Because we’re all capable of both courage and cowardice, I often think about how the same president who got us through the Depression and saved the world from the Nazis also executed one of the most shameful political calculations in history when he turned away the more than 900 Jews on board the SS St. Louis in 1939.
Already refused entry to Cuba, these refugees from the Third Reich could see the lights of Miami from the ship, and in desperate cables to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, begged him for refuge. He never answered, but the State Department did, advising in a telegram that they should “await their turns” on a years-long list. France, Britain, Belgium and Holland took them in, but about half of them ultimately died in the Holocaust.
Today, because we already screen refugees for an average of 18-24 months, the only reason to summarily turn away Muslims fleeing terrorism is similarly political: President Donald Trump’s travel ban will have heartbreaking consequences but won’t make us any safer than refusing those painted as criminals by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels at a time when eight of 10 Americans opposed any relaxing of restrictions.
Melinda Henneberger, firstname.lastname@example.org