June 24, 2007

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor -- But Not Too Many Jews, and Not Too Many Iraqis

As a followup to my recent article, "The Triumph of Racism," and as a further reminder that the immigration debate today merely revisits ground that the United States has frequently trod before, we should note one of the most shameful and despicable episodes in recent history.

In an article from 1991, Jacob Hornberger writes:
[P]rosperity for the poor was not the real significance of our ancestors' policy of freedom of immigration. The true significance is a much more profound one. For the first time in history, oppressed and persecuted people everywhere had hope — hope that if they were able to escape the tyranny under which they suffered, there was a place which would accept them. America was a beacon — a beacon of liberty which shone through the darkness of oppression, persecution, and tyranny throughout the world — a beacon which lit the hearts of millions who knew that if they could just escape, there was a nation, albeit faraway, to which they could flee.


We must never forget that citizens are responsible for wrongdoing by their own government — even when they consciously choose to ignore it. The best-known example in recent times of conscious disregard of wrongdoing by one's own government involved the German people in the 1930s — when Hitler embarked on his policy of extermination of the Jews. Most Americans believe that under same or similar circumstances, the people of this nation would act differently. Unfortunately, they are wrong. Because what Americans have never been taught in their public schools is that the American government, as well as other Western governments (including Britain, Canada, and most of Latin America), through their control of immigration, sealed all avenues of Jewish escape from the Holocaust.

The sordid facts and details are set forth in two books: While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy by Arthur D. Morse, first published in 1967, and The Holocaust Conspiracy: An International Policy of Genocide by William R. Perl, published in 1989. Morse was executive producer of "CBS Reports" and the winner of numerous broadcasting awards. Perl served as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Intelligence Service, worked in the Prosecution Branch of the War Crimes trials, and later taught at George Washington University.

An American cannot read these two books without total revulsion at the reaction of his own government to Hitler's policies against the Jews. Both authors detail the methods by which American politicians and bureaucrats, while maintaining an appearance of great humanitarianism, used immigration policies to prevent Germany's Jews from escaping to the United States. Morse writes:

"In 1938 the Nazis burned every synagogue in the nation, shattered the windows of every Jewish establishment, hauled twenty-five thousand innocent people to concentration camps, and forced the Jews to pay 1,000,000,000 marks for the damage.

"Five days later, at a White House press conference, a reporter asked the President 'Would you recommend a relaxation of our immigration restrictions so that the Jewish refugees could be received in this country?'

"'This is not in contemplation,' replied the President. 'We have the quota system.'

"The United States not only insisted upon its immigration law throughout the Nazi era, but administered it with severity and callousness. In spite of unprecedented circumstances, the law was constricted so that even its narrow quotas were not met. The lamp remained lifted beside the golden door, but the flame had been extinguished and the door was padlocked."

And Perl writes:

"Anti-Semitism ... was certainly a part of the anti-immigration mood of the country, but it was not the sole cause. This was 1938, the U.S. was still on the fringes of the 1929 depression and fear that newcomers would take away jobs needed from those already in the country was genuine. The fact that newcomers mean also increased consumption, that many of them, as they actually did, created new jobs rather than occupy existing ones was not considered....

"President Roosevelt was first of all a politician, and a shrewd and ruthless one at that. He was not going to imperil his fragile coalition for moral or humanitarian reasons. He was not ready to put it to a test over an issue that he knew, was loaded with emotion among supporters as well as opponents and which was in summary not popular at all. He was at that time preparing to run for an unprecedented third term of the presidency, and any rocking of the boat was out of the question.... Yet, it was necessary to keep up the image of a great liberal and humanitarian."
I offer two observations about these issues, one concerning general political theory, and one with regard to much narrower, strategic considerations.

In my earlier related piece, I offered some excerpts from an article by Sheldon Richman. I'm certain that many readers were puzzled and possibly very taken aback by this paragraph of Richman's in particular:
But ["illegal" immigrants] came into our country without permission, conservative talker Tucker Carlson and his ilk say incessantly. Without whose permission? The whole population of the United States? The federal government? Why the assumption that either of those aggregates can have the right to give or withhold permission for someone to relocate here? This is a country, not a country club, and rights are natural not national. If someone wants to come here and can do so without trespassing on private property, that's his right and his own business.
As my previous essay indicated, this view that "permission" is required for an immigrant to come to the United States is hardly limited to conservatives; most liberals believe it, too.

Note that this was not the case in nineteenth-century America, as Hornberger discusses. Americans could travel anywhere without passports "or other evidence of governmental consent," and foreigners could come to the United States as they chose, for the government was prohibited "from interfering with the right of people everywhere to come to the United States to live and work." I also note that the idea that anyone in this country needed to ask "permission" from the government to engage in virtually any activity (assuming that it did not violate anyone else's fundamental rights) is directly antithetical to the original conception of the United States. (and as I documented in a recent installment of the "Dominion Over the World" series, for much of our history Americans could freely purchase almost every drug whose purchase and use is now criminalized.)

Yet today, in just over 200 years, we have moved toward the opposite end of the scale: now, almost everyone of every political persuasion thinks it is proper and necessary for us to ask "permission" of the government to do anything at all. I don't exaggerate: see "The Waiting Game," where I examine in very painful detail the extent to which government has intruded into every kind of human activity, and into every sphere of our lives.

There are numerous, often complex reasons for this shift, and I'll be discussing many of them in future essays. But one of the most fundamental explanations has to do with one's basic conception of the world, and of human action. I touched on it in my essay, "Writing from the Scaffold," which dealt in large part with one of the intellectual forefathers of today's authoritarian movements (particularly of the conservative variety). I excerpted Isaiah Berlin's discussion of Joseph de Maistre, from a collection of Berlin's essays, Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty. This is the critical passage:
In a sense, then, Maistre is a kind of precursor and early preacher of Fascism, and that is what makes him so interesting.


Men may be divided into those who are in favour of life and those who are against it. Among those who are against it there are sensitive and wise and penetrating people who are too offended and discouraged by the shapelessness of spontaneity, by the lack of order among human beings who wish to live their own lives, not in obedience to any common pattern. Among such was Maistre. On the whole he has no positive doctrine, and if he has to choose between liberty and death he rejects liberty.
I have intended to discuss these observations from Berlin and their many ramifications for a long time, and I definitely will finally get to all of that fairly soon. In fact, I had Berlin's analysis of Maistre in mind for the second or third installment of a series I began over a year ago, "Systems of Obedience: The State, Culture and Ideology." For complicated reasons that are now largely irrelevant, I abandoned that series in the form I had first conceived it -- but I did not abandon the ideas and themes I had wanted to discuss. I couldn't, for the simple reason that they are central to many of the more particular subjects that arise almost daily. So, for example, the Maistre discussion became a standalone essay, one which arose because of an ongoing theme in the writing of David Brooks (and many of today's other conservatives).

But one critical point is this: although today's authoritarian conservatives reveal the primary underlying belief in an especially crude form, that same belief is now shared in different variations by virtually everyone. As I phrased it in "Writing from the Scaffold," that conviction is: "the belief that man's nature requires that he obediently submit to authority." Conservatives believe that man must submit to "God's will"; with their fervent embrace of "big government conservatism" (including an aggressively interventionist foreign policy, see Irving Kristol for the literally bloody details: "In Service of the New Fascism"), many conservatives also believe that man must submit to the State (which must endeavor to reflect "God's will," as the conservatives interpret it). Liberals typically leave God out of the equation (well, maybe not) -- but they believe just as or even more strongly that man must submit to the State. Hence, the endless calls for greater government involvement in the economic sphere, the demands for national and global "planning," proposals for incomprehensibly and indecipherably complex regulation of any and every area of human activity, and all the rest.

The theme is always the same: man must submit to authority. They are all the people described by Berlin, who are "too offended and discouraged by the shapelessness of spontaneity, by the lack of order among human beings who wish to live their own lives, not in obedience to any common pattern." Many people will argue that the world is now "too complex" to rely on spontaneity in this manner, and they will contend that such spontaneity will lead only to chaos and destruction. It is not immediately apparent why this must be so. Note that I said it is not obvious why this must be so -- that is, there is no proof of which I am aware that suggests man's inherent nature is such that it necessarily will lead to chaos if left unconstrained. (I also am not aware that such a proof would even be possible, given the immense amount that remains to be discovered and understood about human physiology, psychology, etc.) It may be the case that man has frequently (or even almost always) acted in destructive and self-destructive ways -- but that is far from a proof that man's nature itself must lead to those results. And, as an indication of just one explanation of man's apparently unending tendency toward violence and cruelty and his "need" to submit to authority, you might consult my many essays based on Alice Miller's work -- and in particular, "When the Demons Come," and "When Life and Happiness Are Not Enough." If the causes of the dynamics that Miller describes were significantly altered, much else would also change. Among other things, the degree of compassion and empathy of which people were capable would be dramatically increased, and that shift would lead to behavior of a kind that is tragically rare in today's world.

