Letter to the Editor: On Syrian airstrikes, learn from American inaction during Holocaust

April 25’s paper described the new exhibit, Americans and the Holocaust, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., for which history Prof. Daniel Greene was the chief curator.

One visitor to the exhibit, Avi Goldstein, was quoted saying the lesson to take away from the exhibit was that, “We failed to protect the victims of the Holocaust during World War II, but looking at the country now, with things going on in Syria, we have an opportunity to change our actions.”

Goldstein’s point is well taken. Unfortunately, it seems that some members of the Holocaust Museum’s own staff disagree.

In response to the recent U.S. missile strike on Syrian chemical weapons factories, museum official Rebecca Erbelding, a co-curator of the exhibit along with Prof. Greene, tweeted: “There are viable ways that the US can aid those being persecuted under an evil regime. Bombing isn’t one of them.”

Erbelding is mistaken. Recent history shows that using military force to interrupt mass murder is a very viable way to aid the persecuted. President Bill Clinton used bombing in 1999 to put an end to atrocities in the Balkans. In 2011, President Barack Obama used it to preempt Muammar al-Qaddafi’s plan to carry out what Obama called “a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.” And in 2014, President Obama also successfully took military action to end the ISIS siege of thousands of Yazidi civilians in Iraq.

Allied military officials have said that the recent missile strikes in Syria have set back Syrian chemical weapons capabilities “for years.” Destroying weapons used by an evil regime to persecute people sounds like a pretty good way to aid those who are being persecuted. It’s a shame that some of the Holocaust Museum’s own representatives don’t seem to understand that obvious lesson from the Holocaust. But it’s encouraging to see students like Goldstein recognizing that our generation has a responsibility to do everything possible to impede the mass murder of civilians, wherever it takes place.

—Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies