Video clip from the documentary film Gerald R. Ford: A Test of Character

  • By the time President Gerald R. Ford took office in 1974, the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War had been radically reduced. In 1975, however, renewed fighting saw communist-supported North Vietnamese forces pushing closer to Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, which was still a U.S. ally. Saigon, later called Ho Chi Minh City, would soon fall to the North and the process of reunifying Vietnam would begin.

    President Ford acknowledged the serious human rights issues facing many South Vietnamese residents. These included forced relocation, being held as political prisoners, and even death. Many abandoned their homes and sought asylum and refugee status in the United States and other Western nations. To pave the way for the refugees’ arrival, Ford gathered a coalition of church groups, southern Democratic governors, labor leaders, and the American Jewish Congress to secure housing and jobs.

    Several airlifts were organized to bring Vietnamese refugees and asylum-seekers to the U.S. Close to 120,000 were rescued and relocated following the war. Ford stated, “[T]o ignore the refugees in their hour of need would be to repudiate the values we cherish as a nation of immigrants, and I was not about to let Congress do that.”

    1. Why was the South Vietnamese refugee issue considered a crisis and how did President Ford respond?

      Many South Vietnamese were known opponents of the new communist government and feared for their safety. President Ford’s work to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as possible and relocate them to the United States helped alleviate the crisis.

    2. Why was President Ford advised against becoming involved with the Vietnam refugee crisis?

      President Ford was advised against involvement because many Americans opposed continuing to aid South Vietnam. The amount of money spent on the Vietnam War, as well as the number of soldiers’ lives lost had jaded many in the country.

    3. Extension: Since the Vietnam War, what other international refugee crises have taken place?

      Refugee crises since the Vietnam War include: the Yugoslav War, Iraqi Wars, Syria, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Myanmar (Burma).

       

    • President Ford welcomed South Vietnamese refugees personally in San Francisco upon their arrival.
    • At the end of the war, the evacuation of thousands of infants and children from South Vietnam to the United States and other countries was known as Operation Babylift.
    • Refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand also came to the United States after the end of the Vietnam War.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    asylum-seeker Noun

    immigrant who has applied for, but not yet received, refugee status.

    capital Noun

    city where a region's government is located.

    Encyclopedic Entry: capital
    coalition Noun

    a group of people or organizations united for a goal.

    communist Noun

    person or group of people who support communism, a type of economy where all property, including land, factories and companies, is held by the government.

    human rights Noun

    basic freedoms belonging to every individual, including the rights to social and political expression, spirituality, and opportunity.

    refugee Noun

    person who flees their home, usually due to natural disaster or political upheaval.

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