Question for the ages: How will history judge us?

I am surely not the only person who has wondered what it was like to live through various big events from history, events that occurred long before I entered this world in 1950.

This curiosity has led me to contemplate events like the Civil War, the growing tensions in Europe and America before World War II, the lynching of black people by vigilantes in the South during the first half of the 20th Century, the internment of Japanese-Americans in the Western United States during the 1940s, and the various waves of anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti-Italian and anti-Irish thinking in our country.

What would have been going through my mind then? How would I have reacted? Would I have sat by quietly, or would I have stood and spoken out from my corner of America?

A nation and its people are judged by history for their actions, and for their inactions. This is especially true of times that are marked by great turmoil and upheaval.

Take the Civil War, as an example.

Iowa has been heralded by history for the way our state and its residents responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call to arms after Fort Sumter. Men and teenage boys from Iowa stepped forward to volunteer for the Union Army at a higher rate than any other state.

But public opinion at the time certainly was not unanimous. There were Iowans against Lincoln who were pro-slavery and who were sympathetic to the Confederacy.

In my family’s history, I know the stories of my great-grandfather who enlisted in the 7th Iowa Infantry Regiment and marched off to confront the Confederates. He was in Tennessee for the great battle at Shiloh, where 20 percent of his Union comrades were killed, wounded or captured.

In later years, comments he made helped his ancestors better understand why Iowa was such a strong Republican state for so long. His most memorable political analysis was, “I shot too many Democrats at Shiloh to ever vote for one.”

That brings me to today.

Once again, events are unfolding around us that will be the subject of the next generations’ history books. Our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children will wonder someday how their relatives responded to one of the great events in the early decades of the 21st Century.

That event is immigration --- especially, the deportation of law-abiding people who were born in other countries but who have lived and worked peacefully alongside us here in America for 20 or 30 years. It also is the separation by the U.S. government of little boys and girls from their parents when families arrive at the southern border of the United States.

I know there are strongly held feelings among our citizens over the issue of foreigners coming into our nation, some with permission and some without. I know there is no agreement on how our nation should respond.

But I hope we can put ourselves in the shoes of these young families who are fleeing their homes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where everyday life has become intolerable because of rampant gang violence, kidnappings and rapes and drug trafficking. These families make the arduous journey to the southern border of the U.S., not because they would prefer to leave their homes and relatives, but because they hope our government will grant them asylum and allow them to live and work in safety and freedom.

I hope the next generations will be proud of our family stories about how we responded to these challenges in 2018, just as I was proud to walk the grounds of Shiloh with my kids and see the large stone monument nestled into the now-peaceful countryside to honor the heroic role of the 7th Iowa Regiment on those two terrible days in April 1862.

But something needs to happen first before the history of the immigration issue in 21st Century America is completed.

We need to make it clear to our elected officials in Washington that while we may differ on the best course of action for addressing the influx of immigrants, there is no room for our government leaders to remove tearful, frightened children from their parents while the asylum cases are decided.

We have no room to tell other nations how they should act if the United States thinks it is OK to traumatize 700 immigrant children just in the first months of the government’s “family separation” program.

We cannot be that “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere,” as President Ronald Reagan once described it, if we allow the values spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and on the Statue of Liberty to be trampled on by this misguided government policy.

It is time for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stand up and show leadership and allow Congress to finally debate meaningful immigration reforms so we can end this embarrassing spectacle that is sullying our reputation in the eyes of the world.

We must do better.

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Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at

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