In advance of President Trump’s planned 15-minute visit to Yad Vashem, the Times of Israel asked several Holocaust educators, including Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff, to briefly explain what they would say if they had 15 minutes to speak with the president about the Holocaust. Below is Dr. Medoff’s contribution:
Dear President Trump,
The most important lesson an American president should learn from the Holocaust is that unwillingness to use American military power in the service of humanity leads to catastrophe. Some dislike the notion of the U.S. as “policeman of the world,” but a world bedeviled by genocidal dictators desperately needs a policeman, and America is the only nation for the job.
The United States should assume this responsibility not just for the sake of innocent civilians around the world—although surely that is reason enough—but also because tyrants who abuse human rights usually endanger America’s national security, too. Military action against Adolf Hitler in the 1930s not only would have preempted the Holocaust, but would have spared the Free World from a war that cost more than 60 million lives.
Sadly, most American presidents have failed to act against genocide abroad. Franklin D. Roosevelt turned his back on Europe’s Jews, even though U.S. planes bombing oil targets adjacent to Auschwitz could have struck the death camp with minimal effort. Jimmy Carter did nothing to impede the slaughter in Cambodia, Bill Clinton turned a blind eye to the mass murder in Rwanda, and neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama took serious steps against the Darfur genocide. Clinton’s belated intervention in the Balkans, and Obama’s aid to besieged Yazidis, offered a glimpse of what American power can achieve when the president is willing to use it.
Since my 15 minutes are almost up, Mr. President, I offer one final thought. The civil war in Syria, even with Bashar Assad’s poison gas and crematoria, is not the same as the Holocaust; but atrocities need not reach the level of genocide for America to care and respond. Early U.S. action against Assad would have spared the lives of countless innocent civilians and preempted the international refugee crisis. It’s late, but not too late, for America to take decisive action to bring down Assad. Doing so would translate the lessons of the Holocaust into meaningful action.
—Dr. Rafael Medoff
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C.
as published in Times Of Israel