Let Us Not Allow Pity And Compassion To Obscure The Ethics Lesson Of The Otto Wambier Tragedy

Young Otto Warmbier  is back from North Korea, where he had been a prisoner since 2015. The a 22-year-old University of Virginia student was finally returned from the Communist dictatorship in a coma, suffering from “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain.” Doctors believe he had sustained his catastrophic brain injury sometime before April 2016.

His heartbroken parents are condemning North Korea and praising the Trump administration, which finally obtained his release. Someone, however, needs to make the crucial point that Otto’s fate was directly due to his own recklessness and bad judgment in engaging in conduct that frequently results in disaster, as well as international tensions and needless cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Otto signed up for a five-day tour of North Korea with  Young Pioneer Tours,  a Chinese company that advertises “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.” There is a good reason your mother—and your father, and the U.S. State Department—would rather you stayed away from North Korea. The place is a hell-hole run by a power-mad lunatic, and it is not safe. Nobody put a gun to Otto Warmbier’s head and kidnapped him: he decided on his own to defy his government’s warnings, recent history and the sense god gave puppies to deliberately place himself in harm’s way, knowing that many, many similarly misguided citizens have become prisoners, propaganda tools,  pawns or worse because they willfully placed themselves in similar peril as the people who decide to climb into tiger or lion enclosures at zoos.

Warmbier left on his “tour” in December , 2015. He would have had a chance to see “Bridge of Spies” by then: I wonder if he did. You will recall that the history-based plot involved am American student named Fred Pryor, who is one now a renowned comparative economists. Then, however, he was a graduate student in West Berlin who decided it would be a dandy idea to pass through the half-completed Berlin Wall in August, 1961 to attend a lecture and give a copy of his dissertation  to an East Berlin economics professor.  We know he’s a smart guy, but one would think that the fact that the East German government was in the process of sealing in its citizens as prisoners might have alerted him that this was not the time to go visiting.

Sure enough, Pryor was arrested, thrown in jail, and became a bargaining chip in the U-2/Gary Powers/Rudolph Abel negotiations. Had Otto Warmbier seen the film (which Pryor says misrepresents his part of the story), I would think he would  have been a bit more resistant to a sales pitch that said, “This is a great time to visit beautiful North Korea!” Indeed, being 22, presumably literate and of sound mind,  he should have had the knowledge and sense of self-preservation to resist that sales pitch even  if he had never seen any movie in his whole life.

I have wondered what makes people do this kind of thing many times in the past, every time I’ve read about a  a missionary who decides it makes perfect sense to go to Somalia, or dual citizenship travelers who decide to hang out in Iran rather than in a non-totalitarian country like the other place on their passports, or even Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who thought he would be welcomed by the Taliban and ended up an abused prisoner. These naive souls remind me of the inevitable peacenik or scientist in science fiction movies like “The Thing From Another World” who  insist that a  scary alien can be reasoned with, so they run up to the thing blathering, “We are your friends! You have nothing to fear!” and end up as Purina Monster Chow. I admit: I have never had any sympathy for these characters.

The real-life naifs who put themselves in harm’s way with international menaces cause real damage. Their government—ours— has to try to rescue them, and often negotiates deals that harm U.S. interests and security—as with the shrewd five terrorists for one deserter trade that crack negotiator Barack Obama approved to get Bergdahl back. Writing about egregious examples of U.S. citizens being insanely reckless and requiring elaborate and expensive rescues, I have advocated billing the irresponsible rescued, as in this case. The same holds should apply to citizens who ignore State Department warnings, like Otto, and happily jump into metaphorical tiger pits.

Otto Warmbier paid a terrible price for his recklessness, but that fact shouldn’t stop society from gleaning the same lesson from this tragedy as it would if Otto had returned hale and hardy, with wonderful photos of his trip. In the end, the problem wasn’t the tour company, or the res ipsa loquitur crazy tour, but the adult who placed his life and his nation’s interests at risk because he wanted an adventure, or something.  That his personal consequences were horrible doesn’t improve or excuse the conduct that led to them.

In all the news accounts I read and watched since Otto returned, none had the courage or the integrity to mention this fact. As a result, the likelihood of another young man or women meeting the same fate is greater than it should be.

___________________________

Sources: New York Times 1, 2

 

44 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics

44 responses to “Let Us Not Allow Pity And Compassion To Obscure The Ethics Lesson Of The Otto Wambier Tragedy

  1. This is like the big brother relative to the rape victim who dressed revealingly and got hmammered at a bar by herself in a bad neighborhood shares a bit of the responsibility for the outcome.

