Remembering the Man Who Exposed Official American Indifference to the Holocaust

March 20 2018

The historian David S. Wyman, who died last Wednesday at the age of eighty-nine, claimed that he never knew what brought him—a Gentile from New Hampshire—to focus his doctoral research on Franklin Roosevelt’s policies regarding Jewish refugees from Germany. But the resulting work, Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941 (1968), would open up a raft of unanswered questions. His 1978 Commentary essay “Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed” and then his 1984 The Abandonment of the Jews shaped all future discussion about this chapter in American history. Pierre Sauvage writes:

Much has been made of the fact that Wyman was the grandson of two clergymen, but he insisted that he was not raised in an “unusually” religious home. In seventh grade he got kicked out of Sunday school for throwing spitballs; according to his parents’ ground-rules, that meant that he had to attend church on Sundays. But as with all righteously inclined people I have come to know something about, Wyman had important role models as he grew up. His mother . . . had helped break the color bar at their Methodist church. His father would relentlessly say, “Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.” . . .

His father had found a job as a milkman, whose route brought him through a Jewish community; Wyman remembered that his father had only positive things to say about the people along the milk route. . . .

Wyman placed much of the blame for American inaction [in the 1930s and 40s] on the Roosevelt administration. . . . On one occasion, . . . Wyman turned to a file cabinet, and quickly located what he considered a blisteringly relevant letter, written by a woman in Oakalla, Texas, in January 1944 to her senator: “I have never liked the Jews. I have never pretended to like them. . . . But at no time has my thinking been so low that I have wished them any harm. I have never wished them exterminated. . . . If we can do anything to help the European Jews escape the wrath of Hitler then we should do it because they have a right to live. It is not God’s will that they be slaughtered.”

Surely, Wyman went on to say, with some emotion, this is proof of the reservoir of relative goodwill that Roosevelt could have drawn upon had he been inspired to do so: if a person from that background could understand what was at stake, surely a significant part of the American public could have been won over to understanding it. Pressed further, Wyman responded with the earnestness that made his voice so distinctive and so compelling. “I still believe that the American people wouldn’t have failed on this if they had been given information and leadership. Maybe I have to believe it for my own inner peace.”

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More about: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, History & Ideas, Holocaust

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey