Friday, April 20, 2007

Cho Hseung-hui's Blaze of "Gory"

I was haunted seeing Cho Hseung-hui’s fuming face on the news all day while he read his twisted manifesto into his own video camera, probably during a break in his record breaking killing spree. For a moment it was as if I was looking into my own tortured face more than 35 years ago. Of course I wasn’t the murderous freak that this character was, but I had my own teenage bout with anti-social self-hatred.

I remember many times looking in the bathroom mirror and being so filled with disgust that I felt like hurting myself; and actually, once, during a particularly low time, I exploded in rage and punched myself repeatedly full on the face. Inexplicably, not only did I hate myself but I hated practically everyone else in the world too. I saw the same self-loathing and spitting hatred for the entire world today on the TV in this Korean fella’s face.

It wasn’t just the tortured look on his face; Cho’s tirade against his fellow students also struck a chord. He ranted against their hedonism and wealthy trappings. Eerily, I distinctly recall feeling the same way watching other kids “strutting around” school showing off fancy clothes and cars while dabbling with new romance. I wanted nothing to do with any of that “normal” teenage stuff. To this day I’m not totally sure why I felt that way, but I think part of it was a visceral reaction against materialism and hypocrisy. I can remember feeling pretty strongly about some of that stuff, but perhaps it was more to do with some quirk in my developing personality that took some time to work through.

Even so, I managed to do well in school and even interacted with classmates and teachers; but I shunned parties and never attended a single school dance, not even the prom. I thought, ‘why should I, no one likes me anyway.’ Sound familiar? Cho's vitriol was also similarly laced with whining and self-pity.

I don’t think I was ever in danger of killing anyone or even ending my own life, but for several years I was a very miserable fellow indeed. As best I could, I tried to keep my torment hidden. Only my mother sensed that there might be a problem behind the sullen silence. I can laugh about it now, but several times back then she tried to tell me about “girls” and that they could be “fun.” Man! What awkward moments those were, but God bless her for trying. I think my mom was THE one person I NEVER hated.

Two things saved me and slowly brought me back into the world of “the normal.” The first was knowing that there were people who cared about me (especially my mom), and the second was endorphins.

One evening, I found a torn and faded Playboy Magazine along the railroad tracks while walking home after delivering newspapers in town. After checking out the naked ladies for awhile I read an interview piece with a marathon runner. Back then running wasn’t popular yet, and reading about what this guy put himself through for no real good reason to train for a torturous race that hardly anyone cared about intrigued me. It was then that I decided to try my hand at distance running.

I got up early one morning and gave it a try. Jogging shoes back then were heavy and ill-fitting and within a mile I had two very chafed and bleeding feet, nonetheless I was hooked. I discovered that I could “punish myself” physically and feel “noble” all at the same time. That magazine may well have saved my life, because I ran pretty much everyday from that time on for the next 30 years. In effect, I became addicted to endorphins, our bodies’ natural psychotropics released into the brain during heavy exercise; and whenever I started to get “the bad feeling” I would go out and run away from my demons. It always worked.

“Lost boys,” that’s the only way to describe us, especially Cho, this extra-special Lost Boy. And as I think about it, I’m convinced that in the Middle East it's the “lost boy types" that are especially sought after by Islamists to be strapped with explosives and sent forth to wreak havoc. It would be SO easy to talk a lost boy into ending it all, TOO easy!

To angry young men like I once was, the world seems VERY dark and hopeless; and truthfully, most of it has to do with sex, or the lack of it. Yes, sex! If I would have found a girl, or if one would have taken an interest in me, perhaps I would have felt valued, and probably, I would have been less angry at the world and at myself.

From what I’ve read of the dysfunctional culture that these young Muslim men are recruited from, they too have problems with relationships with women, or more correctly, the lack of any such relationships. Whereas the angst that I and Cho experienced was pretty much self-induced, these suicide/homicide bombers come from a society that forbids boy/girl relationships. I can speak from experience that it’s unnatural; it twists the mind, soul and guts, and ultimately causes hatred to bubble and seethe in the soul. I don’t know; sounds like an Islamist Cho to me.

