By: Lieutenant Colonel Kamal Singh (Kalsi)
Members of the military sacrifice more than just blood, sweat, and tears. I deployed to a combat hospital in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province as an emergency room doctor and soldier in the U.S. Army. We took care of more casualties than I care to remember. Aside from our soldiers, I also treated local national interpreters that had volunteered to help us defend our nation against terrorist elements. When we pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, we left behind countless local nationals who became easy targets for the enemies that had waited so patiently for them. These people and their families became refugees in regions that we helped to destabilize.
My grandparents were also refugees from India’s bloody partition in 1947. In fact, my grandmother, Maya Kaur, was only 6 years-old when she heard someone banging on the door late one day. Her parents told her to go hide under the bed. She watched helplessly as an angry mob, incited by political rhetoric, murdered her entire family. As an orphaned child, she wandered alone, lost, and hungry until a family took her in as their own. To this day, she is haunted by that unspeakable tragedy.
In response to Trump’s anti-refugee and anti-immigration stances, she says, “This is the same type of hateful rhetoric. This is what we thought we escaped from.”
Despite Donald Trump Jr.’s assertion that a few refugees “will kill you,” the Cato Institute did the math. Their terrorism risk analysis found that the chance of a refugee murdering an American during a given year was one in 3.64 billion. If you want to expand it more broadly, then you could look at how many people were killed in the U.S. by home grown terrorists and others. According to a CNN report last year, 3,043 lives were lost to terrorism here in the U.S. from 2001 through 2014.
I have a better way of saving lives. Let’s focus on preventing heart attacks which kill one in four Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control. Or perhaps we can look for ways to reduce the yearly number of homicides (15,696), suicides (44,193), motor vehicle deaths (35,092), or drug overdose deaths (52,404) that destroy families and deeply scar communities. An average of about 350 people also die annually in the U.S. from drowning. Pools easily kill more people than terrorists, and yet you never hear anyone demand “extreme vetting” for these playful death traps?
There are many things that can and will kill us, and as a member of the military, I feel strongly that our government should focus on protecting the public from harm. Policies that target our commitment to diversity and pluralism will not only erode our democracy but also have dire consequences for our economy and our national security. The dot-com boom and internet revolution may never have occurred if it wasn’t for a large population of IT-loving immigrants. Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian refugee, changed our phones and our lives for the better. Immigrants helped to create our space program and missiles as well as revolutionized our approach to war. Refugees and immigrants make our country stronger.
My family is here because this great country has — and continues to — embrace us. But America is a work in progress, still very much a democratic experiment. Over our history, while we trend towards greater inclusiveness, there are moments of backsliding. We live with the shame of having placed our Japanese brothers and sisters in internment camps during World War II; to this day, our African-American brothers and sisters tolerate inequities in education, criminal justice, and job opportunities. From my perspective, it is our civic duty to stand up and fight for which version of America we want to advance. Do you want a country that wears its xenophobia on its sleeve, or do you want to live in a community that respects immigrants and embraces them as the lifeblood of American exceptionalism? I know we can support and understand diversity as a strategic imperative, but we need to make it a moral imperative as well.
Members of the military sacrifice their time and freedom for the security of our nation. These are uncertain times, and if we are to be a secure nation, it will be because of America embracing its diversity, not rejecting it. Building giant ugly walls around your city was popular in the Dark Ages, but they couldn’t save Rome. Let’s learn from history and make our democracy great again.
Source: Truman Project
Lieutenant Colonel Kamal Singh Kalsi is an ER doctor and a U.S. Army officer who deployed to Afghanistan and has served in the military for 16 years. He currently serves in the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Dix, New Jersey, as a disaster medicine expert in the Army Reserve. He is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. Views expressed are his own.