serving in the Third Infantry Division in Ramadi but grown-ups making rational choices if they drop to the broadloom in President Clinton’s Oval Office. Nonetheless, it’s deeply damaging to portray fit fully formed adults as children who need to be protected. We should be raising them to understand that there will be moments in life when you need to protect yourself — and, in a “horrible” world, there may come moments when you have to choose between protecting yourself or others. It is a poor reflection on us that, in those first critical seconds where one has to make a decision, only an elderly Holocaust survivor, Professor Librescu, understood instinctively the obligation to act.


We do our children a disservice to raise them to entrust all to officialdom’s security blanket. Geraldo-like “protection” is a delusion: when something goes awry — whether on a September morning flight out of Logan or on a peaceful college campus — the state won’t be there to protect you.

Steyn does have a point here. Up until Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field, the government told citizens to remain passive during a hijacking and not to try to be a hero. The terrorists used that ingrained passivity to  great effect on 9/11, allowing them to cause more death and destruction than all the airline hijackes in history put together.

In the case of Virginia Tech, the students had an overwhelming strength of numbers against one madman with a gun. Surely, you might think, enough people acting together could’ve done something. And yet, apparently, nobody even tried.

Now let me say I find it difficult to write this now, only four days after the massacre. First of all, we really don’t know enough about what happened in Norris Hall to know if there was even time for Cho to be stopped. Second, there is a part of me that feels like even questioning the fact that nobody acted is treading far closer to blaming the victim than I am comfortable being. Third, even if they didn’t try to stop their killer, none of those people deserved to die.

And, yet, it’s clear that nobody even tried anything and I think that maybe Steyn does have a point and that we need to think carefully about whether our continued belief in a state that will protect you from cradle to grave is really preparing students and young adults for the harsh reality of the world.

  • http://noangst.blogspot.com mike

    I wouldn’t feel guilty about “blaming the students.” As far as I’m concerned, all of us are to blame for the fact that these students largely weren’t prepared to fight back and defend themselves. Society as a whole failed them.

  • http://restoringtheyears.blogspot.com grafted branch

    The big difference between VT and flight 93, don’t you think, was time to think? Time to plan. Time to talk to spouses and parents. Time to realize what in the world was going on!

    Those people at Virginia Tech couldn’t know how many or few gunmen there were. They couldn’t have known if it was a targeted killing or an ambush. They just didn’t know what, where, why or who was in danger.

    Should the deaths of the hero-professors (and there was more than one) have been in vain by the impulsive, blind movement of the very students they were trying to save?

    Combat readiness through military training would surely benefit our civilian ranks, but who is willing to mandate that of our young men?

  • http://rustylopez.typepad.com/newcovenant/ Rusty

    “They just didn’t know what, where, why or who was in danger.”

    Yes, it is very difficult to try and second guess the thoughts going through the students when Cho was shooting everyone in a classroom multiple times each. Yet it shouldn’t take very long for the brain to process the information that everyone in the classroom was being shot multiple times each.

  • http://restoringtheyears.blogspot.com grafted branch

    Rusty…true enough. My comment was posted before those details were released. I will always err on the side of grace, choosing to believe the best about people until I know otherwise.

    I, too, am disturbed by the stories of “playing possum” that are coming out, but still — without some organization amongst their numbers (which perhaps they had not time for) I don’t know what would have been reasonable to expect from them.

    One individual at a time, coming at Cho head on would have simply been “picked off” before he could have fully come to his feet.

    Suffice it to say it was an unimaginable terror.

  • tarran

    Could it be that people were tangled together?

    I remember one class I took in college, where the seats were so closely packed that even getting out of the desks in the front row required the cooperation of ones neighbors.

    In press of panicking and falling bodies, it may be that those who wished to rush the gunman might have been hopelessly mired in place.

  • http://rustylopez.typepad.com/newcovenant/ Rusty

    Again, I am not trying to second guess the students. Remember that, after killing the two students in the dorm, Cho shot another 45 people (killing 30). I believe he fired approximately 180 rounds. There are so many variables – distance he was from every student, degree of separation every student was relative to Cho, his aiming accuracy, etc. If, as the doctors have stated, he shot everyone at least 3 times each, then did he shoot each person multiple times in succession, or did his shooting pattern return back to prior victims? How many students were shot in the back (possibly indicating they were retreating)? I don’t suppose we’ll ever get a clear picture of how it transpired.

  • http://gottsegnet.blogspot.com Dana

    I think most of the students did what most of us would have done with no training or prior thought on what to do: froze like a deer in the headlights. I can’t fault them for that, or for running.

    I think, however, had one student made some effort to stop what was happening, or even started giving instructions, others would have followed.