I’m sure that Cho Hseung-hui’s problems were a heck of a lot more complicated and deep-seated than mine were. From what I’ve read on the Net his grandmother says that even as a boy he was withdrawn and unresponsive. From that, I’m not so sure that this guy was salvageable. From the day he was born it seems that someday something bad was bound to happen.

Still, I wonder how close I might have been to reaching the kind of psychopathic anger that causes young men to go into a killing rage. I think it must be like a slippery slope that once started down there’s no climbing back up from. In my case, I WANTED to end the inner anguish and I actively looked for ways to cope with it.

Cho seemed intent on just the opposite. He WANTED to end his pain all right, but only though dramatic self-immolation, and only AFTER first taking a whole bunch of other people with him. He was actually quite savvy in knowing that if he had died quietly by himself that no one would have taken any notice. I only hope that others don’t catch on and seek their own end in the same kind of “blaze of gory.” With 24-hour news the way it is, I’m afraid that’s exactly what WILL happen.

And finally, I hope that we learn something from this. Cho had been flagged as dangerously mentally ill and yet there was nothing in “the system” to prevent him from buying deadly semi-automatic weapons because of confidentiality laws—even though to all intents and purposes, he was a little WMD just waiting to go off.


Amadeo said...


I agree that that "high" (you say, endorphins) is very cathartic, especially when one is in the doldrums.

That's why jogging will be part of my routine for as long as I can put one foot in front of the other.

I, too, considered myself quite introverted as a kid and shied away from most social activities normal kids found exciting and worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

The inflammatory comments the media
feeds the public is to me outrageous. Now they dissect Cho's personality as quite, unfriendly, all the adjectives of a loner! Then comes this "he was timebomb ticking". What a sad commentary!
My point is this: Are we going to weed out everybody, I mean everybody, from high school to the universities, whose personalities are compared to Cho. You know when this happens, the ACLU is just right behind. To me personally, there are just deranged people out. Nice site by the way. Goodhealth to all....


PhilippinesPhil said...

I understand what you mean, BUT folks NEED to know what kind of guy this mass murderer was for their own peace of mind. Its frightening to think that it might happen again, so I don't blame the dissecters.

Keeping it real...this killing spree was more anomaly than typical.

Cho was a loner all right, times a zillion million billion. He was a tortured soul that needed to be institutionalized for the safety of society in general. His family KNEW he was in trouble but couldn't afford help for him. There's a lot of "what ifs" involved here. I just hope the "copy cats" don't start coming out of from under their rocks.

Girlie said...

There's a lot of tortured out there, only few pull the stunt he did. I think it's today's society of self-gratification, self-intitlement, and self-whatever. A lot of selfishness goes into that also. For whatever reason, a lot of family lost someone.

I just hope there's not very many copycat. Remember after Columbine?

I am with you on running. I run to feel good...and getting good body after a while, that's just side benefits.

Anonymous said...

Wow...what a story! You should write a book. Your story reminds me how not enough is being done to PREVENT these kinds of incidents involving suicidal, self-destructive people. It also touches on the subject of treatment - in my opinon people prone to violence should NOT be given some anti-depressants but another treatment. A naturally occuring depression may be immobilizing, but it may be the best remedy for a person who is thinking violent thoughts. Radical Islam acts like an anti-depressant to these suicidal/homicidal Islamics. Instead of feeling deflated, and lethargic, they feel motivated and happy to go on a "Jihad".

Years earlier I had called the US embassy in Japan when I was beaten and my own life was threatened, and a year later when the nation was threatened by Bojinka plotters in 1995 I picked up the phone to call the US embassy to protest our response - the mistake of simply keeping tabs on "Bojinka" plotters as reported in the Japanese media - but I backed down at the last second. Even though I had a very bad feeling that if the Bojinka threat was normalized and not widely reported or understood it would eventually spell disaster - I felt intimdated to dare to tell authorities they were making a mistake. I was given a second chance to make up for this error.

