The last couple of days, we’ve been dwelling over the terrible story of Otto Warmbier, the American student held prisoner by North Korea and returned home last month in a coma. Our focus has not been on Warmbier, who died on June 19 in Cincinnati, but on the creeps at Salon, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere who chose to respond to Warmier’s arrest not by recognizing it as the act of a reprehensible totalitarian dictatorship but by denouncing – or ridiculing – Warmbier himself.
To be sure, all these criticisms of Warmbier took place while he was still alive (and in a North Korean prison). Even worse was Kathy Dettwyler, an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, who after Warmbier’s death, mind you, wrote a few breathtakingly callous things on her Facebook page and in a readers’ comments section at the website of National Review: “Is it wrong of me,” she asked, “to think that Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved?” She maintained that Warmbier was “typical of a mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes” and who “cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade. They simple deserve a good grade for being who they are. Or instead of crying, they bluster and threaten their female professors.” There was no indication that Dettwyler had any knowledge about Warmbier’s academic conduct or performance: apparently the fact that he was a white male college student was enough for her to come to certain conclusions about him
“These are the same kids,” wrote Dettwyler, “who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade….His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted. Maybe in the US, where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea. And of course, it’s Ottos’ [sic] parents who will pay the price for the rest of their lives.”
Again, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Warmbier thought he could get away with anything; and there’s certainly no excuse to equate him with a rapist. His alleged crime wasn’t rape – it was ripping a piece of paper off of a wall. And there’s no way of knowing whether Warmbier even did that. All we really know about what happened to him in North Korea is that he was arrested, imprisoned, and obviously abused so brutally that it ended up killing him. All these people’s criticisms should be directed against the totalitarian monsters of Pyongyang who tyrannize their own people in the same way they tyrannized Warmbier.
We’re talking, after all, about a country where a couple of hundred thousand political prisoners are being held under primitive conditions, are forced to perform back-breaking slave work under dangerous circumstances, and are in constant danger of either starving or freezing to death. But no: certain people on the Western left are so drenched in postmodern cliches about identity-group-based power and victimhood that when they see a story of this kind, their first instinct is to empathize with the non-whites, however monstrous, and to come down hard on the white male, however innocent.
No, Warmbier should never have set in North Korea. But did he deserve to die for his naivete?