The history of man’s inhumanity to man is both long and distressing, but it has been taking on a new resonance in recent days. Our President and Congress are intent on stripping protections for the sick from Obamacare, reducing access to quality public education, privatizing social security, and strengthening access to guns. They wish to expend untold funds to protect the country against immigrants. They have instituted a gag order against federal scientists and removed access to information relevant to global warming and civil rights. And with their announcement of a policy of American First, they have made plain that the concerns of the rest of the world are not ours. In fact, if one is following their current dominance of the news cycle, they have quite amazingly made news of the miseries beyond our border seem to almost disappear.
But let’s review what is going on out there. According to the BBC, in 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants crossed into Europe. While the exact numbers are uncertain, Germany accepted over 476,000 refugees, but may have another 500,000 living illegally with its borders. In 2015, 3770 refugees were reported to have died crossing the Mediterranean to seek asylum. Worldwide, hundreds of thousand of displaced persons live in refugee camps.
Throughout the world, millions more displaced persons are struggling for the basics of survival. The UN estimates the total number at almost 60 million, the highest number of displaced persons ever recorded. The world has the largest humanitarian crisis since the second World War. The plight of these people is not significantly different from that of the Jews of Germany and Eastern Europe in the 1930s who, fleeing their homelands, looked for help both here and abroad. For the most part, the United States turned its back, a time when genocide might have been challenged and the Jews saved from death in Hitler’s gas chambers. Many of today’s current refugees will also die unnecessarily, from lack of food, shelter, and access to medicine, or from being innocently caught up in the numerous armed conflicts flaring across the globe. Those agencies that do provide assistance are swamped – they are to be appreciated and honored, but they are not up to a task that dwarfs their resources.
So, millions of people are in need. In 2016, the United States, under President Obama, dare I say reluctantly, accepted 10,000 refugees. Today, President Trump moved to seal our borders, signing two executive orders designed to increase border enforcement. He is also reported to be about to limit access for both refugees and other persons from “suspect” areas, those areas which, naturally, are the countries being fled. Let me say it again. Mr. Obama struggles to get support to rescue 10,000. Mr. Trump, Mr. America First, signals us that even that is overgenerous. I hope you get my point.
In 1729, Jonathan Swift, the great English/Irish poet, writer, and satirist, was living in Dublin, Ireland. Ireland was then under the thumb of Great Britain whose policies were less than enlightened. After three consecutive years of harvest failures, the country was reeling. With the Irish impoverished and children starving in the streets, Swift decided to underscore the inhuman conditions with a brilliant satire entitled “A Modest Proposal.” There is, suggested Swift (anonymously), an obvious solution. He writes: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie or Ragoust.” Swift carries on with the multiple benefits of his scheme, more food, reduction of excess population, more freedom and less burden for the parents. But unfortunately, there may be some limits – older children, his American friend assures him “from frequent Experience,…[are] generally Tough and Lean…and their Taste disagreeable…. Then as to the Females, it would, I think with humble Submission, be a loss to the Publick, because they would soon become Breeders themselves…” I have to wonder. Perhaps Mr. Swift’s Modest Proposal remains apt, given the unwillingness of the United States, that self-proclaimed “richest country”, to reasonably address the refugee crisis.