Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Youth, Interrupted

Somewhere I was listening to an interview with a witness of the Kent State massacre in 1970. The horror of the campus killings 37 years ago were compared to events at Virginia Tech.

Hearing about Kent State reminded me how that massacre helped to forge a generation. So too will Virginia Tech, though quite differently.

Kent State was a tragedy that was the result of two sides facing off over the war in Vietnam. One side was protesting the seemingly endless and expanding conflict in Indochina; the other side was called in to maintain civil order. Guns went off, and four people lay dead. The young generation just emerging from the 1960s rallied around this event. The antiwar cause was buttressed. Their deaths, while tragic, were at least casualties in a battle of ideas.

But what of today's young generation? The Virginia Tech massacre seems prophetic for them. Nine times the number died at Virginia Tech than did at Kent. What cause did these young people die for?

None at all. They died because a lunatic got his hands on some very effective killing technology. The press looks for meaning, and answers. They'll never be found. Because they're not there.

Today's young generation must contend with mass death at the hands of anonymous people, with anonymous causes. Certainly, murder sprees are not unique to today's young generation. But situational catastrophe seems to have taken on a life of its own in the past 10 years. In terms of age, it's possible that some of the kids who were shot at by Cho Seung-Hui might have dodged bullets of similar intent at Columbine High School in 1999. This is a generation that has become accustomed to being distracted, influenced, and sometimes killed en masse by random occurrence without a coherent purpose.

Some of these kids are in school, others among them are in Iraq and Afghanistan. There too, they must contend with anonymous, random violence. International Jihad does indeed represent a cause, albeit incoherent much of the time. But each act of violence in the name of Jihad seems arbitrary, and murderous.

What must today's young people make of the world they must engage? What are their expectations, as a generation? Media has pounded them all their lives about how the world is dangerous; it's full of child molesters, murderers, disease and vice. They're a generation raised with interior childhoods, safe from what lurks outside, but free to observe it on a screen. All their worldly needs could be met in homes and safe places. Childhood became a crafted vocation.

Virginia Tech was the slaughter of the lambs by one of their tormented own. While their lives had purpose and meaning, their deaths had none. That's the despicable truth. Where Kent defined the older generation's opposition to war, Virginia Tech defines only an rising tide of random atrocity without end.

Wish them well.