• Matthew C. Mai

America the Good

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid

The elites that dominate our culture, politics and the media have concocted a false narrative about the American sensibility.

The current humanitarian crisis on the southern border is a premier example of that narrative. The immigration detention process has drawn routine comparisons to the Holocaust and the rank and file members of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are regularly ridiculed as Nazis. Members of Congress who visited the border in early July falsely claimed that detained migrants were forced to drink out of toilets. The implication from these contemporary critics is that America is inhumane, systematically bigoted, and authoritarian.

Only a willful ignorance of American history could allow someone to draw such a slanderous conclusion.

After the Second World War, 625,000 displaced Europeans were resettled with the help of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. Even more significantly the “Marshall Plan”, an economic aid package worth $12 billion (the equivalent of $100 billion in today’s money), successfully aided in re-building the war-ravaged countries of Western Europe. Throughout the Cold War, hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees found a home along the Eastern seaboard after escaping the communist regime of Fidel Castro. At the conclusion of American involvement in Vietnam, over a million “boat people” fleeing the regime in Hanoi were ushered into the United States under the banner of asylum.

The 1990s was the decade of humanitarian interventionism. Initially playing a support role, American involvement in Somalia evolved into a mission to capture or kill the tribal warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid. Nineteen servicemen were killed, some of their bodies dragged through the streets, and 73 were wounded for trying to stop the man who was stealing food and water from his starving countrymen.

Despite withering criticism at home and abroad, American warplanes and destroyers intervened to stop Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic from continuing an ethnic cleansing of Albanians during the messy Kosovo War. These interventions did not reflect national security concerns, realpolitik, or a calculated measurement of costs vs benefits. In fact, the most remarkable part of these interventions was that the United States gained, in economic and political terms, virtually nothing. Instead, our own moral queasiness about watching people starve in failed states and despots slaughter innocents drove presidents to muddle in the affairs of nations that most of the civilized world wanted nothing to do with.

Guided by the Western understanding of human rights, American blood and treasure were sacrificed with the intention to save lives.

Finally, whatever one thinks about immigration policy, the United States has shown through multiple administrations its willingness to include illegal immigrants in the American experiment. President Reagan signed into law a bill that granted 3 million illegal immigrants amnesty. As Reagan’s speechwriter Peter Robinson notes, “It was in Ronald Reagan's bones -- it was part of his understanding of America -- that the country was fundamentally open to those who wanted to join us here." While the merits of amnesty are debatable and often infused with political motivations, the national consensus has been to let hardworking, decent, and socially contributing illegal immigrants remain with a pathway to citizenship. A 2017 Fox News poll revealed that 83% of Americans share this view. Most Americans recognize the crisis at the border as a failure of government and not the fault of the people risking life and limb to better themselves.

Whatever the sins of America’s past, they do not diminish the sacrifices and accommodations our nation has made on behalf of those less fortunate. At a time when it is fashionable to self-flagellate, we would do well not to forget it.

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