In late 2000 after suffering a major depression as a result of an assault at work, I reported that easily the biggest regret in my life was not doing more to stop the Islamic Bojinka plot exposed by Phillipine police in 1995. In 2001 I thought one way to stop the plot was to go and DEMAND the plot be stopped. Very soon after telling the therapist this, I received an e-mail invitation to become part of an an anti-government terrorist group. I related the invitation to my comment to my therapist about forcing the issue and I promptly took the e-mail to my local police and told them I was in therapy to help stop terrorists plotting against us - and I had absolutely no desire to plot against the government,

A US government official who I presumed was Jewish and thus knowledgable about terrorism announced in late 1999 at a Telematics Conference that our convening had made it "the perfect oppurtunity for a terrorist attack". Frankly I couldn't imagine that the terrorists were seriously thinking that idea, but I could conceive that Bojinka plotters had targeted the Dulles-Los Angeles flight the US official had likely taken to attend the conference. I explained that the thought struck me that this was the MOST LIKELY reason why the official had terrorism on his mind that morning. It seened some of our leaders weren't addressing the most likely - Bojinka - risks head on and weren't leveling with the flying public about what the risks to them were.

I assumed that by going to therapy for a year prior to 9/11 with counselors with clear law enforcement ties - my voice was being heard. I assumed that by demanding that the plot be stopped and not simply monitored that I was not just helping myself - but helping my country. The therapist thought I should go on a hunger strike to draw more attention to the problem. but I felt the best way was through the counseling center's clear liaison with law enforcement. How the plot could ever have happened after what I explained to them, I cannot comprehend other than to realize that America was hit twice on 9/11. Once by the Islamic Bojinka terrorists themselves, and another time by neglect - by those who heard the distress signal to stop the plot and yet turned the other way thinking it was someone else's responsibility to stop the plot. The fact is, preventing terror attacks and keeping the Cho Hseung's of this world away from weapons - or cockpits - is everybody's responsibility.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Wow, that's a lot to chew on. All I can say is that if free nations want to continue to live in that freedom then we'll have to figure out how to do so with balance. We have to balance our freedom and privacy with our need to keep ourselves safe. To do that we are going to have to start taking more personal responsibility for what happens around us, kind of what like you were struggling with concerning the Bojinka plotters. Scary stuff that! A person can feel awfully small and inconsequential at times, yes?

Anonymous said...

You're exactly right, it has to do with taking MORE responsibility.

Unfortunately the deck has been stacked against us by overzealous lawyers who are protecting their clients from having ANY responsibility for anything they do. Backed by insurers, these lawyers are having a field day at the public expense. They have turned client defense into a new art form leveraging off the most outrageous violators to their own advantage - and prurient pleasure.

Mayor Willie Brown, writer Salman Rushdie, and Diane Feinstein received pre-9/11 warnings - but not Barbara Olson. Around the world, unusually large volumes of put options against United and American airlines were purchased....Larry Silverstein put together a deal to insure and lease the entire World Trade Center in the first ever such deal in the history of the complex and yet does nothing to insure that Bojinka plotters will not plow planes into his newly-leaseed buildings.

Before the smoke even cleared, Epstein, Becker and Green sent their best man - Philip Gerson - to go to bat for Larry Silverstein representing Willis Holdings to fight for the cause of two separate terror occurences, and therefore double the payout.

All in a day's work, I suppose.

I am confident Epstein Becker, Green would also argue that they fulfilled THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to the letter when they vigorously defended the Japanese supervisors who stalked and assaulted me at Awtec.

Prior to 9/11 Epstein, Becker, Green and the South Bay Counseling Center wanted my signature so they could formally receive my therapists notes from our sessions.

Reacting to my concerns, the therapist indicated she did not believe Epstein, Becker, and Green would be responsible if Bojinka plotters plowed planes into our buildings. I was holding out for assurance that the biggest revelation during the course of therapy would not get swept under the carpet by either the counseling center or the lawyers involved. I told her I would not sign unless I was promised that law enforcement would also receive a report detailing my concerns about the absence of a plan to stop the Islamic Bojinka plotters along with my strongest plea that the plot be stopped. I told her my aim wasn't to make Epstein Becker, Green responsible for an attack but my aim was to PREVENT an attack by exposing the failure to address it.

Although EB&G felt they were taking responsibility as far their narrow legal obligation to their clients were concerned, I believe they failed a larger obligation which we all share responsibility for - to protect not just PERSONAL PROPERTY such as the buildings of the World Trade Center - but to protect the American People against those plotters who wish to cause us harm.