    • Yes. Big brother to as in “but even worse.”

      • That’s the direction I was going with my ambiguous statement.

        • Neil Dorr

          Yes, the man is a walking vegetable; he got what he had coming. I’m not sure what ethical lesson needs be learned from this other than “don’t put yourself go to bad places if you don’t want bad things to happen” Duly noted.

          Please, continue dancing on his gurney.

          • Not duly noted enough, apparently.

            Do you have the same reaction to those tiger pit jumpers? Do you not think signs saying “danger” and State Dept warnings saying stay out should be heeded? No, I don’t want scarce public re sources to be wasted on people who turn themselves into international nuisances. The idea, Neil, that accountability diminishes with consequences is infantile.

          • Not getting baited.

            You’re comment is ridiculous and our points valid.

            No one is dancing on a gurney.

            What silliness.

            • I’m not sure to what you’re referring? I’ve repeatedly told you I find you distasteful and have politely asked numerous times to not to add your discolor to my threads. Free country, I can’t (nor would I) stop you. That said, you’re not being baited. You just can’t help yourself.

  2. Arthur in Maine

    You’re an insensitive, cold-hearted bastard, Jack.

    Don’t you ever change.

  3. Off topic “Otto Warmbier” sounds like a totally made up name for a Leslie Nielsen movie. Maybe for the stereotypical german in liederhosen.

  4. LF wilburn

    How many young Americans visit North Korea with no repulsion? If the answer is 1000’s then one could see where this young man might have known there could be risks but never dreamed he would do something so innocent as taking a banner would basically cost him his life. I usually agree with you,Jack, but this time at 22 years of age, no matter how intelligent a person is he or she could still be naive. I know I was and even at 66 still am at times. I venture to say that Otto had the same mind set I had as a youth that being, I would not do people wrong and neither will they me.

  5. crella

    The way the North Korean government operates is beyond understanding. 15 years’ hard labor for a poster, and now he comes home in a vegetative state. There are still quite a few Japanese missing and believed to be held in NK. One family, the Yokotas, has been fighting for decades for answers as to their daughter’s whereabouts since she was kidnapped at the age of 13, in 1977. They’ve been told over the years that she was married and happy with no intentions to ever return to Japan, that she was mentally ill and did not wish to return, and finally a few years back they told them that she had committed suicide a decade previously. In the early to mid-80’s, NK sent pouches of bone fragments and ashes to Japan and stated that they were the ashes of several of the abducted. Tests revealed that they were animal bones. Some pouches contained animal hair and dirt. The callous cruelty is shocking.

  6. Steve-O-in-NJ

    Dumb. Just like the missionary in “The Sand Pebbles” who thought his belief in peace and his sending his name to Geneva to be a stateless person was going to save him from the rising tide of the Nationalists in China.

  7. No, at some point you must be accountable for doing stupid stuff. If at 22, he still didn’t know any better, his folke should look in the mirror and stop demanding others fix their screw-ups. I was in Europe after a major incident and that made me reconsider politics as important as price tag.

    Maybe I’m being cynical, but giving him back is much less hassle than caring for a vegetable. They’d probably lose face if he died though, so turning him over was a win-win at low cost. He has been punished for violating their sovereignity. (as an aside, why is that idea so hard to understand today?)

  8. No one else said it,so…

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes

  9. It is sad. You are right. I would still vote for a termination contract on dear leader.

  10. Son of Maimonides

    Mr. Marshall:

    “… welcomed by the Taliban.”

    He was stupid, yes (and deserved everything he got) but there’s no evidence he was trying to join up with the Taliban. Granted, you said “welcomed by,” so perhaps that’s not what you were suggesting.

    • If I’m welcomed by my neighbors, it doesn’t mean I’m joining the family. I didn’t mean that, and the words don’t suggest it.

      • Son of Maimonides

        Mr. Marshall:

        I already said I may have been mistaken, which is why I asked for clarification. The narrative that he intended to join the Taliban has been floated by others and I just wanted to make sure you weren’t one of them. Jesus.

        • I assume “Jesus” suggest that I was too harsh. I don’t think so. A clarification is warranted when my words warrant it. The fact that “others” have floated a false narrative should not be used to suggest that my words, which I usually choose with care, mean something other than what the words mean. Expected to be welcomed means what it says. “Intended to join” is something entirely different, and if I meant to suggest that, believe me, I am capable of making it quite clear.

          Jesus.

