Columbine by Dave Cullen is a terrifying look at evil. It introduces questions about peer influences, the impact of violent media, prescription drugs, gun control, school safety and parenting.
The biggest of these is evil. If evil exists, if it is present in a person or place – do any of those other questions matter? Was Eric Harris evil – in which case the prescription drugs he was on or not on, the kids who hung out with, the movies he watched and video games he played, the involvement or lack of involvement of his parents, the availability of guns and any other question about what could have been done to prevent this tragedy are possibly irrelevant.
Because if you believe in evil you have to ask another question: can evil be stopped? Are all of those other measures only effective in abating the impulsive desires of the “normal”? Do they prevent or simply postpone the desires of evil? Push it down the road to another time and place?
These are the questions I asked as I read this riveting account of the months leading up the massacre and moment by moment accounts of it execution.
Through journal entries and interviews Dave Cullen pieced together a terrifying portrait of Eric Harris, who oozes the qualities of evil. Hard of heart, embittered, without conscience or empathy. His partner, Dylan Klebold, was somewhat more sympathetic (if that is even possible) character in this horrific story. He seemed the weak willed, sheep-like devotee of Harris. He seemed to have a conscience, but was too weak to voice his objections or stand in defiance. (Which is what evil thrives upon, the lack of conviction or principled clarity of others – it preys upon the weak).
This story is scariest if you believe in evil. Because none of the other factors seem to matter. That means, we are all vulnerable, anytime, anywhere. That is scary. If there is no inherent evil, but all bad things are done by those who have accumulated the wrong combination of external influences and experiences, then we retain control.
Dave Cullen does not attempt to define or explain. He paints the picture, as it happened, and allows the reader to make their own interpretations and conclusions. If you want answers look elsewhere. If you want an intimate look into the mind and life of the two teenagers who wreaked such havoc on their community and our nation – it is a deeply moving and powerful book. I have tremendous respect for the care and effort Mr. Cullen put into crafting this story, so we can all see into the mind of senseless violence. It does not provide relief, but does offer a great deal of realities and issues upon which to ponder.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.
PS. A great companion to Columbine is The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth by Joyce and Stephen Singular, as they explore the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. As parents, this is a more conversational exploration of public violence and their own quest to understand the issue.