Recalling Saigon's Fall

Mark D. Tooley
Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

Here's a marvelous story of the CIA operative who helped some of the 65,000 South Vietnamese who escaped in the final few days before Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975, just in time for May Day, the international Marxist holiday.

It's a rare uplifting vignette from a shameful, horrific episode, when three nations, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, were surrendered to totalitarianism and genocide, with America turning its back on former allies.

There are some aging religious activists, like Jim Wallis, who still celebrate their role in forcing American defeat in Southeast Asia, with all the consequent horrors for the millions consigned to live under Communism. They have no shame and no recollection of actual history beyond romanticized youthful protest marches. Nearly 2 million were murdered after Cambodia's "liberation" by the Khmer Rouge. The new Marxist regimes installed in Laos and what had been South Vietnam directly murdered thousands, put hundreds of thousands in reeducation camps, and kept millions chained under dictatorships demanding authority over every aspect of life.

The new biography of public theologian Richard Neuhaus, IRD co-founder, recounts that his drift away from The Left began partly when his former anti-war comrades failed to join him in condemning the atrocities in conquered Communist controlled Indochina. IRD was founded in part because Church World Service, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches, was funding Communist "New Economic Zones" in conquered South Vietnam, a form of collectivization that unsurprisingly displaced millions and killed thousands.

As a boy of age 10 I followed the fall of Saigon and Vientane, preceded by Phnom Penh, closely. I still recall the giant Washington Post headlines and the television footage of panicked thousands trying to flee. A classmate's relative who had worked at the U.S. embassy in Laos shared her slides with our class, showing the impending Communist takeover and their own dramatic escape. I never forgot.

The following year my native Arlington, Virginia began filling with resettled Vietnamese refugees, many of whom would become classmates and friends. The Catholic Church in our neighborhood adopted a Vietnamese family, who lived on the church grounds, the parents working for the church, the children attending the school. They became family friends. I recall the one boy telling me they supported President Ford's reelection because of his accepting so many South Vietnamese to America.

These Vietnamese refugees who initially had nothing sent their almost universally academically successful children to college, and today nearly all the Vietnamese I know are thriving. By the 1980s many if not most of the Vietnamese in Arlington left their small apartments and purchased larger homes in the suburbs.

In 1975 America accepted about 125,000 South Vietnamese, most of whom had served the U.S. during the war. Another quarter million came in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of them "boat people" who risked capture, drowning, starvation and pirates to escape the Communist paradise. Another half million came in the following decade. Most of the Vietnamese I knew had escaped in 1975, but I had one friend who was a failed boat person, having been caught, but later escaping legally by plane, his family already in the U.S. having secured permission. Today there are about 1.7 million Vietnamese Americans.

Religious Left demands for open borders or claims that entry to the U.S. is a global right are of course absurd. Every nation must and should control immigration based on national interest. America was right to accept fleeing Vietnamese who had served America faithfully and were imperiled under their new masters because of it.

Over 50,000 Americans gave their lives trying to preserve South Vietnam. President Nixon early in his first term promised South Vietnam the support of U.S. ground troops through 1972, when the peace accord was later reached, and air support through 1976, which would have enforced that accord. Of course, Watergate destroyed Nixon, and the strongly anti-war Congress rejected further U.S. military involvement, despite North Vietnam's unabashed violation of the peace.

Former National Council of Churches chief Bob Edgar, an ordained United Methodist elected to Congress in 1974, often boasted he had voted against aid for South Vietnam. He's now presumably in Heaven and hopefully apologizing to some of the millions of Southeast Asians who died due to his act.

At least the U.S. effort in Vietnam helped prevent other nations in the region from falling to Communism, allowing them time instead to become prosperous and at least semi-democratic. But it's still sad to contemplate that South Vietnam would now resemble South Korea had it survived. Communist Vietnam has liberalized economically but not so much politically.

In the earlier cited article, a Vietnamese American hails his CIA rescuer of April 1975 as a sort of Oskar Schindler, responsible for many Vietnamese of now several generations alive and free in America. God honor his memory, along with many others who served, both American and Vietnamese, and may we never forget April 1975 as a constant lesson for the future.

Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a native of Arlington, Virginia. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988, when he wrote a study about denominational funding of pro-Marxist groups for his local congregation. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.

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