We observe briefly that this awful event has already become the object of what has become a favorite American preoccupation: second-guessing the decisions of people with executive power.
By the afternoon of the day of the shooting, Fox News was reporting that some parents were calling for the ouster of VA Tech's president and the police chief of Blacksburg. One parent is quoted as follows:
My God, if someone shoots somebody there should be an immediate lockdown of the campus. They totally blew it. The president blew it, campus police blew it. . . .
I hold this president completely accountable. They are cowards. They can’t come out and say they made a mistake.
Today's WaPo contains similar sentiments, more tastefully muted:
More particularly, what more, if anything, could the authorities at Virginia Tech have done to prevent yesterday's carnage? Were possible warning signs, such as bomb threats in the weeks before the incident, adequately investigated? And between the first shootings around 7 a.m., when two people were killed in a dormitory, and the second ones two hours later, when 31 died at a classroom building, did the city and campus police take all possible steps to lock down the university and scour it for the shooter? On a sprawling campus of 2,600 acres and almost 22,000 students, given imperfect communications, is it even feasible to lock every door and bolt every window on short notice?
The good editorialists at the capital's paper seem to answer their own question by the end of the paragraph.
SWNID says (a) humans are bad at predicting the future; (b) evil is ubiquitous and adaptive; (c) the world can't be perfected, even by smart people. We are therefore tired of indignant armchair quarterbacks who rant about "holding people accountable," a phrase we nominate for most irresponsibly and self-righteously employed cliche in current usage, when bad things happen to good people.
People who have to make decisions aren't omniscient. There isn't a "best practices" manual on how to identify and deal with a crazed killer on a major university campus. All who call for a "lockdown" with every incident that might presage some act of violence should recognize the potential that such a policy has for enticing people to act simply to induce a dramatic, expensive, disruptive lockdown on a campus bigger than many towns.
The world is unsafe. More college students will die this year from alcohol abuse than in this incident. College administrators can only do so much about either problem.
Update: St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas seems to be the first to experience the impact of a hoax threat in the wake of Virginia Tech. There will be others as administrators rightly exercise concern about copycats and sadly accede to the pressure to act as if they are omniscient of all threats and omnipotent against them.