Support our mission
 

We are not afraid. The attackers in Paris and the Islamic State movement are terrible people who have perverted Islam to suit their own corrupt objectives. They must be defeated. We have both dedicated significant portions of our lives fighting in these wars. If we have learned anything from our experiences, it is that the manner in which we stop them is just as important as their defeat. The objective of terrorism is as the name implies, to make us afraid, to change our behavior, to cause us to live in fear.

There have been moments in our past when we fell prey to such fears. In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, our fears reached a near-hysteria. Japanese became “the enemy race.” We interned between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans, nearly two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, on the faulty logic that, in the parlance of that era, “a Jap is a Jap.” That’s a dark stain on our history, which, appropriately and much too late, we rectified in a small way when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. That act acknowledged the fundamental injustice, apologized on behalf of the people of the U.S. and made restitution to those interned.

There have also been moments when we were our best selves. In the early 1880s, a wave of anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia forced thousands of Jews to flee to New York City. Between 1880 and 1924, we welcomed as many as 3 million Eastern European Jews. American poet Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet, which would become famous after her death. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” it proclaimed.

We resettled 125,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. In the late 1970s a second wave of Vietnamese refugees arrived during the “boat people” refugee crisis, and the U.S. settled nearly 320,000 Vietnamese refugees throughout 1979 and 1980.

In the past few weeks, governors, candidates and several other political leaders have pledged to keep refugees from the Middle East out of their states and out of the country. They acknowledge that the vast majority of those seeking refuge are not Islamic State operatives and are in fact innocent victims of the Islamic State group and the regime of Syria’s Bashar Assad. However the purported fear is that the Islamic State group will use this vulnerable population as a vehicle to infiltrate the U.S., hiding a few among the many seeking our protection.

The U.S. refugee admissions screening process is robust and extensive. The U.S. screens all refugees, a process that lasts between 18 and 24 months, before they even set foot on U.S. soil. It is hard to imagine that terrorists will wait for years to be resettled and endure the vigorous security protocols we have in place. As leaders in combat, we spent much of our professional careers managing risk, not eliminating it.

Furthermore, welcoming refugees will create a community that values America and our way of life, as such action always has. We have been witness to the reality that there are no people more passionate about their citizenship (and more enthusiastic about joining the military, it should be emphasized) than the children of immigrants.

We served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside some of the bravest people we will ever know. We are not referring to our comrades in the Army and Marine Corps, respectively, but rather to the Iraqi and Afghan people who worked with us and assisted us at great personal risk. We take heart that many of them have gained asylum in the U.S. We are a nation of refugees. A Syrian fleeing the violence in his homeland may be our next neighbor, colleague at work, fireman who responds to our call, a computer genius or the teacher of our children. At least we hope so.

At this moment, we should reaffirm what America stands for: a beacon of hope and freedom, and home of the brave. It is one of the things we fought for.

Walter Cooper is chairman of the board of directors of the International Refugee Assistance Project and director for Veterans Experience at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He served for 15 years on active duty as an officer in the Army special forces and is now a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Scott Cooper is national security outreach director at Human Rights First. He served for 20 years as an active-duty officer in the Marine Corps, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Migrated

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up