In addition, those who insist that the State is necessary to prevent catastrophe run up against historical evidence that represents an insurmountable problem: in the modern era, it is precisely the existence of the State that has made catastrophe possible on a scale never before seen in all of history. The twentieth century saw destruction and death on a monumental scale and of a kind that would not have been possible in the absence of States. Given the early years of this century, we may be looking at another hundred years of the same or even worse, assuming we even manage to survive it. With regard to this issue, the State is the problem, not the solution. Moreover, the advocates of obedience to the State seek to avoid a critical fact that I highlight regularly: that the State has and will always be captured by certain privileged groups and sectors of society. Yes, our rulers will tell us -- as all rulers always tell their subjects -- that they represent "the people" and "the people's will." But as I discussed in "The Elites Who Rule Us," it is often not true at all. The most common pattern is that the elites use the apparatus of the State to advance the particular program desired by the elites themselves, and by those interests they look upon favorably -- and they use "the people" to pay for it, financially and in every other way, and often with their blood and their lives.

All of that is dauntingly complicated. I'll return to these issues in more detail soon.

The narrower issue that I want to discuss arises out of this horrifying paragraph, concerning the immigration quotas employed by the United States in the 1930s:
President Roosevelt was first of all a politician, and a shrewd and ruthless one at that. He was not going to imperil his fragile coalition for moral or humanitarian reasons. He was not ready to put it to a test over an issue that he knew, was loaded with emotion among supporters as well as opponents and which was in summary not popular at all. He was at that time preparing to run for an unprecedented third term of the presidency, and any rocking of the boat was out of the question.... Yet, it was necessary to keep up the image of a great liberal and humanitarian.
The very heated battles between liberals and conservatives today are notable for their ferocity, although they are far from unique historically. And even though the liberals and conservatives unceasingly try to convince the general populace that there are differences between them of the gravest significance, it is striking how rarely that is true. I am documenting how almost the entire governing class agrees on the goal of American world hegemony, with everything that implies about an aggressively militant and interventionist foreign policy, in "Dominion Over the World." Today's conservatives and liberals both invoke the great wisdom of an increasingly omnipotent State; they differ only about particular, much narrower goals -- but they do not disagree about the fact that you will be made to comply with whatever their program might be. I would say that "spontaneity" of the kind Berlin references will soon be confined to your home -- but given the proliferation of health and safety regulations as well as any number of other proposed laws (all of which are justified as being "for our own good"), I am not safe in maintaining even that much. Genuine spontaneity is the enemy of authority, and of obedience; it is the greatest enemy of the State. When the State is powerful enough, almost all spontaneity and authenticity in human life is banished.

The liberals and conservatives are alike in another way. Just as the conservatives heap largely undeserved praise on a figure like Ronald Reagan, so the liberals do the same with regard to people like Wilson and Roosevelt. (Almost everybody does it in connection with Churchill.) I recently discussed some aspects of Wilson's record here, and see a much earlier essay about Wilson's complete disregard for civil liberties. And the mythology about FDR is just as overpowering -- and just as inaccurate -- as that surrounding Reagan.

As just one example, many of you reading this might believe that FDR and the New Deal helped to ease the widespread deprivation brought on by the Great Depression, and also helped to bring it to an end. In fact, the exact opposite is true. I recommend you read this entire article by Robert Higgs. Here are a few excerpts:
[H]istorians and the general public alike rank Franklin D. Roosevelt among the greatest of American presidents. Roosevelt, it is said repeatedly, restored hope to the American people when they had fallen into despair because of the seemingly endless depression, and his policies "saved capitalism" by mitigating its intrinsic cruelties and inequalities.

This view of Roosevelt and the New Deal amounts to a myth compounded of ideological predisposition and historical misunderstanding. In a 1936 book called The Menace of Roosevelt and His Policies, Howard E. Kershner came closer to the truth when he wrote that Roosevelt
took charge of our government when it was comparatively simple, and for the most part confined to the essential functions of government, and transformed it into a highly complex, bungling agency for throttling business and bedeviling the private lives of free people. It is no exaggeration to say that he took the government when it was a small racket and made a large racket out of it.

With its bewildering, incoherent mass of new expenditures, taxes, subsidies, regulations, and direct government participation in productive activities, the New Deal created so much confusion, fear, uncertainty, and hostility among businessmen and investors that private investment, and hence overall private economic activity, never recovered enough to restore the high levels of production and employment enjoyed in the 1920s.

In the face of the interventionist onslaught, the American economy between 1930 and 1940 failed to add anything to its capital stock: net private investment for that eleven-year period totaled minus $3.1 billion. Without capital accumulation, no economy can grow. Between 1929 and 1939 the economy sacrificed an entire decade of normal economic growth, which would have increased the national income 30 to 40 percent.


In this madness, the New Dealers had a method. Despite its economic illogic and incoherence, the New Deal served as a massive vote-buying scheme. Coming into power at a time of widespread destitution, high unemployment, and business failures, the Roosevelt administration recognized that the president and his Democratic allies in Congress could appropriate unprecedented sums of money and channel them into the hands of recipients who would respond by giving political support to their benefactors. As John T. Flynn said of FDR, "it was always easy to interest him in a plan which would confer some special benefit upon some special class in the population in exchange for their votes," and eventually "no political boss could compete with him in any county in America in the distribution of money and jobs."


