America fails to live up to its humanitarian ideals


Ilanna Bernstein ('25)

Afghans flee the Kabul Airport amid crisis

In May 1939, a German cruise liner called the MS St. Louis departed from Hamburg, Germany, packed with Jewish passengers fleeing the horrors of the Nazi regime less than one year after Kristallnacht (November 1938) and six years after the inauguration of the first concentration camp, Dachau (1933). After reaching the shores of Cuba, the boat was refused permission to dock, causing the Jewish refugees to desperately reach out to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an attempt to receive asylum within the United States. President Roosevelt never responded.
The passengers also reached out to the United States State Department but received a response they were not looking for: wait your turn. As a result, this trip was later nicknamed the “Voyage of the Damned”, because nearly a third of the ship’s 937 passengers were later murdered in concentration camps after forcefully being returned to Europe. Here, America messed up, and it has the blood of those who died trying to escape the nefarious Nazi regime on its hands. Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it: let’s hope our nation does not.
In recent weeks, the terrorist organization, the Taliban, took over Afghanistan, causing a deluge of Afghan citizens wanting to leave the country, fearing for their lives. The world watched as Afghans fell mid-air to their deaths while clinging on to the outside of US military planes as they took off from Kabul International Airport.
A New York Times article, by David Zucchino, describes the trauma of pushing through Kabul airport for one anonymous woman, a former interpreter for an American company. As she traveled through the airport with her family, including her two-year-old daughter, a stampede of humans trampled over them. When she rose to her feet, she searched for her daughter and found her dead. “I felt pure terror,” the woman said to Zucchino in a phone interview. However, there were others who faced the wrath of America’s botched evacuation from Afghanistan as well.
Zucchino also interviewed a 39-year-old former interpreter for the U.S. military and Western aid groups. The interpreter had received calls from the Taliban threatening him and his family, saying the consequence for working with America is death. The man told Zucchino that the failure to effectively evacuate people from Afghanistan makes him believe he may have to “accept the consequences.”
America leaves the remaining Afghan citizens with an undemocratic, sexist, and totalitarian government. Under the Taliban’s rule, women are forced to wear head-to-toe coverings and cannot go outside without an accompanying male guardian. The Taliban has also barred women from attending schools, especially by threatening them with inhumane punishments, such as public executions, whippings, and other forms of torture, according to the Washington Post. Still, despite the logistical nightmare of evacuating United States troops and allies and giving up control of Afghanistan to the Taliban, America views itself as a global moral authority that supports religious tolerance and women’s civil rights.
The desperation of the many Afghans fleeing their country parallels that of passengers on the MS St. Louis. While the situations are not the same, they are both humanitarian crises that deserve attention and require quick decisive action from countries suited to help. America should have pooled its vast resources and organized its military faster, to help those who helped us and needed it. America had the opportunity to be on the right side of history, saving innocent Afghans from untimely deaths at the hands of the Taliban. Our government needs to make it easier to help people fleeing humanitarian crises to enter our borders and legally seek refuge in the United States.
How else are we supposed to live up to the words of the “New Colossus”, Emma Lazarus’ poem that adorns the Statue of Liberty, called by the poem the “Mother of Exiles”: “‘Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”