On September 1, the nation was appalled and aghast as a middle-aged man coolly and remorselessly hacked four people to death in public view.

The atrocity occurred in the capital city’s Dan Phuong District and its perpetrator was a 53-year-old man driven to murder by a dispute over 0.5 square meters of land.

After spending a sleepless night brooding over the dispute regarding land that he had inherited with his younger brother, Dong took a knife and went on a stabbing spree.

Nguyen Van Dong was arrested for killing four people on September 1, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Cu.

Nguyen Van Dong was arrested for killing four people on September 1, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Cu.

Younger brother Nguyen Van Hai and his daughter were killed on the spot. His wife and 1-year-old granddaughter were taken to the hospital and died there. His daughter-in-law is in critical condition at present. Only Hai’s son, who had met Dong the night before, managed to run away, unscathed physically.

Lieutenant-Colonel Dao Trung Hieu, an expert in criminal psychology at the Ministry of Public Security, said Dong’s behavior was driven by his own violent temper as well as negative social influences.

In several interviews given to the local media, Hieu said the murders were rooted in greed and self-interest in an increasingly materialistic society, which is also destroying traditional family values and ties.

Serious degeneration

Massacres, murders and violence of different degrees are occurring in Vietnamese society because social ethics is degenerating seriously, he said, adding, “Some call it cancer of the soul.”

Last year, 31-year-old Ly Dinh Khanh, who had earlier served three years in prison for child rape, again attempted to rape a neighbor, failed, and went on to kill her and 3 other people related to her in northern Cao Bang Province.

In the same year, 18-year-old Nguyen Huu Tinh on February 13 killed five people in his employer’s family to avenge a scolding he had received. 

Nguyen Huu Tinh is escorted by police officers to the court where he receives death penalty for murders. Photo by VnExpress/Ky Hoa.

Nguyen Huu Tinh is escorted by police officers to the court where he receives death penalty for murders. Photo by VnExpress/Ky Hoa.

Hieu laid the blame at a materialistic approach to life that was exacerbated by socio-economic issues stemming from it. The gap between the rich and the poor, unemployment and other social problems make many people feel frustrated and stuck, and they are easily influenced by gangs and other negativities, especially through the Internet, he said.

“A person with a good job and income is unlikely to use violence to solve conflicts, or kill and rob others,” he said.

Robberies and murders (robbers have killed whole families when caught in the act) account for many serious killings in the country.

Other major causes include family and romantic conflicts, road rage, mental problems and drugs.

On May 25, in Lam Dong Province, 48-year-old Nghiem Thi Nhi killed 3 people (an old woman and her two grandchildren) for revenge.

On the 15th, 16th and 17th of the same month, in Hanoi and Vinh Phuc Province, 38-year-old Do Van Binh killed 2 men in a fit of road rage, and went on to kill an ex-girlfriend and injured another because of perceived hurt feelings.

Many perpetrators of multiple killings are young people. Hieu said that even youth without previous criminal records have acted viciously, showing that they are unstable, imbalanced and insecure in life. Young people can also easily absorb toxic influences, play violent games and develop the habit of using violence to deal with ordinary conflicts.

For this, Hieu said, the educational system and the family as an institution are to blame. At school, children are crammed with academic knowledge, but barely taught living skills. At home, parents are too wrapped up with making a living, and don’t pay attention to their children, and set bad examples of indifference and selfishness which children internalize.

The massacres in recent years have happened across the country, from remote mountainous provinces in the north such as Lao Cai and Yen Bai, to southern metropolises like HCMC and Binh Duong Province, which have “complex growing populations” with significant immigration.

Hieu said that financial distress was a particularly important factor in poor remote areas where people can feel deeply frustrated and even trivial conflicts in daily life may break out into full-blown violence.

He felt that the Vietnamese legal system was strict enough, but whether or not citizens choose to obey the laws is another matter. 

Hieu’s analysis is shared by some National Assembly legislators. NA Representative Luu Binh Nhuong thinks that degenerating morals, coupled with drugs and gangs are major drivers of violence.

Drugs are a direct cause as some killers have to intoxicate themselves and “boost their morale” for committing their crimes, Nhuong said at an NA meeting. He also questioned the idea of treating drug addicts as patients.

Hieu felt there was a need for better management and separation of drug addicts and people with mental problems from their families. He said such people pose a great risk of causing violence when they live with their families.

Police guard a murder scene in Dan Phuong District, Hanoi where a man kills his brother and three other family members on September 1, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Cu.

Police guard a murder scene in Dan Phuong District, Hanoi where a man kills his brother and three other family members on September 1, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Cu.

Tran Van Do, former Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, emphasized that depression and frustration caused by social and economic stifling was a root cause of violence. It makes husbands murder wives, wives murder husbands, mothers throw children away, and children kill fathers, he said.

But he also said extreme measures like the capital punishment were not an effective way to prevent heinous crimes like multiple murders. He said people with problems, mental and otherwise, shouldn’t be treated as bad kids to be thrown out of the house, because it would only exacerbate the problem.

Hieu said extreme forms of violence stem from a psychological state in which people neither detest ugly, negative things nor feel inspired by good and beautiful things. “People feel indifferent and care only about themselves in this materialistic society.”