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Column: The Idea of America Demands That We Accept Refugees

By John Blankley
Sentinel Columnist

Harold Macmillan was asked nearly 60 years ago what he feared most as prime minister, and he replied in his patrician manner, “Events, dear boy, events.” He meant those uncontrollable happenings that change political fortunes in a trice. Well, events have certainly overwhelmed us recently, with terrorist attacks that have turned the national conversation to homeland security, Syrian refugees, and the hateful reaction of that “mouthy narcissist” (as the Times of London calls him) Donald Trump.

Here in Greenwich, our first act after last month’s Paris massacre was to mark our solidarity with the people of France. A number of us gathered on the steps of Town Hall a few weeks ago to hear Renee Ketcham, president of the Greenwich chapter of the Alliance Française, and First Selectman Peter Tesei articulate our collective sympathy. After the short ceremony, we belted out the Marseillaise, that most blood stirring of national anthems. It was an appropriate response at the local level, and as always, the close ties with France were recalled and the name of Lafayette was evoked. I’ll mention in passing the most famous of such tributes—when U.S. Army Colonel Charles E. Stanton said as we arrived in France in 1917, “Lafayette, we are here.”

In our time we will join again with French forces and other allies, including the Brits, to combat the common threat to humanity represented by ISIS and their cohort of Islamic extremists. There is, however, one other equally important contribution to the fight against terror and atrocity—and that is the refusal to be cowed, the refusal to give in to fear, the refusal to  compromise our values. In short, now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to those special ideals that make America the one indispensable nation, the place that refugees from all over the world see as the beacon of hope. We will demonstrate to all nations that we represent the ultimate bulwark against tyranny and terror by the simple reaffirmation that America will continue to accept refugees, including Syria’s.

Not only will we show moral leadership to the world, but we will also demonstrate our amazing capacity to learn from mistakes of the past. By this stroke we will gain some redemption for the blots on our history represented by the rejection of Jewish immigrants and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War Two, and many instances of xenophobia over the years, some of it expressed by some Republican presidential candidates even to this day by Donald Trump.

How I admire our president and our governor for their stand against the madness of crowds. In Greenwich, I can add the name of my good friend Drew Marzullo, the Democratic selectman. We have the opportunity to show the world community that our country is like no other, for we are not simply a nation state and the world’s only superpower, we are much more than that—we are the very embodiment of an idea, we are the ultimate champions of individual freedom.

But the land of the free is also the home of the brave, and we must be willing to offer to “huddled masses yearning to be free” the opportunity to share our bounty. Though I and my family can hardly claim to have been huddled masses, we are recent immigrants and we have empathy for those trying to reach our shores and to build new lives.

As I make this appeal to the better angels of our nature, I ask you to consider the plight of the people of Syria and its economic center, Aleppo. I first heard of Aleppo 60 years ago, and it remains vivid in my mind for this reason: my father was posted there in 1941 with the RAF and would tell stories of those happy times. Happy? Only because the purpose of his posting to Aleppo was never fulfilled and because he got to know and like the people. His task was to radio back to Damascus if the “Axis hordes” came down through Syria to cut off the British Empire from its access to the “Jewel in the Crown,” India. My father was expendable and he knew it, but did his duty because he knew he was fighting in a just war.

The descendants of the people he knew in Aleppo are now doubtless some of the refugees seeking a new home in America. Let us give them that new home. And let us stand together in another just war: the preservation of our American ideals.

John Blankley came to America with his young family 32 years ago and has lived in Greenwich ever since. A former corporate executive and now small business owner and entrepreneur, he has served on the RTM and currently sits on the BET.

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