Author Topic: Columbine, the book  (Read 1082 times)

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Offline Rapunzel

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Columbine, the book
« on: January 18, 2013, 12:33:42 AM »

Offline Rapunzel

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Re: Columbine, the book
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2013, 12:40:03 AM »

Offline Rapunzel

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Re: Columbine, the book
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2013, 12:53:42 AM »

A tender yet unflinching treatment of a chilling tragedy. March 29, 2009
By Hugh C. Howey

Ten years have passed since the tragic event that has become synonymous with school shootings. Columbine was once a word that simply denoted a high school, a football team or a state flower. But now the word is tainted. Despite the fact that we have moved on to newer tragedies with higher body-counts, the stain has not been scrubbed off of the word `Columbine'. But perhaps we need to do something other than wish it away. A better solution might be a deeper understanding of Columbine and similar events. The What, How and Why. Most of our answers to these simple questions have been dead-wrong and it is time to replace myth with truth.

But this is easier said than done. The Columbine shootings remain one of the most-thoroughly covered crimes in American history. However, despite the voluminous output of media coverage, what really happened that day, and the motivation behind the tragedy, is understood by very few people. The result of our curiosity led to more falsehoods than fact, making a clear picture of the events on and leading up to April 20th, 1999 difficult to discern. In many ways the vast outpouring of information makes this tragedy even harder to grasp; the chaff vastly outweighs the wheat.

Which makes Dave Cullen's new book, Columbine, an accomplishment that catapults him to the top of the genre. Not since Capote's In Cold Blood do we find such a thoughtful, illuminating, riveting, and disturbing portrait of the criminal mind. Columbine doesn't just explode the myths of what happened that day and why. Instead the book carefully dissects our biases, revealing a populace eager to blame this tragedy on poor parenting, Satan, rock music, or goth kids because it is simpler and more convenient than hearing the truth.

And the truth is that Eric Harris was a born psychopath and Dylan Klebold was clinically depressed, eager to please, and clawing for an escape hatch. Together they formed a rare and volatile combination known as a criminal dyad, a coupling of an egomaniacal control freak and a doting, depressed side-kick. Like Bonnie and Clyde and the D.C. snipers, the duo had a push-me pull-me effect that spun both kids out of control and down a dangerous path that now seems well-worn and obvious as we trace it back.

Cullen's coverage of the tragedy is remarkably broad and deep for a book that doesn't even run 400 pages. The entire scope of the Columbine shootings are covered with almost no wasted space. The book is agonizingly well-researched and brilliantly end-noted. Cullen was one of the Colorado journalists covering the event as it was happening, and has been following the aftermath for the past ten years. He has become one of the most informed minds to wrestle with the shooting, and one of the few to draw the right conclusions.

The layout and pacing in Columbine is also ingenious. Instead of pretending that this was a tidy moment in history that can be covered from beginning to end, Cullen pays homage to the frustrating way that details coalesced into a final picture. Jumping back and forth from Eric and Dylan's lives before the event to the tragic consequences that reverberated after, Cullen gradually paints a full portrait of the two men in much the way that they revealed themselves to investigators. There is no pretension here that this is a subject with an easy beginning, middle, and end. Any other method of relating this story would not do the popular confusion justice, nor would it result in such a vivid understanding of what these two boys were like, and what damage they wreaked on their community.

Another impressive touch is the complete lack of images presented in the book. The center clump of photographs, a mainstay of good non-fiction, is conspicuously absent. You will not find a single picture of the killers nor their victims. It took some time for me to appreciate this classy move by the author and publishers. There is no sensationalism here. This is an outstanding work of journalism that is not only the authoritative account of what happened at Columbine high school, it is also a glimpse of criminal psychosis that I believe will be held up as a classic in years to come. This isn't just a good book, it is an important book. It is not just about the past, and not just about this one event, it is about a sad fact of the human condition, and a call for forward-looking vigilance, not backwards-glaring vengeance.

What most impressed me about Cullen's conclusions was his shucking off of the dangerous blank slate theory that causes so much societal grief. To this day most people blame poor parenting on the tragedy of Columbine. The sadness and horror that I feel when thinking about the treatment of Eric and Dylan's parents disgusts me. This injustice is fueled by the poor grasp that the vast majority of people have about human nature. It is a failing that causes harm in thousands of daily ways, and Cullen does his part in dispelling some of these myths. Some people are born with an inability to empathize with the feelings of others. And of these, some have an uncanny ability to blend in, conning the rest of us into thinking that they are normal. They are the stereotypical serial killers, described by friends and neighbors as the "nicest boy". And our failure to grasp the innate nature of these members of society makes us even more likely to be duped by them.

One of the other fascinating threads in Columbine is the unreliability of eyewitness accounts and the way that early mistakes were not corrected with the passage of time, but rather hardened, becoming cemented in Columbine lore. The Trench Coat Mafia and a massive conspiracy involving many other participants led many people astray, including investigators. The idea that these were unpopular geeks who were picked on by bullies led to a national campaign against something that played no role in the tragedy. Eric and Dylan more often played the role of bully than they did bullied. And implications that music, movies, goth lifestyle, Hitler, or videogames inspired their actions are as false as Michael Moore's assertions that they bowled on the day of the shooting.

