By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Virginia massacre seen from Britain

I arrived in the United Kingdom Monday, for a three-week trip to organize a big academic research project involving public management reform in Britain. (So I'll be blogging from the U.K. for a while.) For the past three mornings, since I've arrived, the lead story on the BBC Today morning TV news program has been the terrible Virginia Tech shootings -- particularly horrible to see that the killer was from Northern Virginia.

That this has been the lead story for three days is extraordinary. It is hard to imagine that a similar story from Britain would top the American news for even one day, let alone three days.

Partly, this is a function of America's superpower status in the world (and partly, on our end, of our relative lack of interest in events outside the United States). However, as a columnist in The Guardian newspaper noted yesterday with some disapproval: "The response of many who wish America ill will have been gratuitous schadenfreude [joy in the suffering of others]. They see a people who live by the gun also dying by it, be they marines in Anbar province or students in Virginia. The rifle lobbyist who said on Monday [on British television] that the college massacre would not have happened if all the students had been armed embodied the macho ethos which George Bush is seen as willing on the world. How can American soldiers disarm Iraqi families of their weapons in Baghad yet claim the right to arm themselves to the teeth back home?"

His point was illustrated by an editorial in The Guardian on the same day that stated that massacres such as these "have become one of the defining features of the United States to the outside world." The difficulties of achieving gun control and the power of the gun lobby have been prominent topics in TV reporting.

Like most Americans traveling abroad, my reflexive reaction is to defend my country, even in ways I might not do stateside. And it does seem slightly distasteful to make a political point out of a human tragedy. But we do need to reflect on the impression we are making on those outside our borders.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Apr 19, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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