Two weeks ago, when 22-year-old Otto Warmbier returned to the U.S. from North Korea in a coma after being held captive there for 17 months, there was considerable righteousness in leftist corners of the Internet about how Warmbier had it coming to him.
Social media users re-upped a media narrative that mocked Warmbier (“This Might Be America’s Biggest Idiot Frat Boy,” read one Salon headline) and impugned his “white privilege” after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in the hermit kingdom for allegedly pilfering a propaganda poster from his hotel.
Even after Warmbier’s parents declared him dead on June 19, the righteousness and victim-blaming continued.
AffinityMag, a social justice publication “for teens by teens,” sneered at a Washington Post interview with Danny Gratton, a fortysomething British man who stayed with Warmbier during their four day visit to Pyongyang with Young Pioneers Tours.
“Watch whiteness work,” AffinityMag wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “He wasn’t a ‘kid’ or ‘innocent’ you cant go to another country and try to steal from them. Respect their laws.”
In a shocking display of ignorance and intellectual bankruptcy, AffinityMag was more sympathetic to the “laws” of a murderous dictatorship than an American victim of that dictatorship, whose “whiteness” apparently does not afford him sympathy.
This ignorance could be forgiven from the teenage creators of Affinity Magazine. Less forgiveable was the suggestion from a 62-year-old professor at the University of Delaware that Warmbier deserved to die.
“Is it wrong of me to think that Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved?” mused Kathy Dettwyler, who taught anthropology at the University of Delaware, in a Facebook post last week that has since been deleted.
“He went to North Korea, for fuck’s sake, and then acted like a spoiled, naive, arrogant, US college student who had never had to face the consequences of his actions,” Dettwyler continued, referring to Warmbier’s alleged propaganda poster theft.
Never mind that the only evidence of this crime was a likely coerced confession from Warmbier in a videotaped showtrial broadcast by North Korean state media last March.
Dettwyler had little sympathy watching Warmbier’s tearful confession. “I see him crying at his sentencing and think, ‘What did you expect?’” she wrote on Facebook.
Then, in a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, she asked that those mourning Warmbier’s death consider “all the other people in North Korea who are suffering under the repressive government there. Just because they are North Koreans, and not US citizens, we shouldn’t care about them?”
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As a 62-year-old anthropology professor, she wrote, she has “spent my life teaching folks like Otto,” whose ill-advised trip to North Korea and behavior there reflected the “typical of the mindset of a lot of young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes. These are the same kids 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 [sic] deserve a good grade for being who they are. Or instead of crying, they bluster and threaten their female professors.”
Dettwyler concluded that Warbier’s parents are “ultimately to blame for him 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.”
Here was a professor so blinded by anti-American ideology and Privileged College Boy stereotypes that she essentially sided with the Kim regime on Warmbier’s fate.
Warmbier was asking for it when he took a propaganda poster off the wall, a crime that–again–we have no evidence of beyond North Korea’s word. He “got exactly what he deserved:” 15 months in captivity where he was repeatedly beaten according to intelligence reports, a neurological condition that precipitated a coma and, ultimately, his death.
Never mind that the only Westerner who spent time with Warmbier during their trip told the Washington Post that he never saw or heard anything about a propaganda banner from Warmbier until after he returned to the U.S. “I’ve got nothing from my experiences with him that would suggest he would do something like that,” he said. “At no stage did I ever think he was anything but a very, very polite kid.”
Blinded by prejudice, Warmbier’s critics have placed their faith in the monstrous Kim regime instead of a British man who befriended Warmbier (he can only be an apologist).
After condemning Dettwyler’s remarks last week, the University of Delaware has now heeded calls for her to be fired. In a statement on Sunday night, the University said that Dettwyler “will not be rehired to teach at the University in the future” and reiterated that her comments “do not reflect the values or position of the University of Delaware.”
Most troubling about the nature of Dettwyler’s comments is that they don’t just reflect far-left fringe sentiments.
Mainstream media outlets like the Huffington Post and Salon made similar arguments when Warmbier was convicted and sentenced last spring. They searched for logic and rationality in the Kim regime to support the “white privilege” narrative about Warmbier.
Tellingly, few of Warmbier’s critics have made mention of the three Korean Americans who remain imprisoned in North Korea, one of whom was detained in 2015. Their privilege is apparently irrelevant.