Columbine replaces these falsehoods with an account of two kids that simply hated the world and its occupants. Everyone was beneath them. These were not kids cast out by society; they were misfits by choice. They fled the robots/zombies/sheep with eagerness and disdain. They celebrated the fact that they did not belong. Nobody pushed them away or ridiculed them, in fact they were just as popular in their own clique as any other kid, and just as invisible to most kids as we all were to people outside of our social circle. The kids who were not respected were Eric and Dylan's peers. The duo were able to look down on them from such a height of hubris as to be able to dehumanize them. Making them something outside of their scope of empathy. Easy enough to dispatch.

In this way, Marilyn Manson got it just as wrong as anyone else. When asked what he would have said to the kids in Moore's film Bowling for Columbine, Manson replied, "I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did." This notion that the boys were raging against a world that would not take them seriously is also debunked. The sad fact is that psychopaths are born with measurable differences in how their brains work. We can point to these peculiarities on a brain scan. And the differences are noted extremely early in a child's development. The idea that more compassion would prevent these tragedies is the claim that gasoline will extinguish a fire. These kids thrived on winning people over, which they did with ease.

Possibly the most shocking myth stripped down in the book is that this was a school shooting by design. The event became the poster for gun restrictions, which may be a noble cause, but it misses the intentions that Eric and Dylan had that day. By all accounts, the attack was a dismal failure. The massive bombs that they rigged up did not go off as planned. They had a low body count estimate in the hundreds, but hoped for thousands. They wanted to start a worldwide revolution. And they hoped they could do this all without devastating their parents. In every possible way, these boys failed. They failed their society, their peers, their parents, and thank goodness, they failed themselves.

These failures continue to cast ripples today. Cullen devotes a good chuck of his book to the horrible aftermath of these events. An investigation that became disgustingly political included cover-ups and foot-dragging. There were copycats, pranks and bomb-threats. Survivors went through physical and emotional re-hab. Some people tried to profit from the shooting. The school had to be rebuilt, along with the student body and the surrounding community. Some relationships were bonded for eternity, and some shattered. Depression and post-traumatic-stress were prevalent and devastating. Lawsuits were filed. The entire town seemed to be cursed, with normal bad luck ascribed to the ghost of Columbine. Cullen captures all of this with stunning detail and respectfulness. There is no stone that he does not peek under, describe, and then return with loving care. That he pulled this balancing act off for the entire book, detailing an event with so many scars and controversy, is absolutely stunning.

The end result is a book that should be required reading for every teacher, guidance counselor, clinical psychologist and parent. Columbine unmasks universal and innate tendencies that a small portion of our population harbors. And what makes this minority dangerous is that they have no empathy for the rest of us, and a genius for hiding this flaw.  The signs of their disease are usually there, but they are murky due to our faith in nurture conquering nature.

Columbine is not just an account of an American tragedy, it is a guide for preventing future ones. We must begin by accepting that much of who we are is the dumb luck of genetics, but that this does not exculpate our actions. Sure, we can dream up more pleasant realities for us to operate within, where free will plays a larger role, and loving someone enough will make everything all right, but fantasy is never a solution for improving our existence. It is just the comforting blanket we tragically suffocate ourselves with.

Offline Rapunzel

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Re: Columbine, the book
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2013, 12:54:42 AM »
 5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a shot-by-shot account --- a disturbing portrait of some seemingly 'normal' killers, March 30, 2009
Jesse Kornbluth   
This review is from: Columbine (Hardcover)

If "Columbine" were just a shot-by-shot account of the mass murder at a Colorado high school, this book wouldn't be worth a minute of your time. Anyone who was alive in America on April 20, 1999 knows how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 students and a teacher, wounded 23 others, and then put their rifles to their heads and killed themselves. We've all heard the story of the girl who --- seconds before she was shot --- looked the killers in the eye and told them she believed in God. We've heard about the "Trench Coat Mafia" and the violent video games. And we've heard that Harris and Klebold were social outcasts who, angered by incessant bullying, decided to get even by staging the biggest massacre ever at an American high school.

Why "Columbine" is worth the pain and tears it will cost you to read it: Most of what you've heard is wrong. If Dave Cullen is even remotely correct, Cassie Bernall was not killed because she told Harris or Klebold she believed in God. Harris and Klebold weren't outcasts. They weren't bullied, they didn't target jocks. And they weren't addicted to violent video games.

What motivated them?

For Eric Harris, raw hatred. A desire to kill as many people as possible --- to end the world, if he could.

For Dylan Klebold, the hunger for love. And when he couldn't find it, an all-consuming desire to kill himself.

If that's the case, then the nationwide reaction to the Columbine massacre has given us no reason to feel secure --- metal detectors and guards can't tell the difference between a kid with a bit of teenage attitude and the grinning psychopath with raging violence in his heart.

For Cullen --- a Colorado reporter who got on the story early, fell for most of the false conclusions and then spent ten years investigating the teen killers --- Columbine is the story of that psychopath, his confused sidekick, their clueless families and a local police force that was fooled by a couple of kids.