  11. Grampy_bone

    I agree that this guy really should have known better. But the current societal wisdom is that taking any sensible precaution to avoid being victimized is an act of heinous racism. Examples are everywhere of people who clearly knew better putting themselves into bad situations because acting sensibly would have been deemed racist.

  12. Sue Dunim

    Perhaps you can suggest actions that Philando Castile should have taken, or actions he took that he shouldn’t have, to prevent his slaying.

    I think it likely that many police genuinely fear for their lives when performing any traffic stop. And that the fear becomes stark terror when the driver is a black male. One who might match the description of a robber, and who openly admits that he has a gun… If he refuses to obey a lawful order to produce ID, then of course he becimes a deadly threat requiring deadly force. And if he reaches for something after being given this order, then that could be a gun, so riddling the car with bullets is a perfectly legal response, regardless of the presence of toddlers.

    The law justifying police shootings does not require that fear for one’s life has reasonable grounds. Just that it exists. The jury’s verdict was correct.

    • Telling the officer you are carrying a gun is obviously not a good idea during a traffic stop. Not a crime, not a reason to get shot, but if one is dealing with someone likely to be fearful..well, that was what got him shot.

      Jurors put themselves in the cop’s place, that’s all. They shouldn’t—a police officer is supposed to be trained, and be in fear of his life less easily than a typical jury member. But how do you stop it?

      • deery

        Telling the officer you are carrying a gun is obviously not a good idea during a traffic stop. Not a crime, not a reason to get shot, but if one is dealing with someone likely to be fearful..well, that was what got him shot.

        This is enraging. Castile did everything exactly by the book as he was supposed to, and yet people still twist themselves into knots to justify his murder.

        https://www.google.com/amp/amp.dailycaller.com/2016/07/23/ccw-weekend-what-police-want-from-concealed-carriers-during-a-traffic-stop/
        Declare that you have a concealed carry license and a concealed pistol. Virginia State Trooper Alan Kelly told Britsol, Va., ABC affiliate WCYB that, “we do not like surprises” and to inform an officer of the permit.

        Castile was stopped, informed the officer about his weapon and permit, asked to provide ID, and shot…because he was reaching for the ID that he was explicitly asked to provide. There really is no winning for a black motorist in the US.

        If someone is that fearful of black people, they have no business being a police officer. Otherwise any police officer anywhere has a license to kill for any stray reason that might cross their mind, and black people are supposed to just agree with this societal mindset and take it? And yet people genuinely evince puzzlement that black people distrust law enforcement and the legal system in general.

        • I did NOT say the shooting was justified, and eventually I am going to tire of reminding you not to put words in my mouth. “Not a crime, not a reason to get shot” is pretty damn clear.

          If someone is that fearful of black people, they have no business being a police officer.” That’s pretty facile, when even black officers are frequently afraid of black people, and when black activists are telling their audiences that the police are actively trying to kill them, suggesting that they shoot first and ask questions later.

          There is no rule or law about telling an officer at a traffic stop that you have a gun on you. That Virginia Trooper isn’t the authority on the matter. What “surprise”? It depends on the circumstances, and saying “I have a gun” before you reach into your pocket is a mistake. Would you make the same sloppy argument if Castile pulled out the gun to show the officer?

          You probably would.

          • deery

            That’s pretty facile, when even black officers are frequently afraid of black people, and when black activists are telling their audiences that the police are actively trying to kill them, suggesting that they shoot first and ask questions later.

            If some black police officers are afraid of other black people, those officers also should not be police officers. That’s just common sense, unless you are suggesting that such fears based on skin color are warranted? But if you are more inclined to startle and harm black people more often based on their skin color, then no, you should not be entrusted with that kind of authority.

            I also haven’t heard of any known black activists who tell their audience to shoot at police and ask questions later. To whom are you referring?

            There is no rule or law about telling an officer at a traffic stop that you have a gun on you. That Virginia Trooper isn’t the authority on the matter. What “surprise”? It depends on the circumstances, and saying “I have a gun” before you reach into your pocket is a mistake. Would you make the same sloppy argument if Castile pulled out the gun to show the officer?

            These are suggestions by the police themselves on how a motorist should conduct themselves when stopped by the police and they have a weapon and a concealed weapons permit. Straight from the horse’s mouth. Castile complied with the advised protocol, and was still murdered for his troubles.

