Humanitarian Aid Helps Us Too

American citizens in the 19th and early 20th century, mostly Protestant Anglo-Saxons, were often strongly racist and hateful. Their most reviled groups were Catholics, Jews, and foreigners. Several Asian populations were either prohibited from entering the country, or suffered under a number of unjust laws. After “Kristallnacht”, the Nazi massacre of Jews in 1938, a large majority of Americans were opposed to admitting 20,000 orphaned Jewish children, and they were abandoned to their fate.

Not exactly a humane society, this gang of 100% immigrants.

Today many millions of people have been driven from their homes by wars and violence in several parts of the globe. Syria, the Horn of Africa, Myanmar… They live in desperate circumstances, often with little hope that their lives might improve. The humane thing to do would be for the world at large to take in these unfortunates, at least until their lives are not in danger. The US should take the lead in temporarily absorbing some of these suffering people. But our long history of xenophobia and racism suggests this will never happen, and many other nations today are much the same. The Germans and Turks; the French and Arabs; the Italians and North Africans.

Those who oppose immigration don’t seem to understand that most immigrants would prefer to stay at home. No one wants to be uprooted and taken far away, without a dime to their names, to a society of strangers speaking a language they do not understand. Since immigration was the path of literally every American family, it is surprising—stupid, really—that we fail to understand this.

The humane thing would be
for the world at large to take in
some of those fleeing from war,
violence, and natural disaster.

It would be possible to establish a global effort to assist refugees fleeing from war, violence, and natural disaster on a temporary basis for purely humanitarian reasons. There are large numbers, but it would not be necessary to help all of them this way, and their numbers are quite manageable for a global effort. Some or all of them might be required to return home when conditions stabilized, or allowed to begin a permanent immigration process at that time.

Aside from those fleeing war, there are millions fleeing impossible economic conditions, and nearly all countries refuse to accept them. But when we look at the reasons they are so desperate, what we find is that much of the blame for it lies squarely on our own shoulders, historically because of colonialism, but also from corporate malfeasance and imperialist military adventurism, which continue unabated today.

Colonialism was universally bad for the victim countries, particularly their ordinary citizens, and when it finally ended their countries were already impoverished, whereupon many were beset by home-grown tyrants who made it considerably worse.

It would seem, then, that strong diplomatic attempts to restore a functioning democratic economy to countries ruined by colonialism would do much to keep their citizens at home, since virtually nobody wants to leave home if there is a better alternative. But our primary way of doing this has mostly been to hand large sums of money to unsavory political leaders, who promptly salt away half of it in their personal Swiss accounts and give the other half to political cronies and the military.

We must overcome the tragic tendency
to be cruel to desperate people
who flee violence and poverty.

After decades of this we seem to have at least partly wised up. As Paul Theroux noted in his newest book Last Train to Zona Verde, the current plan appears to be to allot a set amount of money for a specific project, which is only awarded one phase at a time, the next release contingent on the previous phase being finished and inspected. As naïve as it sounds, previously the whole sum was simply handed over, and the project was rarely even started. Nobody would run a business that way. Why did it take so much time and so many billions before this common sense policy came along?

It’s also important to keep corporate interests away from any effort to help the world’s most desperate. It is virtually a certainty that any corporate “help” will end up benefiting the corporation, but not the people who need help.

We must overcome the tragic and shortsighted tendency of so many to be cruel to desperate people who flee violence and poverty in their own countries. Virtually all of the claims anti-immigrants make are false. Immigrants find low-paying jobs; they do not replace native workers. They are not terrorists. They actually want to learn the new language, which is difficult, but their children learn it easily. If they can’t stay at home, they want to blend in to their new surroundings and accept the new culture, but they also want to preserve their own heritage. They must accept charity to get started, but soon earn their own way, paying taxes and contributing willingly to the economy. And they have much to contribute to the great melting-pot American culture.

Finding ways for these desperate people to be accepted, by all the advanced countries in limited numbers, even for limited periods, would go a long way toward righting some of the world’s wrongs. We would all like the result.


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