Thursday, April 19, 2007

Liviu Librescu: A Natural Hero

While the world watches the pictures and videos that the Va. Tech killer sent to NBC, Terry McKenna offers the following tribute to one of his victims. Then click the graphic to hear some music* in memory of Prof. Librescu and all the victims of this tragedy.

We just witnessed another of those oh so American events, a lone gunman with an automatic weapon commits mass murder at a school.  And to those who remind us that guns don’t kill people, people kill people – it turns out, the victims would have stood a much better chance “mano e mano” than against a man armed with an automatic weapon that can shoot 25 bullets in 11 seconds.  The governor of Virginia was asked about the role that gun laws might have played, and he complained about anyone daring to make political hay over this gun tragedy.  Well, if we can’t complain about our gun laws in the aftermath of such a tragedy, when can we?
And by the way, Virginia’s are among the weakest gun laws in the nation.  The gun lobby tries to tell us that America has too many gun laws on the books right now – and look, it doesn’t stop this sort of crime.  But the problem in not the number but the effectiveness of laws.  We need one good gun law – nation wide. 
Out of the tragedy one hero has emerged: 75 year old engineering professor and researcher: Liviu Librescu.  He was in class, delivering a lecture when he heard the sound of gunfire.   The enemy was at the gates, as it were, but he knew what to do.  He reportedly held his classroom door shut, allowing his students time to flee; thus he gave his life to save others. 
It is early in the investigation, and often the first reports don’t pan out.  But this story has been fairly widely reported, and he’s such an otherwise unlikely candidate for heroism, that it has to be true. 

The back story is that the professor was a holocaust survivor, thus his youth was filled with horror.  From the university’s website, he appears to have been prominent in his field, so he reaped professional success.  He also had at least two boys.  So it appears the personally and professionally, his life was marked by achievement. 
When I was a teenager, the Viet Nam war was the next big thing.  The older boys were already going to war, and a few had already been killed.  Sometimes we boys (thinking about the inevitable face of war) wondered how we would react when our time came.  I know I did.  And I wasn’t confident in my response.  Later on in early adulthood, I was held up at gun point on three occasions; twice a gun was actually held to my head.  I didn’t panic, but lets just say that the gunman got what he was after.
But for Liviu, his time came, and his brave death stands as a simple reminder of genuine virtue that stands on its own.  I’m, sure his family is crushed right now.  But perhaps the knowledge that he did indeed have a full life, and that his death came while engaged in defending others will make the sadness just a little more bearable.

—T. McKenna

"As long as guns are easier to get than mental health care, we will continue to have tragedies like this."
Cameron Scott, Mother Jones

Also read this—all of it—from a real soldier. Pretty good stuff.

And Bob Herbert has this on the American history of mass murder and the cultural elements that fuel psychosis.


*The music, by the way, is from a group you've probably never heard of, but may want to hear more of. They call themselves the Illustrious Theater Orchestra. Their website is here, and their only extant cd is here.

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