[Roosevelt] was an exceptionally resourceful political opportunist who harnessed the extraordinary potential for personal and party aggrandizement inherent in a uniquely troubled and turbulent period of American history. By wheeling and dealing, by taxing and spending, by ranting against "economic royalists" and posturing as the friend of the common man, he got himself elected time after time. But for all his undeniable political prowess, he prolonged the depression and fastened on the country a bloated, intrusive government that has been trampling on the people’s liberties ever since.
Go ahead, read the whole article. But I warn you: there isn't any Santa Claus, either. And see a post from earlier today for a brief discussion of Roosevelt's assault on civil liberties.

No wonder so many of today's liberals and progressives admire FDR so much, not only with regard to his vast expansion of the welfare-warfare state, but in connection with his political strategy. With respect to the issue noted by Perl, they are exactly the same, as are the national Democrats. Their eyes are on the election of 2008, and everything is calculated with that in mind. The contemptible hypocrisy is the same, too.

The Congressional Democrats could end the Iraq occupation within months by cutting off all further funding (remember the filibuster?) -- but they will not. Lying and pretending that Iraq remains solely the Republicans' responsibility may help them politically, so they let the slaughter continue. Never mind the numerous and intentionally uncounted murders that occur every hour of every day in our monstrous, ongoing war crime. They can't "imperil" that "fragile coalition for moral or humanitarian reasons"! They have to elect Democrats!

The Congressional Democrats could at least try to prevent a U.S. attack on Iran -- but they will not. Don't want to rock the boat! Don't want to stick their necks out! That might lead to problems in 2008. Besides, the leading national Democrats appear to lust for an attack on Iran just as much or even more than Bush and Cheney do. So let's continue toward possible nuclear war, and Armageddon. Hey, just think how big the Democrats' majorities might be in 2009! And they'll have the White House, too! Well, they can govern whatever might be left of the United States -- and try to control events in whatever might be left of the world.

To return to the narrower subject of this post -- the vile, discriminatory quotas for immigrants that we have used so horribly in the past and that we now use again -- please remember the following critical facts. We launched a criminal war of aggression against Iraq, a nation that was no serious threat to us -- and that honest, basically knowledgeable observers knew was no serious threat in the winter and spring of 2002-2003. Every day since the U.S. invasion began represents another monstrous war crime, in an endless series of war crimes. Those crimes will continue for years into the future. We have murdered well over half a million innocent Iraqis, who would be alive today but for our actions. We have irrevocably maimed and injured many hundreds of thousands more Iraqis.

The United States government chose to do all of this. No legitimate reason of self-defense necessitated these actions; in fact, if we had genuinely been concerned about lessening whatever terrorist threat might actually exist, we would have acted in radically different ways. In addition to all the other unforgivable, incomprehensibly awful consequences of our actions, we have created a refugee crisis of monumental proportions. Keep in mind these figures provided by Dahr Jamail:
Let's start with the numbers, inadequate as they are. The latest UN figures concerning the refugee crisis in Iraq indicate that between 1-1.2 million Iraqis have fled across the border into Syria; about 750,000 have crossed into Jordan (increasing its modest population of 5.5 million by 14%); at least another 150,000 have made it to Lebanon; over 150,000 have emigrated to Egypt; and -- these figures are the trickiest of all -- over 1.9 million are now estimated to have been internally displaced by civil war and sectarian cleansing within Iraq.

These numbers are staggering in a population estimated in the pre-invasion years at only 26 million. At a bare minimum, in other words, at least one out of every seven Iraqis has had to flee his or her home due to the violence and chaos set off by the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Yet, as even the UN officials on the scene admit, these are undoubtedly low-end estimates.
And then consider this:
The Bush administration is to increase the official quota of Iraqi refugees who will be allowed to settle in the United States from 500 to 7,000 over the next year, in a response to the growing refugee crisis in Iraq.

The move follows repeated criticism of the US by humanitarian groups for failing to help more than 3 million Iraqis displaced from their homes since the conflict began.

So far the United States has allowed only 463 Iraq refugees into the country since the war began nearly four years ago.


The 7,000 would be resettled from nations outside Iraq where they have fled. The US proposal also includes plans to offer special treatment for Iraqis still in their country whose cooperation with the US government puts them at risk from sectarian reprisal.
Gee, a whole 7,000 people a year, plus "special treatment" for a few others. Aren't we just the most marvelously generous nation the world has ever seen.

To describe this as profoundly sickening does not even begin to capture the degree of immorality involved. If we continue to act in this manner, it will soon be impossible for us to sink any lower in the annals of barbarism. That is one goal an unprovoked attack on Iran would accomplish: it would forever brand us as belonging among the worst pariah nations in history.

We may arrive there very, very soon.