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Paternalism and passivity

Posted by Richard on April 21, 2007

(The first part of this post is a slightly edited version of a comment I originally added to Whither the Warrior Spirit?)

On Tuesday, I caught part of ABC's Nightline coverage of the Virginia Tech killings. They interviewed three students in Professor Liviu Librescu's class. Librescu was the 76-year-old Holocaust survivor who held his classroom door shut while his students fled out the windows. He was shot through the door and killed. Read about him at The Jerusalem Post.

The three students were males and looked reasonably fit. One seemed on the small side (maybe 5'8"), one was in between, and the third looked like a football player — over six feet, muscular, over 200 pounds.

They described the sound of gunfire, the fear and panic, the screaming from adjacent rooms. They talked about how they opened the windows, lined up, climbed out, and dropped to the ground. They described seeing Professor Librescu at the classroom door holding it shut.

None of these three strapping young men explained how and why they left a 76-year-old man to guard the door against a homicidal maniac while they fled to safety. None felt any need to explain or apologize or mention the moral quandary they faced at all. They weren't asked. It just never came up. Apparently, it never occurred to them (or their interviewer) that there was a moral quandary. 

How can this be? These three men thanked Professor Librescu. But it never even occurred to them to apologize to him and his family. How can this possibly be?

Admittedly, three is a small sample — but it disturbs me that these three gentlemen felt not an iota of shame or doubt. What kind of people are these that they won't even acknowledge the possibility of their own cowardice? That they don't even realize they had alternative courses of action? That they seem incapable even of self-examination?

With that as an introduction, I commend to you Mark Steyn's column, A Culture of Passivity:

On Monday night, Geraldo was all over Fox News saying we have to accept that, in this horrible world we live in, our “children” need to be “protected.”

Point one: They’re not “children.” The students at Virginia Tech were grown women and — if you’ll forgive the expression — men. They would be regarded as adults by any other society in the history of our planet. Granted, we live in a selectively infantilized culture where twentysomethings are “children” if they’re serving in the Third Infantry Division in Ramadi but grown-ups making rational choices if they drop to the broadloom in President Clinton’s Oval Office. Nonetheless, it’s deeply damaging to portray fit fully formed adults as children who need to be protected. We should be raising them to understand that there will be moments in life when you need to protect yourself — and, in a “horrible” world, there may come moments when you have to choose between protecting yourself or others. It is a poor reflection on us that, in those first critical seconds where one has to make a decision, only an elderly Holocaust survivor, Professor Librescu, understood instinctively the obligation to act.

Steyn illustrated his point two by recounting a Montreal mass murder with which I wasn't familiar, a story that left my jaw agape and chilled me to the bone. Go. Read.

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