Wednesday, Feb. 03, 2010

Operation Babylift

In 1975, two years after the U.S. signed a ceasefire in Vietnam, the North was still ravaging the South, and President Gerald Ford launched "Operation Babylift." Thousands of Vietnamese kids were put on planes and taken to the United States, as well as to Canada, Europe and Australia. They often arrived lacking both names and families, as well as any documents of who they were or what part of the country they came from.

Mothers begged Americans to take their kids in a desperate attempt to spare them from the chaos and poverty of war, but as Saigon regained stability, parents started asking for their babies back. Some American families who had grown attached to their dependents didn't want to return them. Others tried to locate the Vietnamese families but found themselves lost without a paper trail. Thus began determinations by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service about which children could be adopted and which had to be shipped back home.

A human-rights group filed a class-action suit on behalf of the children, even those whom INS deemed eligible for adoption, claiming that too many were deemed adoptable based on flimsy evidence. Some viewed the whole operation as a ploy to create a narrative where America finally saved the country. Others believed the initiative to be ill-fated after an initial flight crashed and 98 of the roughly 250 children aboard died. For many, the sputtering, messy attempt at rescue served as an apt symbol for the entire war.