There's a feature in this weekend's New York Times Magazine devoted to One Goh, the fellow who shot up Oakland's Oikos University last spring, killing seven people. The story, by Jay Caspian Kang, focuses on Goh's Korean upbringing and heritage, and how the shooting can be explained, in part, but a particularly Korean brand of suppressed rage.

The piece is bound to spark some controversy, because come on, there have been lots of horrific shootings over the last decade or so that have had nothing to do with the shooters' ethnic backgrounds — the majority of them were committed by Caucasian males. And wasn't Goh deemed unfit to stand trial because he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia?

But Kang is focused on what may have triggered both 43-year-old Goh, and before him, Seung-Hui Cho,
the younger South Korean immigrant who murdered 32 people and wounded 17 others in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. And he and quite a few others with Korean backgrounds are convinced there's something there that has to do with Korean-ness.

First off, Kang was one of the first journalists to speak with Goh, just two days after the shooting at Santa Rita County Jail. Goh opened up to Kang despite his attorney's advice, apparently because Kang was a fellow Korean-American, and they seemed to connect immediately. Goh admitted to Kang, "I’m a loner. I do not have the skills to deal with other people. I cannot do things that other people do." He also spoke at length about his Korean father, and about how he had become a loner after his father had moved the family to the U.S.

Kang has some new, chilling details of the Oakland massacre via eyewitnesses and survivors from Oikos. He talks to multiple people in the Korean community in Oakland who want nothing more than to bury the Korean connection to this awful incident. And he speaks to Winston Chung, a Bay Area-based child psychologist who wrote an SFGate blog post in the wake of the shooting titled "Korean Rage: Stereotype or Real Issue?"

Chung’s interest in One Goh and Seung-Hui Cho comes from a lifelong, personal investigation into han and hwabyung, two Korean cultural concepts that have no equivalent in the English language. By Western standards, the two words are remarkably similar. Both describe a state of hopeless, crippling sadness combined with anger at an unjust world. And both suggest entrapment by suppressed emotions. Both words have been a part of the Korean lexicon for as long as anyone can remember, their roots in the country’s history of occupation, war and poverty. Perhaps the best way to distinguish between the two words would be to say that han is the existential condition of immutable sadness, whereas hwabyung is its physical manifestation. Those afflicted with hwabyung describe a dense helplessness and despair that always feels on the verge of erupting into acts of self-destruction. ...

“In Korean culture,” Chung explained, “denial and avoidance are the status quo. Under all that suppression, emotional turmoil festers. When it’s not addressed, it can turn explosive. There’s this dark side that needs to be dealt with, but the Korean community as a whole will not acknowledge that something is up. Nobody will say anything about anything.

“I know this shooting had something to do with han, with hwabyung,” Chung went on. “I feel almost guilty saying that, knowing how hurtful those words might be to other members of the Korean community. But all my training, everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve read and my own personal experiences all point to that. This guy was suffering from something that was very Korean.”

Anyhow, it's a good read.

And Goh, by the way, remains at Napa State Hospital getting anti-psychotics until such time as he might be mentally fit for trial.


Previous SFist coverage of the Oikos University shooting.