In short, "Columbine" presents a much more frightening story than the one you know.

Did you know that the massacre was just a few days after the school prom? That's where the book starts --- with Eric Harris having trouble scrounging up a date. That was crazy. Eric was a mover: "He had made it to the homecoming dance as a freshman, and he had scored with a twenty-three-year-old at seventeen."

The one who should have had this trouble was Eric's best friend, Dylan Klebold, who was, says Cullen, "meek, self-conscious, and authentically shy." But Dylan had a date. Probably the first of his life.

We get to know these boys fast. Dylan, the secret drunk. Eric, seemingly obedient, but really a control freak. Both smart, "technology whizzes and technology hounds". Both smokers: Camels, filtered.

Another thing: Both "planned to be dead shortly after the weekend."

Their deaths were to be Act III of the massacre. In the first act, seven big bombs would kill hundreds inside the school. In the second act, as the building crumbled and students ran for safety, Eric and Dylan would use their semiautomatics to kill the survivors. Finally, in the third act, they'd drive their cars --- filled with propane tanks and jugs of gasoline --- toward the camera crews and first responders. And then they'd blow themselves up.

Estimated body count: "2,000 students, plus 150 faculty and staff, plus who knows how many police, paramedics and journalists."

Who dreams up a plan like that? Who spends more than a year planning it? And who, when the plan doesn't work, settles for killing as many as possible before blowing their brains out?

Crazy kids. If you're charitable, vote for "sick". If not, call them "evil". But if Cullen is right, don't call them "tormented" or "misunderstood". Because they weren't. They gave away lots of clues. They got caught committing a serious crime. And they totally bamboozled their parents.

The book is built on the classical model. One chapter chronicles the massacre. The next tracks the lives of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, especially the final eighteen months of their lives. Both are horrifying, but it's the Eric-and-Dylan story --- the story you've probably never heard --- that should terrify you. Especially if you're a parent.

In the last few years of his life, Dylan Klebold pretty much gave up. His grades tanked. And yet smooth Eric was the one who seemed to be in serious trouble. His web site had ten pages of ranting. He threatened another kid so often the kid's parents made fifteen calls to the cops. And after Eric and Dylan were arrested for breaking into a van and stealing electronic equipment, it was Eric --- who had snowed his counselor --- who took the event as a signal to ratchet up his dreams of violence.

No writer has scored an interview with either set of parents, so we cannot really know how they were unaware of their kids sneaking out at night and buying guns and writing about killing in their journals. The opening line of Eric's? "I hate the world" --- it wasn't as if there was any murkiness about his feelings. Dylan? He just "craved death". Getting him to go along with the massacre plan wasn't a career effort for Eric.

And they fooled everybody.

That's the point Cullen keeps returning to. And me too. I can, dimly, grasp that a twisted kid might decide it's cool to shoot up a school --- this is a country with more guns than people and a body-count on TV shows, movies and games that makes real war look like peace. And I can, sadly, imagine how a kid who's racked with emotional pain might shove a shotgun barrel into his mouth. But what utterly stops me is the year before that: the constant lying, the double life.

We like to think that it takes years of training to become a successful double agent. But these were high school kids. And this was a good school. And they had, it seems, reasonably attentive parents.

In a recent interview, Dave Cullen looked back on Columbine and delivered this analysis:

"It could definitely happen anywhere.... I think there's one primary reason it happened here, and his name is Eric Harris. Eric's father was an Air Force officer who moved the family across five states in fifteen years. If he had settled in any of those other locations, something horrible would have happened there. If Eric had grown to adulthood, it could have been much worse. He was a budding young psychopath, who enjoyed inflicting pain. There are psychopaths in every city and small town. Most are nonviolent, and few are as diabolical as Eric Harris. When they are, watch out. There are plenty of despondent teens like Dylan Klebold for them to snare."

Read "Columbine" for the stunning reportage. Admire the heroism of students and teachers. Forgive, if you can, the police ineptitude and, later, their predictable cover-up. But pay particular attention to the back story: the evolution of two would-be mass murderers. And then, instead of feeling blessed that this nightmare didn't happen in your town, you might do better to ask yourself a variation of the line you hear on television at ten o'clock: Do you know who your children are?
« Last Edit: January 18, 2013, 12:55:08 AM by Rapunzel »

Offline truth_seeker

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Re: Columbine, the book
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2013, 02:27:41 AM »
I feel there should be some consequences for parents, if their minor children commit crimes, and a means to extend it for young adults still with ties eg. living in their homes, receiving financial support, etc.

Criminal and civil negligence, contributing to crimes against society.
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Offline mountaineer

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Re: Columbine, the book
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2013, 07:43:59 PM »
Thanks for bringing this book to our attention, Rap.
“Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.” - Ryan T Anderson

Offline happyg

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Re: Columbine, the book
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2013, 12:42:56 AM »
Thanks for taking the time to post this. Just ordered the book, Amazon Prime, one click.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2013, 12:45:42 AM by happyg »

Offline EC

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Re: Columbine, the book
« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2013, 05:04:42 AM »
Same. Ordered it. When I'll get the chance to read it is open to question though.
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