An investigation into the 1975 airlift of Vietnamese children to the United States.
In April 1975, as U.S. involvement in Vietnam was ending, foreign-sponsored adoption agencies were desperate to get the children in their charge out of the country and to America. Thus began Operation Babylift. During the course of a few weeks, nearly 3,000 children were loaded onto whatever aircraft could and would take them. Yet the evacuation was carried out amid the utmost confusion and with the absolute certainty among many adoption-agency officials that the children left behind—especially the mixed-race children—would die, from neglect or at the hands of a vengeful communist regime. Sachs (If You Lived Here, 2007, etc.) questions the wisdom and legality of the operation. Many children were too ill to survive the arduous flight, and one aircraft crashed, killing nearly 80 children. Most of the children brought with them inadequate or even made-up legal documentation, and many were not orphans at all, but ended up on the planes anyway. Ultimately, most of the 850,000 orphans left behind survived. In the United States, some who were not orphans were reunited with their birth families, but most were not. With deep respect for the humanitarian intentions of those who organized the airlift, Sachs concludes that the mission was driven by misguided assumptions about postwar Vietnam and an American need for “catharsis after the psychological trauma of a disastrous war.”
Sure to arouse controversy and debate, the book raises important and timely questions about the wisdom of and motivation behind humanitarian efforts to remove children from nations embroiled in strife.