Sympathy for a Devil

by Sean Hackbarth

Iowa Voice found a Kossite gushing sadness for the Virginia Tech mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui (or the Americanized Seung-Hui Cho). Cho was a victim of an adopted nation that “let this man slide through many a crack.” Cho was oppressed for being a minority and an immigrant on top of it. To Bcgntn Cho endured an America where only the few succeeded. Why Cho’s parents would move from South Korea to such a place lacking opportunity the author doesn’t explain.

I’ve been a little dogmatic on the evil/crazy dicotomy. I admit that logically one can commit an evil act while being mentally ill. My concern about calling Cho “crazy” or a “lunatic” is taking moral responsibility away from him.

My concern stems from wondering if people will let Cho off the hook because he was mentally ill.

Where is the line drawn between mental illness and one’s black heart? Actions based on either can result in similar, horrible events. Legally the insanity defense can be used only when the aggressor committed his crime while not knowing the difference between right and wrong. Based on Cho’s videos he knew exactly what he was doing and blaming his victims for forcing him to kill.

I believe in free will. If I didn’t all this writing I do would be pointless. It would only be an odd manifestation of electrical brain impulses derived from DNA accumulated from my ancestors and interacting with the world around me. I’m more than firing synapses and brain chemistry, and so was Cho.

Cho was the one who bought two hand guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Cho was the one who bought chain and locks used to trap people inside Norris Hall. Cho was the one who calmly walked from classroom to classroom, aiming his pistols, and pulling the triggers. Cho was the one who plugged victims with more bullets to make sure they were dead. Cho was the one who tried to bash his way past a baracaded door in search of more victims.

Rob Dreher used the French maxim “To understand all is to excuse all.” (I’m not sure how much of a maxim it is since I’ve found little on it via Google.) Living in a complex society surrounded by specimens of our ability to mold Nature’s forces ie. technology we like to believe there’s an explanation for everything. Such false hope led to the belief central planners could organize an economy. Communism showed such belief, scientism as Hayek put it, was flawed. Despite the knowledge and insights produced over the centuries we encounter questions with no good answers. We’re frustrated at that fact. So we find some manner of explanation given the tools at hand. With Cho many wonder what “broke” in his mind to force him to kill.

Evil isn’t a disease. What it is exactly is a question faced by greater minds than I thoughout human history. I will say evil is abnormal to Man’s nature. It rejects the order of things. It is a source of great pain. Any one of us have the capability to commit the murders Cho did. Most of us find a way to hold back our dark sides preventing it from leaking into the world and spilling the blood of others.

Cho wasn’t a victim. He was the aggressor. One’s moral compass has to be profoundly messed up to think otherwise.

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4 Responses to “Sympathy for a Devil”


Insanity is an explanation for an evil act; not an excuse.

There’s a difference between the “legal definition” of insanity, i.e. the inability to determine right from wrong, and the myriad shades of mental illness that exist.

If Cho was a sociopath (and i’m willing to bet he was), he knew the difference between right and wrong; he was just incapable of caring about it.

Now, when the question becomes “if he lived, should he have gone to prison for his crimes?” The answer is of course “hells yes,” but then one could ask about what kind of treatment he should have received (or not received) while in prison, and that leads us into a whole ‘nother debate about our prison system and how much it fulfills the “corrections” aspect of its role (if it does at all).


I don’t think Sean’s discussing legal culpability so much as moral culpability.

Even the mentally ill, at the level such that they are still functional, have the responsibility for managing their own diseases.


Its said a society can be judged on it’s baddest people. No-one is born with the hatred Cho had, he is a product of society. Take a look at the logic behind the the theory game ‘prisoners dilemma’ and see how easy it is for society to turn out someone like Cho. All it takes is a series of bad experiences and one thinks that the next experience will be as bad or worse. It’s such an easy concept to grasp, but has devestating results.


Cho suffered with a brain disease. It is possible to be both a victim and an aggressor. The concept of Free Will is a non-starter when dealing with brain disorders. Cho could no more control what was happening to him than an autisic child can simply choose not to be autisic. But authorities had ample warning signs about Cho’s condition and he certainly should have been held for as long as neccessary for treatment. Calling a brain disorder “evil” scares people who need treatment from getting it and further stigmatizes those who have received treatment. Who will come forward and admit to having mental problems when society is going to label them as evil? Should we just burn them at the stake?

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