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New York Tiimes: New take on the Columbine Killers


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Seems they were not the victims of bullies after all as first believed. Interseting that it's in the New York Times:



The Columbine Killers


Published: April 24, 2004

ive years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot up Columbine High School. Now it's clear that much of what we thought about that horror was wrong.

In the weeks following the killings, commentators and psychologists filled the air with theories about what on earth could have caused those teenagers to lash out as they did. The main one was that Harris and Klebold were the victims of brutal high school bullies. They were social outcasts, persecuted by the jocks and the popular kids. But there were other theories afloat: they'd fallen in with a sick Goth subculture; they were neglected by their families; they were influenced by violent video games; they were misfits who could find no place in a conformist town.

All these theories had one theme in common: that the perpetrators were actually victims. They had been so oppressed and distorted by society that they struck back in this venomous way. In retrospect, it's striking how avidly we clung to this perpetrator-as-victim narrative. It's striking how quickly we took the massacre as proof that there must be something rotten at Columbine High School.

As we've learned more about Harris and Klebold, most of these misconceptions have been exposed. The killers were not outcasts. They did not focus their fire on jocks or Christians or minorities. They were not really members of a "Trenchcoat Mafia."

This week, in a superb piece in Slate magazine, Dave Cullen reveals the conclusions of the lead F.B.I. investigator, Dwayne Fuselier, as well as of the Michigan State psychiatrist Frank Ochberg and others who studied the Columbine shootings.

Harris and Klebold "laughed at petty school shooters," Cullen reports. They sought murder on a grander scale. They planned first to set off bombs in the school cafeteria to kill perhaps 600. Then they would shoot the survivors as they fled. Then their cars, laden with still more bombs, would explode amid the rescue workers and parents rushing to the school. It all might have come off if they had not miswired the timers on the propane bombs in the cafeteria.

What motivated them? Here, Cullen says, it is necessary to distinguish Klebold from Harris. Klebold was a depressed and troubled kid who could have been saved. Harris was an icy killer. He once thought about hijacking a plane and flying it into Manhattan.

Harris wasn't bullied by jocks. He was disgusted by the inferior breed of humanity he saw around him. He didn't suffer from a lack of self-esteem. He had way too much self-esteem.

It's clear from excerpts of Harris's journals that he saw himself as a sort of Nietzschean Superman — someone so far above the herd of ant-like mortals he does not even have to consider their feelings. He rises above good and evil, above the contemptible slave morality of normal people. He can realize his true, heroic self, and establish his eternal glory, only through some gigantic act of will.

"Harris was not a wayward boy who could have been rescued," Cullen writes. Harris, the F.B.I. experts believe, "was irretrievable."

Now, in 2004, we have more experience with suicidal murderers. Yet it is striking how resilient this perpetrator-as-victim narrative remains. We still sometimes assume that the people who flew planes into buildings — and those who blew up synagogues in Turkey, trains in Spain, discos in Tel Aviv and schoolchildren this week in Basra — are driven by feelings of weakness, resentment and inferiority. We cling to the egotistical notion that it is our economic and political dominance that drives terrorists insane.

But it could be that whatever causes they support or ideologies they subscribe to, the one thing that the killers have in common is a feeling of immense superiority. It could be that they want to exterminate us because they regard us as spiritually deformed and unfit to live, at least in their world. After all, it is hard to pull up to a curb, look a group of people in the eye and know that in a few seconds you will shred them to pieces unless you regard other people's deaths as trivialities.

If today's suicide bombers are victims of oppression, then the solution is to lessen our dominance, and so assuage their resentments. But if they are vicious people driven by an insatiable urge to dominate, then our only option is to fight them to the death.

We had better figure out who these bombers really are. After Columbine, we got it wrong.

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