Many of those outraged by President Trump’s executive order severely restricting the admission to the U.S. of people from certain Muslim countries have compared it with Franklin Roosevelt’s callous treatment of Jewish refugees from Europe during the 1930s, a comparison encouraged by the fact that Trump’s order was issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day. While calling the president’s move “cruel and bigoted,” Walter Russell Mead and Nicholas M. Gallagher note, and correct, the mix of historical ignorance and political tendentiousness at work in these analogies:
The restrictions that kept out the St. Louis’s passengers, [who were turned away from the United States in 1939 and for the most part later perished in the Holocaust], were written into law in 1924, when the Reed-Johnson Act almost totally cut off immigration to the United States, refugee or otherwise. . . . [Going] far beyond anything we’re seeing (yet) today, [it] cut immigration by over 90 percent, and an almost total ban was imposed on immigrants from central, eastern, and southern Europe that would endure for two generations. Not even the Holocaust could pry the doors open more than a crack; large-scale immigration was not allowed to resume until 1965. . . .
[But the] real problem in the 1930s wasn’t the lack of compassion for Jewish and other refugees; it was the feckless appeasement of Adolf Hitler and the unwillingness to confront him that empowered the Nazi persecution of the Jews and created hundreds of thousands of refugees. So today the true villain of the Syria story—aside from Syria, Russia, and Iran—is the feckless Obama foreign policy that allowed a cyst to metastasize into a cancer, just as Britain, France, and America once allowed Hitler to grow into the master of Europe.
The Obama administration officials and cheerleaders now guilt-tripping the country over its “heartlessness” toward Syrian refugees are giving hypocrisy a bad name. Bad foreign policy is the cause of the heartbreak in Syria today, not bad immigration policy. The world does not need lectures from Susan Rice and Samantha Power on what we should do about Syrian refugees; the best way to deal with refugee flows is to prevent them from happening. The Holocaust was not caused by the Reed-Johnson Act; it was caused by Nazi hatred, enabled by naïve liberal illusions about the “arc of history” that prevented the West from mobilizing against Hitler when he was weak and easily defeated.
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