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Remembering Operation Babylift: Help Now, Cry Later

New America Media, Commentary, Kevin Minh Allen Posted: Apr 01, 2009

Editors note: This April marks the 34th anniversary in which thousands of Vietnamese infants were transported out of Vietnam at the end of the war. NAM contributing writer Kevin Minh Allen who was adopted when he was 9 months old woders if it was a good thing.

At the close of the Vietnam War, hundreds of Vietnamese children under the jurisdiction of Western relief agencies and orphanages, as well as any other child that was handed to them, were sent out of South Vietnam and placed with adoptive parents in Western countries, under the U.S. government code name Operation Babylift (OBL).

By the time the Vietnam War officially ended on April 30, 1975, approximately 3,000 infants and young children were taken out of Vietnam for the purpose of adoption. As one of those taken out of Vietnam, I believe it is worth re-examining this singular feel-good event that, to this day, many Americans consider the one good thing that came out of the war.

As the war progressed, many Americans read about the Vietnamese children in the newspapers and saw them on the evening news. They believed they had a moral responsibility to take care of those less fortunate, and open their hearts and homes to the children of a war that they forgot their country escalated. However, the implied politicized message was that Americans were more moral than those godless communists, and that only Americans could provide an infinitely better outcome to these castaways. Under the protection of the U.S. military and with the support of countless donations, several religious groups established orphanages that inadvertently took the place of indigenous methods and solutions for child welfare. With so much of the country overwhelmed by the casualties of war, enterprising good Samaritans took up the mantle of healer and savior.

A rarely acknowledged correlation between the war and adoption is that the longer the U.S. military and civilian personnel stayed in Vietnam, the more prostitution and intermarriage produced children of mixed race, the Amerasians, many of whom were orphaned or abandoned. The media portrayed the Amerasians as dust of life, who were unwanted by their unfeeling mothers and missing-in-action fathers. In order to soothe their conscience and fulfill a sense of obligation to those fathered by their countrymen, Americans advocated for the adoption of Amerasians. Unintentional or not, Amerasian adoption became the Trojan Horse for institutionalizing international adoption across the board.

The protagonists of Operation Babylift are credited with saving thousands of children who otherwise would have grown up in a postwar communist dictatorship, where food shortages and other deprivations would have condemned them to certain death. What many fail to mention is that the American government propped up corrupt dictatorial regimes in South Vietnam one after the other that pilfered and siphoned off much foreign aid into their own coffers. What they also fail to mention is that so many children were made available for adoption as a direct result of approximately over 6 million tons of bombs falling over a country roughly the size of New Mexico during the 10 years of American involvement in the war.

From my point of view, OBL has become a redundant closed-loop system of mourning, remembrance, gratitude and redemption. It is celebrated as an isolated, unilateral humanitarian gesture. Ironically, by remembering OBL in such a way encourages the so-called war waifs to forget the causes and effects of the Vietnam War, and leave unexamined their own adoption stories that were virtually gift-wrapped and handed to them.

To this day, us first generation Vietnamese adoptees are generally referred to as war orphans in the media and by people we encounter on a daily basis, as if it were a term of endearment. The main assumption is that we were rescued from a tragic past and handed a hopeful future. The public was reassured that we were not going to look back and puzzle together the facts behind our orphan status.
Granted, I was adopted from Vietnam several months before Operation Babylift occurred, but I still feel compelled to question the historical interpretations of the Vietnam War, as well as other peoples motives and methods for transporting me and my contemporaries out of our birth country.

Born Nguyen Duc Minh in Gia Dinh district of Saigon on December 5, 1973, Kevin Minh Allen was adopted at 9 months and flown to the U.S. in August 1974. He was living here and there in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., until at age 27 he moved to Seattle, where he is currently enjoying the view. Allens poems, book reviews and news articles have been published in numerous traditional media and online venues. For example, his work can be found in Tieng Magazine, Asian American Movement Magazine, The Fighting 44s, the Poetry Superhighway, The Northwest Asian Weekly, The International Examiner and HazMat Journal. Currently, Allen blogs at Ethnically Incorrect and is working feverishly on his first poetry manuscript called The Wind Above The Coast.

Related Articles:

Americans Go to Vietnam to Adopt

Vietnamese Adoptees: Where Are They Now?

In the World of Human Trafficking, Vietnam Remains a 'Supply Country'

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