Let's think of some other cases where the opportunity to do good weighed heavily. Consider the case of World War II (additional reading). All these Jews were being killed, and the United States went and defeated Hitler. Wasn't that a moral act? Well, there were a couple things to consider. The first is that the United States didn't enter the war when Jews started getting killed. The United States entered the war when the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor and then Germany declared war on the United States, but more importantly before the United States entered the war, there was a crisis of Jewish refugees who wanted to get out of Europe because Hitler's policy at first was not extermination but expulsion, to expel as many Jews as he could from German controlled territory. The problem was while Hitler was willing to expel them, no country was willing to take them in. The United States called a conference to talk about this problem of Jewish refugees, and it was clear there was a tremendous need for countries to serve as safe havens for these refugees. The United States agreed to take in a grand total of zero refugees at this conference. In fact, the entire world agreed to take in a grand total of zero with the exception of Cuba that thought it would be good to have some whites coming in to Cuba to make sure the balance doesn't get too dark in Cuba, that kind of thing, and that was it. Everyone else said, we don't want these refugees. That would have been the main way that lives could have been saved, letting in refugees, and the U.S. policy throughout was not to let in refugees. Even once the United States got into war, it didn't change its policy.

   The United States had quotas on who could enter the country based on your country of origin, and these quotas were frankly racial quotas. That is if you take a map of Europe as you go from north to western Europe towards southeastern Europe, the quotas got smaller and smaller, because the northwestern Europeans were considered of the highest Anglo-Saxon stock, and as you got more and more southeastern, people were considered more and more inferior. Asia as a whole was given a quota of 50 for China and 50 for Japan, compared to 25,000 for Great Britain. Africa got zero because there were all colonized by the Europeans and anyway and so you would come in under the European quota if the Europeans let you. So Jewish refugees from eastern Europe were coming from countries with very low quotas, but what's remarkable is that they weren't even allowed in up to the quotas because as U.S. diplomats at the time said, these Jews are totally unassimilable and all they do is cause crime and other things. We don't want them in the country. Towards the end of the war, in 1944, the U.S. military got close enough that they could have bombed Auschwitz and the rail links leading to Auschwitz. Of course it could be rebuilt, but this would have slowed down the killing machine. U.S. officials chose not to do so.

A specific proposal was made, asking the U.S. government to bomb Auschwitz, and the Undersecretary of War, John J. McCloy, said, we wouldn't want to do that because the Germans might take it out on the Jews. ("such an effort, even if practicable, might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans"). Now it's hard to imagine how the Germans could take it out on the Jews given that they're gassing them to death already, but basically the U.S. government refused to do it. Now there have been some writers recently who said, oh, it actually wasn't so easy to do. There were complications and so on and so forth. Yes, there were complications, but it doesn't seem like the same attention was given to this problem as you think the moral cause would warrant.