Friday, May 11, 2007

Half-Baked

Ever since the horrific shooting of 33 students at Virginia Tech the news media has monitored the college's progress very closely. The questions have been asked: will the VT students be able to pick up the pieces and move on? What will their transition into the working world like?

Recently a report was released showing how veterans returning from Iraq face an increased risk of suicide because of lack of psychological care available at many VA clinics. Many facilities lack a 24 hour staff, adequate screening for mental problems, or properly trained workers. Meanwhile one-third of returning veterans report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Here are questions the media almost never asks: how will these returning Iraq war vets pick up the pieces and move on? What will their transition into the working world be like?

The response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech bore the ostentatious earmarks of our response to the Iraq War. For Virginia Tech many sports figures donned the university's maroon and gold baseball cap in a display of solidarity. For Iraq people placed pretty yellow ribbons on the back of their cars. These gestures are honorable, they are a good place to start, but they accomplish little unless accompanied by some solid action.

In the case of Virginia Tech this would mean a little less media drama and more of a serious discussion about gun control in this country. In the case of Iraq it would be less focus on rhetoric and more on the reality for the men and women of the armed forces who bear almost all of the weight of what President Bush has labeled "the great ideological struggle of the 21st century."

Is it right that a troubled young man can acquire automatic weapons and end the lives of 33 hopeful students? Does that horror not only require adequate grieving but a sober look at the circumstances that allowed it and how we can prevent such a thing in the future?

Is it right that young men and women who volunteer to serve their country be led into a war without proper planning and oversight; asked to fight with inadequate equipment; asked to return home to inadequate medical care? Shouldn't this horror require not only accountability a demand for change?

It seems our society is long on sympathy, and short on empathy. What I mean by that is we have no trouble showing our support to a group of people or a cause, but that response almost always lacks the power of true change. As Virginia Tech students graduate, and veterans return home from Iraq, their transition into the world will be closely watched. Rather than spectating, we need to answer the call to answer the hard questions put before us.

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