As featured on The Huffington Post:
Lindbergh’s historic flight on “The Spirit of St. Louis” is one of the great icons of American History and American initiative. Charles Lindbergh and his flying machine’s triumphal crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 was one of America’s greatest adventures, an event for which the nation stood tall and in which Americans could take pride.
Ironically, there is another transatlantic transport with the name ‘St. Louis’ whose story is one of the nadirs of America’s storied past. Though little known, perhaps no other moment since the Emancipation Proclamation might well have burdened America’s conscience as much.
In May of 1939 some 937 German Jews boarded the passenger liner ‘S.S. Saint Louis’ of the Hamburg-America line, seeking escape from Nazi persecution and passage to Cuba or elsewhere in the Americas. Clearly, a hoped for destination was the United States. Yet after Cuba denied the passengers refuge the captain of the ship turned north in the hope that the U.S. government would permit him to make a landing. Instead of lending a hand in a matter of life or death, the then State Department under Cordell Hull commandeered the U.S. Coast Guard to prevent the ‘S.S. St. Louis’ from accessing U.S. territorial waters. Ultimately the vessel, with no other alternative returned to Europe to discharge its refugee cargo most of whom were ultimately deported and murdered in the German concentration camps of Eastern Europe.
Yesterday John Kerry’s State Department, true to its traditions dating back to the ’30s issued the following pontification:
“The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed,” reads the statement from State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. “We once again stress that Israel do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”
A statement of particularly profound condemnation in keeping with the traditions of a State Department long schooled in the failed understanding of the existential danger being encountered by those it has chosen to condemn without a modicum of mitigating comment. Given the source, given the history of both nations and their shared ideals it is a starkly biased condemnation and unacceptable whether under Cordell Hull then, nor now, under the endlessly and fruitlessly peripatetic Secretary of State John Kerry (be it visits to or convoluted focus on Syria, Iraq, Iran, The Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, Qatar, Cairo and on). Palestinian/Gazan civilian casualties are a deeply sad consequence not of a single act, but the consequence of a state of war wherein tragedies come to pass, much as the murder of the refused refugees on board the S.S. Saint Louis after their forced return to Europe.