Did Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, commit his terrible crimes because of a history of romantic rejection at the hands of white women? That's the thesis of a new n+1 essay (not available online) that, like Matt Yglesias and Reihan Salam, I recommend -- although I have some reservations.

The author, Wesley Yang, does a fascinating job of speculating on how racism and sexual frustration might have influenced the days and nights of this deeply disturbed individual, an immigrant from South Korea with a history of depression, social anxiety disorder, and violent fantasies. Looking at Cho's photograph and trying to comprehend his murder of 32 people, Yang ruminates:

It's not an ugly face, exactly; it's not a badly made face. It's just a face that has nothing to do with the desires of women in this country. It's a face belonging to a person who, if he were emailing you, or sending you instant messages, and you were a normal, happy, healthy American girl at an upper second-tier American university--and that's what Cho was doing in the fall of 2005, emaling and writing instant messages to girls--you would consider reporting it to campus security. Which is what they did, the girls who were contacted by Cho.

This explanation is too easy and, unfortunately, downgrades both the extent of Cho's mental illness and the extent of the stalking and sexual harassment problems facing young women, both on and off college campuses. Although Yang writes that he doesn't fault the young women who reported Cho to the police -- after all, this was a young man who took digital photographs up his female classmates' skirts during lectures -- you can't help but take away from the essay that, if only one kind girl had taken the trouble to love Cho, to relieve him of his virginity, 32 people would be alive today. This echoes, somewhat creepily, the media rush immediately after the massacre to suggest that Cho's first victim, Emily Hilscher, was an ex-girlfriend or current girlfriend, and had somehow provoked her own murder by leaving Cho for another man.

In reality, Hilscher and Cho had no relationship at all.

Yang's essay is well-written and thought-provoking. You get the sense that as a writer, he's struggling to keep himself from falling into a "blame the victim" mindset. But while Cho can certainly be understood as a victim of a public and campus mental health apparatus that failed him, the young women he stalked and murdered were wholly innocent. Nor should women as a class be taken to task for not loving a man who, it seems, was almost completely incapable of healthy human interactions.

--Dana Goldstein

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