Monday, April 23, 2007

The Cruelest Month

It was not surprising that the Virginia Tech massacre occurred in April. The poet T.S. Elliot knew about April back in 1922, when he wrote, “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

It was on April 19, 1993, when FBI agents raided the headquarters of the cultist David Koresh in Waco, Texas, causing a fire which killed 72 people. Two years later, on the anniversary of the Waco Siege, a right-wing paramilitary zealot named Timothy McVeigh, bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring 800. Four years later, on April 20, two Littleton, Colorado teenage students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, entered their Columbine High School and killed 12 students and a teacher.

Not surprisingly, on April 16 this year a mentally deranged Cho Seung-Hui, invoking the memories of Harris and Klebold, massacred 32 students and instructors at Virginia Tech.

April is cruel not only to the US but to other countries. On April 9, 1942, approximately 78,000 defenders of Bataan (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans) surrendered to the invading Japanese Army after valiantly defending their posts for three months. The Japanese then forced the survivors to march about 100 miles to Capas in the war crime known as the Bataan Death March. Only 54,000 soldiers reached Capas alive.

On April 9, 1948, Jewish armed factions including the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, attacked the Arab town of Deir Yassine in what was then Palestine, killing about 250 Palestinian men, women and children. Stories of how they were killed caused many Palestinians to leave their homes in a mass exodus, fearing that they would suffer the same fate, allowing the Jews to take over their lands and proclaim the state of Israel. Many believe the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has roots in Deir Yassine.

Before the Nazi genocide of six million Jews in WW II, there was the Turkish genocide of one million Armenians from 1914-1917. This first genocide of the 20th century began on April 24, 1914, when 250 Armenian leaders were arrested and subsequently executed by the Young Turks led by Mehmet Talat Pasha. What followed was the forced removal and deportation of all Turks of Armenian descent from Turkey. They were systematically slaughtered while they were being transported out of Turkey.

The last genocide of the 20th century also occurred in April, on April 24, 1994, when Rwandan Hutus began the systematic widespread killing of about 800,000 of their Rwandan Tutsi neighbors.

Why is April so cruel? Perhaps because “lilacs out of the dead land” carry the teasing promise of spring and rebirth, “stirring dull roots with spring rain,” but always fail to deliver on the promise.

Many of us will not soon forget where we were on April 16, 2007 when the early press reports identified the Virginia Tech killer as an “Asian man”. Let's be honest now. How many of us prayed that the "Asian man" would not turn out to be a Filipino? And how many of us then heaved a sigh of relief when it was announced that the lunatic killer was a Korean immigrant?

The fear that the American public would wreak its collective vengeance on all Koreans caused South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to immediately condemn the killings and offer condolences and support to the families of the victims. Candlelight vigils were held all over South Korea to express the sympathies of the entire Korean people.

Even though the 23-year old Cho Seung-Hui immigrated to the US when he was 8 years old and grew up totally immersed in American culture, the repeated press reference to him as a “resident alien” caused many to fear another upsurge in anti-Asian, anti-immigrant sentiment among the American people.

Many still recall that after the Oklahoma bombing in 1995, press reports that Arab terrorists had blown up the building caused a wave of anti-Arab hysteria in the US led to the killing of two Arab-looking men by Americans who wanted to avenge the killing of 800 people in Oklahoma.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the most popular button among Chinese and Filipinos was one that declared that they were not “Japs,” just in case people lumped them in the same category as their fellow Asians. In fact, the US government lumped all Japanese in the US in the same category as Japanese in Japan, incarcerating 110,000 of them in concentration camps throughout the US for the duration of the war.

Cho’s murderous rampage had nothing to do with being Korean or Asian but everything to do with being psychologically disturbed and having guns and ammunition readily available to even deranged individuals. The families of the victims can thank the National Rifle Association (NRA) for guaranteeing Cho Seung-Hui that constitutional right.

Our heartfelt condolences and prayers for the families of the victims.

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