Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the old trope of “learning from history” has all of a sudden taken on an urgent meaning.

First, the lesson we should urgently learn is understanding how the 1918 flu — misnamed the “Spanish flu” — spread (and ultimately came under control). Then, it was to understand the lessons to be learned from the Great Depression and the difference effective policies can make to stabilize the economy. Now, there is a third dimension to what humankind should urgently learn to deal with better — the ugly face of xenophobia appearing in public policy making.

And indeed, there may be a great deal to be learned from a century ago about how the origins of hate and fear of others can result in bad public policy. One of the earliest steps that most nations around the globe took in response to the coronavirus outbreak was to close down their borders, or at least severely restrict who could pass through.