The 15 British sailors and marines held hostage by Iran, and the members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team both have achieved the highest status contemporary liberalism offers: victimhood.
Writing in 1852 about the "emperor" Napoleon III, Karl Marx said history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. The British hostage crisis moved seamlessly from the one to the other.
It began when the captives returned home, clutching the goody bags provided by their captors. The Admiralty treated them as if they were heroes, permitting them to sell their stories to the tabloid press, a relaxation of the rules hitherto granted chiefly to winners of the Victoria Cross, Britain's equivalent of the Medal of Honor.
While the British media were fawning over the returned captives, the BBC decided not to air a documentary on Private Johnson Beharry, the first black man to win the Victoria Cross, for fear of offending viewers who are opposed to the war in Iraq.
The captured Britons deserved our sympathy, but not our respect. I do not fault them for surrendering without firing a shot to a numerically inferior, but more heavily armed force, though I doubt that U.S. Marines, similarly situated, would have done so.
I do fault the British sailors and (especially) the Royal Marines for the alacrity with which they violated the code of conduct to collaborate in Iranian propaganda broadcasts. Their behavior was shameful, compared to that of the U.S. Marines seized by the Iranians at the U.S embassy in Tehran in 1979; the crew of the USS Pueblo, seized by the North Koreans in 1968, or the American pilots captured by the North Vietnamese.
The hostages seized at the U.S. embassy in Tehran were held for 444 days. "We resisted at each opportunity," one of the Marine guards among the hostages said in an email to the blog IMAO. "We refused to cooperate, stole keys, plugged toilets, pissed in their rations, blew circuit breakers, laughed in their faces when they threatened us and cursed them when they beat us."
The crew of the Pueblo was held for 11 months. They were savagely beaten after Time magazine thoughtfully informed their captors that the middle finger each sailor extended in propaganda photographs was not, as the sailors had told the North Koreans, a Hawaiian good luck sign.
The 15 Brits broke down in less than three days. Leading Seaman Faye Turney told the Sun she capitulated after being told she might go to prison for "several years" if she didn't cooperate. Arthur Batchelor told the Mirror he'd been called "Mr. Bean" (after a British comedy character) by his captors, and they'd stolen his iPod. The horror.
Capt. Chris Air of the Royal Marines told the Manchester Evening News (in an unpaid interview) the interrogations were "quite friendly," and that their 13 days of captivity was "probably a more unpleasant and stressful experience than terrifying." So why, Capt. Air, did you and the other officer (Navy Lt. Felix Carman) collaborate so readily?
So many Britons were revolted both by what the sailors had to say, and the fact they said it for pay that Defence Secretary Des Browne reversed the Admiralty and reinstated the ban on military personnel taking money for talking to the media.
The British media at least were wallowing in victimhood over something substantial. The "ordeal" of the Rutgers women's basketball team is the kind of controversy the U.S. media love: utterly frivolous, and dripping with hypocrisy.
As the whole world knows by now thanks to the enormous attention devoted to the story Shock Jock Don Imus made a racist and misogynist crack about the Rutgers women, who had nearly won the women's NCAA basketball tournament.
Mr. Imus, who's said this sort of thing often in the past, deserves no sympathy. But why have those so outraged by his description of the Rutgers women as "nappy-headed hos" been so silent about the language of the black rap musicians Mr. Imus was mimicking? And why should the shock jock grovel before Al Sharpton, who came to prominence for his racist smears in the Tawana Brawley case?
The saddest part of the controversy is the reaction of the Rutgers women. They are champions. Many are also good students. None get the academic passes male athletes do. But rather than act like champions, they seek victim status. One said she'd be "scarred for life" by Mr. Imus' remark. They'd rather have our sympathy than our admiration.
Mr. Imus was wrong, said a commenter at Lucianne.com. The Rutgers women aren't "hos." They're wussies.