            If a police officer asks for your ID after you inform him of this, you get your ID. There is nothing to indicate Castile did anything wrong whatsoever. If the police officer was scared about the gun, he should have asked Castile to leave out of the car instead. That he did not do so is the officer’s failure, not Castile’s. But complying with a police officer’s order is not dumb, nor Castile’s error. It would be the same analysis as if the police officer asked Castile to pull out his gun so the officer could see it, Castile started doing so, and the officer shot him because he was @afraid.” Men generally carry their identity cards in their wallets, which would be in their pockets. There is no craziness or unexpectedness there that after you inform the officer that you have a gun, but he still asks for ID, that you will reach into your wallet. Certainly not Castile’s fault.

            • philk57

              “There is no rule or law about telling an officer at a traffic stop that you have a gun on you.”

              This actually depends upon jurisdiction. There are some states where there is a duty to inform during a police stop and others where there is no duty to inform. I haven’t traveled to MN since they instituted their carry laws, so I don’t know whether there is a duty to inform there or not.

              In any event, there is a right way and a wrong way to inform if that requirement exists. If Philando, as reported, was under some influence of narcotics at that stop, that may have prevented him from informing in a safe manner.

            • When children are taught by their parents that the police are hostile and trying to kill them, this creates fear and a predilection to believe that suspicion self-defense is warranted. If blacks are disproportionately afraid and distrustful of police—and there is every indication to believe they are…then police have an excellent r4eason to be especially wary of blacks.

              • deery

                So, if I am following the logic here, somehow black people spontaneously decided to distrust the police. And now police officers are rightly more afraid of black people because of that distrust? And that is why it would be unfair to not hire or dismiss officers who showed this fear of black people, because such fear is entirely reasonable?

                • Putting words in my mouth again. I didn’t say spontaneously, and I didn’t imply there is justification for blacks distrusting police. The reason and the degree of justification doesn’t matter. If I am a cop and I know one class of citizen is being taught to distrust and fear me, then I distrust and fear members of that group when forced into confrontations with them. Surely you can grasp that.

                  • deery

                    I didn’t put any words in your mouth, thus the use of question marks. Which parts exactly did you disagree with? It does seem as if you agree with this part And now police officers are rightly more afraid of black people because of that distrust?

                    And do you also agree with the conclusion that And that is why it would be unfair to not hire or dismiss officers who showed this fear of black people, because such fear is entirely reasonable?

                    And if you feel that there are justifiable reasons (what sort of reasons?) for black people to fear and distrust the police, and thus now the police fear black people, I’m a bit interested in what sort of changes could be realistically instituted to change that cycle.

                    • I have no idea how you change it. I know of a chief of police who is doing everything possible to reach out to the community. Fewer bigots like Ta’nisi Coates would help on the other side.

                      Denying the cycle, however, will not work.

                      You used the word spontaneously, which is nonsense, and a word I never used, implied or believe.

      • A.M. Golden

        In this climate of fear, the way you handle being in possession of a gun while being stopped for a traffic violation is important. Many years ago, my brother-in-law, who had a permit to carry a gun, was stopped for speeding. The police officer asked for his registration which was in the glove compartment…with my brother-in-law’s gun. In that situation, of course, he had to explain to the officer that there was a gun in the glove compartment with his registration. He handed over his permit, then under the officer’s direction, slowly removed his registration and gave it to him.

  13. philk57

    I have largely given up trying to explain to people why I go to hellholes of the planet on mission trips. Unless they are a Christian, they simply will not understand my reasons, so I tell them that I am called to do so and do it gladly.

    It used to be that I would deposit $5,000.00 with my brother when I would leave for Haiti as the practice in those innocent days when you were kidnapped was that the kidnapper would call your next of kin (as designated by you) and demand tens of thousands of dollars for your safe release. Your kin were instructed to respond with an offer of a thousand bucks and generally you would be released for 2 or 3 thousand dollars. Nowadays, if you are taken by one of the Sun City gangs, they kill you, dismember you and then call your next of kin. The State Department is entirely aware of this situation and will do little or nothing to help the families of those who are taken. Obviously, you are not being taken by a government actor, so there is a pretty clear difference. So, these days, we hire our own gangster to accompany us through Port o Prince and we feel pretty safe when we get up into the foothills. Other countries, we also try to hire locals to pave the way.

  14. The guys at fifth column brought up a good reminder for anyone discussing the “reason” Otto was even arrested- the supposed theft of a political banner or poster. As the guys mentioned: do we even have any reason to believe NK? Remember, they are a lying and murderous dictatorship, what’s their proof…some grainy film that may or may not have been Otto?

    He may have been foolish visiting NK but we’ve no reason to believe he was detained for any reason other than to be a hostage bargaining chip.

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