Orphan Airlift Draws Anger
Wisconsin State Journal
By RICHARD FLASTE
(c) N.Y. Tunes News Service
NEW YORK — The.airlift of children from South Vietnam, begun last week with a sense of urgency and compassion, has left in its wake bitter argument over whether taking children from their homeland is an appropriate or necessary way to deal with a crisis.
Those who have always opposed foreign adoption because they see it depleting nations of their children are angrier than ever. At the same time, some who might defend
foreign adoption under other circumstances are saddened and perplexed by what they describe as haste and disorganization in this operation.
Some of the most impassioned opposition has come from a number of Vietnamese in the United States. For instance, Phan Thanh, an 18-year-old high school student in
Berkeley, Calif., brought.to this country after he was wounded, is deeply insulted by the airlift. "Vietnamese love their, children!" he said, "and will take care of them-no matter who is in power next." The youth, who hopes to return after the war "to help in the rebuilding," said the airlift was "robbing" his country.
A number of theologians, too, have expressed outrage. George W. Webber, an antiwar activist who heads the New York Theological Seminary, said he was "infuriated by the airlift." "The idea that it's to save children's lives angers me," he said. "It's the desire of families in this country who want children badly that has led to the airlift — not the likely death of the children, because that's unlikely." He, like other critics, believes that the children in orphanages are actually safer than many homeless refugees.
The questions at issue include these: Is foreign adoption the best 'alternative for these children? If it is most desirable, should still others be brought-here? Was the airlift begun only, in the children's best interest, or did it involve other, perhaps less admirable, motives?
A spokesman for the Holt Adoption Program of Eugene, Ore., which as of Monday had been responsible for 400 of the nearly 2,000 children sent here and which hoped to bring over at least 40 more, said: "We don't rash into these things. We have a staff of 100 in Saigon who've been working with these children, preparing them. In the United States we have screened prospective adoptive parents."
When a child has a parent still living, she said, "We know the best thing is for the mother to care for the child." But the.war had made that impossible in some cases, the spokesman explained, and made even traditional reliance on extended families difficult. She said that Holts' primary concern had been the children of American G.l.'s who, because of their mixed race, were stigmatized by other Vietnamese, and perhaps faced a bleak future in South Vietnam, But she did not know how many in the airlift actually were of mixed races.
The feeding of many who see foreign adoption as the most desirable alternative for at least some children .was summed up by William Taylor, executive director of Travelers' Aid — International Social Service. "We feel that we have a tremendous responsibility to the children we've been working with," he said. "We know they're going to caring and loving homes." Other agency spokesmen point to what they consider the responsibility of the American people to get the children to safety.
A note of caution came from the Child Welfare- League of America, which represents child-care agencies. Joseph II. Reid, its director, .said he feared an "unwise," more extensive effort to "bring many thousands of Vietnamese children here." Frank G. Offio, executive director of CARE, warned that while the outpouring of offers of homes was well motivated, it "required more thought, more preparation and more reasoned judgment." Dr. Edward Zigler, a Yale psychologist, was angered by the airlift., "These children are being used as pawns for a variety of reasons." he said,, "but'I don't think we really care about them. "They are being put on planes deathly sick, in a crash one day, on a plane the next. If one of them dies of illness because of our haste, we'll all be guilty. His can't be in the best interest of the children." "And," he continued, "we've been ripping them right out of their culture, their community — I don't think we understand the value of those things. It's some, kind of emotional jag we are on."
Dao Spencer, who was born and schooled in Vietnam before coming to the United Slates at 18 fur higher education, is now deputy executive director of the American Council of Voluntary' Agencies. She is moved to near tears when she talks about the airlift. Although she approved of the airlift of the first 2,000 children because she believed they had been carefully screened, she maintains that "the United States has no moral right to move children en masse." She was in Saigon earlier this year and says she heard at first hand stories of how. fathers return after years away to find their' wives dead and children in an orphange, given up for adoption.
Tran Tupng Nhu, a Vietnamese anthropologist living in California, said she was "livid" about the airlift.""What is this terror Americans feel that my people will devour children?" she said. 'She said she believes that if the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong defeated the South, the future.of the-children there might be brighter. "There are 22,000 day-care centers in the North," she said. "They love children and take care of them."
Edwin 0. Rcischauer, the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan who is now at Harvard, said that although there was "a bit of paternalism" in bringing the children here, he did not see it as'"an outrage." Dr. Lucian Pye, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he didn't want to argue on whether the children "would be belter off here or there — you just don't know." But he thinks the American response is of historical significance, stunning in its magnitude.
"What strikes me is this amazing psychological phenomenon, this outburst" Pye said. "We're trying to prove that we are not really abandoning these people. The guilt feeling is very deep, cutting across hawk and dove alike. We want to know we're still good, we're still decent. "Who is the orphan?" he asks. "The children or Vietnam?