- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

Cho Seung-hui, a Virginia Tech senior and South Korean national, was identified publicly Tuesday as the multiple murderer in the Virginia Tech tragedy.

Our hearts and prayers go out to those killed and wounded and the tens of thousands of living victims at Virginia Tech, at Blacksburg, among the families and extended families and the greater world affected by such a terrible tragedy.

But there are three other victims many of us probably have not considered: the parents and sister of Cho Seung-hui and the members of the greater Korean-American community.

Police arrived at the Centreville home of Cho’s parents after dark Monday night. The parents were informed that their son was the key suspect in the Virginia Tech shootings. The police had warrants to permit a search of the parents’ home. Neighbors reported seeing “flashes like lightning” from within the home as police photographers apparently took pictures inside the house.

Police identified the suspect’s father as Cho Seong-tae, 61. He and his wife, Cho’s mother, own and operate a small dry cleaner and laundry in Northern Virginia.

Having learned their son was the prime suspect in the murder of so many people at Virginia Tech, Cho’s Korean-American parents were terrified, in shock and ashamed all at the same time. We have learned, though a source that asked for anonymity, that as soon as the police left the residence, Cho Seong-tae and his wife, began to prepare to go into hiding at the Republic of Korea (South Korea) Embassy in Washington D.C.

Several people in the Korean-American community in the D.C. area told us the Chos and their daughter are having several fears and feelings. They are shocked, amazed and ashamed. They have lost face.

Asians often see themselves as part of a vast group dynamic. The family, the village, the church or other community unit is primary. The key cultural concept Americans often forget, misunderstand or have never heard of is the Asian concept of “face.” Many Americans do know that “loss of face” means a loss of self-image or pride. But that is only the junior high school level of understanding. Asians believe in losing face in terms of dishonoring the family, the group, the country or the culture.

Cho Seong-tae and his wife, we are told, believe their son has so dishonored the family that the damage is irreparable. They are discussing the future possibilities of returning to South Korea or moving to some other place like Canada. Mr. Cho and his wife and perhaps their daughter feel so badly they in a very real sense are victims of the Virginia Tech tragedy too.

Han, a Korean-American who also owns and operates a small laundry business, told us the Chos most definitely feel shame, pain and dishonor — no matter that the parents were not even in Blacksburg. She said they probably feel their business in Virginia and perhaps in the United States is now ruined.

Yung, also a Korean-American woman who runs a laundry, echoed this belief. “I was shocked to hear that a Korean-American was involved in the shooting. Our community is very interrelated and we all know one another. Every Korean-American is feeling some shame and loss of face.”

Korean-Americans are renowned for their hard work, devotion to family and churchgoing ways. One Korean-American man told me he had lived in the United States 20 years and never taken a vacation. He worked six days a week all 20 years.

To show the depth of sorrow within the Korean-American community and in South Korea itself, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held a special meeting with aides Wednesday to discuss the shooting. His office has issued two statements of condolence about the mass killings.

Less than 24 hours after it was publicly known that a Korean-American apparently committed these heinous crimes, Mr. Roh said, “I and my fellow citizens can only feel shock and a wrenching of our hearts.” He continued, “I hope U.S. society can get over such immense sadness and find a sense of composure as soon as possible.”

About 100,000 South Koreans study in the United States, making them the largest foreign student group in America. The U.S. also has a big ethnic-Korean community.

Every American should understand and appreciate the deep distress, sorrow, sympathy and shame felt among the Korean-American community and in South Korea itself. Many of these people are unwitting victims themselves.

John E. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.


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