By this title I don’t mean of course to speak of people who decided for whatever reason to go on a killing spree but just weren’t very successful… (‘The World’s Best Mass Murderers’ doesn’t sound quite appropriate for some reason).
A recurring theme when talking to friends about travel is a general perception that many countries are dangerous and best avoided. While living in Korea I was chatting with a Korean friend about a trip I had taken to Turkey, which I found out was high on the ‘I would never go there’ list – not because of the violent anti-government protests and terrorist bombings there in recent years, but because a Korean person had been killed in Turkey a few years earlier.
Personally I’m of the opinion that there are good and bad people in every country and, given that Koreans are found pretty much everywhere, it is an unfortunate statistical reality that Koreans will from time to time fall victim to violent crime abroad, just like everybody else. This opinion isn’t widely shared in some quarters however.
I once asked my university students which countries they considered dangerous, and which ones safe. Their answers weren’t surprising. Dangerous places – North Korea, Nigeria, Afghanistan etc. Safe places – Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc.
I told my students that there are good and bad people everywhere, and asked them if they’d ever heard of Martin Bryant, the intellectually impaired Australian currently serving a 1000 year sentence for killing 35 people in the Port Arthur (Tasmanian) massacre of 1996. Unsurprisingly nobody had heard of him.
More surprisingly, very few recognised the name Anders Behring Breivic, the narcissistic Norwegian madman who killed 77 people in and near Olso in 2011 (the worst recorded spree killing).
Most surprising though was that not one student knew the name Woo Bum-Kon, the South Korean policeman who in 1982, in the Southern province of Gyeongsangnam-do, killed 57 people (including himself) and injured 37 more with an arsenal of firearms and hand grenades.
Woo was said to suffer from anxiety and a major inferiority complex. One evening he flew into a blind rage when his girlfriend woke him by swatting a fly on his chest. After assaulting her he went to the police station and somehow gathered his arsenal unnoticed. He then went to the Post Office where he proceeded to go postal, killing everybody there before cutting the phone lines to the entire area. Woo roamed from village to village, demanding entry to homes and killing everybody inside. He also shot his girlfriend who had gone out looking for him, but she survived. Woo’s 56 victims, plus himself, made him the world’s worst spree killer, a record that would stand for 29 years until Breivik in 2011
It is interesting to observe how various societies react very differently to similar situations. In the case of the Martin Bryant massacre of 1996, the Australian federal government swiftly passed sweeping new gun laws, initiating a compulsory “buy back” scheme. Almost all Australians were to be paid for their firearms, which were then destroyed, and heavy punishments served to anyone found not to have surrendered their weapons. From that time it has basically been only farmers and gangsters who have guns, and shooting deaths in Australia immediately dropped to among the world’s lowest.
South Korea is culturally very different from Australia of course, and while gun violence there is also low, the Woo Bum-Kon story is rarely mentioned. Whereas all Australians know of the infamous Martin Bryant, the Koreans appear to have placed the Woo Bum-Kon incident in a file marked “This isn’t happening”, and (with regard to the younger generations at least) simply erased Woo from the collective national consciousness.
Then of course, there is the most powerful, third most populous, and arguably the strangest country on earth… the United States of America. By this I mean no offence. As a long-term expatriate and traveler, I have many American friends who are lovely people. It’s just that… well, many of the world’s 7 billion people (the number of people who aren’t American) find America as a whole to be unfathomably bizarre.
America’s latest horrific mass murder, though undoubtedly not for long, was recently committed by Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in a gay nightclub before himself being killed by police. From the inevitably immediate and often contradictory media saturation we learned that Omar had earlier been deeply offended by seeing two men kissing in public… that he himself was a regular at the gay nightclub and member of gay social networking apps… that his ex-wife said he was disturbed and mentally unstable… that he was an ISIS terrorist… that he was self radicalized and acting alone, maybe… that his wife actually knew of his plans and may have been an accomplice… the stories keep coming. Meanwhile the endless arguments about gun violence in America rage on, while politicians make speeches about how sad it all is, and… in rare moments of honestly admit in not so many words that their hands are tied by lobby groups far more powerful than the government itself and that there’s really nothing they can do to end this. Citizens rage on about freedom and the constitution and the right to bear arms, versus others who scream out that this is all getting ridiculously out of hand and that this most cherished American document, which apparently can’t be changed for some reason, was written somewhat before the invention of current military-grade assault weaponry. The answer to all of this appears to be to further militarize the police force (some laws apparently can be changed for some reason), and the killings continue.
As one who isn’t American, and so clearly doesn’t understand the complexities of American life, there is one thing I do know. I’m not the only one asking myself… what on earth is going on with you guys?