"We believe these three individuals are innocent." The words, soberly spoken by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, bring to an end the unjust prosecution of the three former Duke lacrosse players. "We have no credible evidence that an attack occurred."
The motives of the "overreaching" prosecutor, as Cooper called him, are obvious: Prosecuting three white men on charges brought by a black accuser helped him win black votes he needed in an election. The motives of those who rushed to believe the charges — and continued to believe them 366 days after DNA testing implicated none of the players — are something else. The "Group of 88" Duke professors, journalists for The New York Times and the Durham Herald-Sun, heads of black and feminist organizations: All seemed to have a powerful emotional need to believe. A need to believe that those they classify as victims must be virtuous and those they classify as oppressors must be villains. A need to believe that this is the way the world usually works.
Except it doesn't. Cases that fit this template don't come along very often. In this country, black-on-white crime is far more common than white-on-black crime (black-on-black crime is far more common still). You won't see the characters exercised by the Duke case looking at the recent case of three University of Minnesota players accused (whether justly or not) of rape; they happen to be black.
This need to believe that the victim class is always virtuous and the oppressor class is guilty is widespread, and perhaps growing, in this country and abroad. It is particularly strong among those lucky enough to get paid to observe the way most people work and live — academics, journalists, apparatchiks of advocacy organizations. We can see the impulse in the rejection by the Public Broadcasting system of a film about moderate Muslims confronting Islamists. PBS says the film isn't ready yet and was tainted by the presence of two conservatives — imagine! — on its board of advisers. But lurking behind PBS's decision is a distaste for Muslims who embrace the values of their Western oppressors, along with sympathy, or something like it, for the Islamist victims.
Or consider two events in Britain. First, the Ministry of Defense's decision, since rescinded, to allow the sailors and marines who groveled before their Iranian captors to sell their stories to the press. After all, they are victims — people placed in the line of fire in what many consider an unjustified war. At just about the same time another pillar of the establishment, the BBC, canceled a documentary on Pvt. Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism in Iraq. The story, a BBC source said, was "too positive." Or it would antagonize Muslims or war opponents. Johnson Beharry, you see, although a West Indian by origin, has joined the oppressor class by serving heroically.
Meanwhile, far from Britain, in Littleton, Colo., some citizens are trying to prevent the erecting of a statue honoring Navy SEAL Danny Dietz, a local son who died while serving heroically in Afghanistan. It sends the wrong message, these worthies argue, to honor someone wielding a gun in a community that suffered a massacre in its high school in 1999. That's an argument that only makes sense if you suppose that Danny Dietz was in the oppressor class, no more morally worthy than the maniacs who murdered their fellow students and teachers.
This urge to see the victim class as virtuous and the oppressor class as villainous leads people in countries like the United States and Britain to sympathize more with our enemies than our defenders. This is not new. "England is, I believe, the only country in which, during a great war, eminent men write and speak publicly as if they belonged to the enemy," said Lord Salisbury a century ago. Now you can add America to the list. "Before I left for Iraq," John McCain said in a speech last week at Virginia Military Institute, "I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission. Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender? In Iraq, only our enemies were cheering." McCain just doesn't get it. Our enemies are virtuous victims. We are the evil oppressors. Just like those Duke lacrosse players.
By Michael Barone