There are a thousand things to say about the tragedy that transpired in Blacksburg, Virginia, on 16 April 2007, and many people more eloquent and thoughtful than me are saying them. John Derbyshire, however, is not one of them.1
The scenario Derbyshire imagines comes directly out of his Hollywood-inflamed imagination, where timing, morality, and cinematic fortune come together like a well-oiled machine to produce heroes. He notes that
It’s not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.
At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him.
Setting aside Derbyshire’s portrayal of the South Korean Cho as the negative of Rambo—who cinematically undoes the United States’ protracted and traumatic failure in a different Asian theater—Derbyshire’s delusion seems the product of loss. That is, people like Derbyshire feel keenly the loss of so many scholars and students and this loss drives them to fantasize about how the tragedy might have been prevented even as it unfolded.2 The result is an incongruous aprés coup intervention, an urgent fantasy of rushing Cho through the intermittent spray of bullets either to die heroically or to stop the bloodshed.
Like many late-blooming bookworms, I’ve had my humiliating encounters with bullies and, like many Asian-American children of the late 70s, I studied martial arts because Bruce Lee is bad.
One day, Sifu sought to teach us a lesson about defending oneself in a situation where one is unarmed and the adversary possesses a weapon. Sifu held a wooden knife and I squared off to repel his attack. We ran the trial a dozen times. Even though Sifu was not using the knife as a range weapon, I was “stabbed” in my leg, neck, abdomen, face, and chest. What we learned that day is that, if unarmed, the best way to defend yourself against an armed adversary is to run the other away. I shudder imagining a 9mm “knife” that could be delivered at range half a dozen times in a few seconds.
Derbyshire later asserts that “It’s true—none of us knows what he’d do in a dire situation like that,” but he’s wrong. What he would do in such a dire situation is die, just as the thirty-four men and women who found themselves on the target end of Cho’s “two handguns” died. In fact, Derbyshire would die a bit more quickly were he foolish enough to rush an armed adversary with no weapon besides his bare hands.