Fall of Kabul mocks memories of Saigon evacuation


Chakib Rahmani/AFP

Hundreds of people gather near a US Air Force C-17 transport plane along the ocean at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 16, 2021.

It was not Thao-Nguyen Le Able to stop thinking about Afghanistan.

For Lu, whose father was imprisoned by the communist government in Vietnam after the United States withdrew from Saigon in 1975, Raising images of Afghans trying to flee the country. People were seen clinging to a military cargo plane, climb up barbed wire-covered walls, and jam the tarmac. Watching the news at her Paris home made Law feel despair, sadness and anger as she flashed back painful memories of her childhood in post-war Vietnam.

Born in 1983 in Dalat, a tourist destination about 190 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Lee grew up in poverty, begging relatives for money and relying on neighbors for oil to cook the family’s food. After she was branded a traitor for fighting alongside the Americans during the war, her father struggled to find work. In addition to his imprisonment after the fall of Saigon, he was arrested a second time after Lu’s birth when he attempted to escape from Vietnam by boat. Now, as she follows the news from Afghanistan, Lu worries about the fate of those who might be as backward as her family 46 years ago.

I think about my family, what they went through…I think what will happen in Afghanistan [is] Lu told BuzzFeed News. “I mean the worst thing is that they were killed, but I think he was shunned by society, and being abused by people who came to power, I don’t know if that’s much better.”

In the days following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, President Joe Biden and his administration did so They defended their handling of withdrawal of American forces as they move to end 20 years of war, Rejecting comparisons with the fall of Saigon in 1975. But to Vietnamese refugees and their families, the chaos and potential repercussions of this moment sound alarmingly familiar.

Cammy B. said: , who grew up in British Columbia after her parents fled Vietnam in the 1980s: “For me, I saw pictures of when Saigon fell and then it was very eerily similar.” “It’s just that desperation and seeing people do everything they can to leave because their house is basically finished.”

Jean-Claude Lab/Gamma Ravo via Getty Images

The fall of Saigon in April 1975

As North Vietnamese forces approached Saigon during the closing days of the Vietnam War in late April 1975, the United States evacuated thousands of American and Vietnamese civilians by helicopter, with tense scenes captured in news coverage seen around the world. Tens of thousands of other Vietnamese went to flee by boat and other planes. Over the next two decades, hundreds of thousands more left the country to escape the economic crisis caused by the war and the communist rule that followed, seeking refuge in the United States and elsewhere. In their despair, some died at sea.

Sam, Hung Nguyen Mac’s father, had left the North Vietnamese army in the early 1950s and knew that if he was captured by communist forces, he would likely be sent to a concentration camp or killed. So when the Mack family learned the Viet Cong was coming to Saigon, they quickly planned to leave. On April 30, 1975, when the city fell to the North Vietnamese, the family of six and more than a dozen members of their extended family boarded a ship out of the country.

Mac, 60, who lives in Southern California, spoke with BuzzFeed News about images from Kabul that show Afghans “packed like canned tuna.” Inside a US military plane to escape.

“So we were on the ship,” said Mac, who was 14 at the time.

Courtesy of Hang Nguyen Mac

Hang Nguyen Mak, center back, with her family at their home in Saigon in early 1975.

Mac remembered that she was tasked with making sure her 7-year-old sister and two of her sister’s, ages 3 and 4, were out of town. When crowds surrounded the ship, she grabbed the wrists of her sister and nieces and jumped aboard. They only carried clothes on their backs with gold sewn into their pants to use as barter for safe passage to the United States.

As she walked the streets of Saigon with her parents in the last days before they fled, the smell of gunpowder still wafted through the hot air. Children were screaming, and people ran across the city with crazy looks on their faces.

Mac said at the time that she was afraid, but when she saw the chaos at Kabul airport this week, she thought she was lucky.

“Yes, we were afraid, but we were not in danger. I am afraid for them,” she said.

After taking control of Kabul, Taliban leaders did so Pledge to respect women’s rights And those who fought them are forgiven, but the Afghans were already met with violence. Many doubt that the regime will abandon its well-known repressive ways. More than 20,000 Afghans who have assisted the US military and tens of thousands of their family members are eligible for special immigrant visas to the United States. I got stuck In processing backlog as of this year. With the Taliban’s control, many civilians afraid They could face retribution or death. Evacuation flights from Kabul are underway, but only for people whose documents are ready – and who can get to the airport.

“Desperate, it’s more serious, and of course especially for women, young girls and children,” Mack said.


People board a Spanish Air Force A400 aircraft as part of an evacuation plan at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan on August 18, 2021.

The fall of Afghanistan happened much faster than U.S. officials expected, but Vietnamese Americans who felt the United States had similarly abandoned their families decades ago said that wasn’t a good enough excuse not to do more to evacuate their allies sooner.

“We didn’t learn the lesson in Vietnam,” said Sonny Van, who was studying at the University of Kansas in April 1975 and lost contact with his family after the fall of Saigon. “I don’t think anyone ever sat down and prepared an evacuation plan.”

Van finally got the news before Christmas in 1975 that his parents and brothers and sisters were alive. They decided not to escape from Vietnam for fear of being separated at sea. Years later, Van, now 69, learned how they struggled to find food and sold Levi’s jeans he had sent them from America in order to survive.

“It was a very difficult life,” Fan said, but they persevered.

Lee, whose family eventually immigrated to the United States in 1993 through a concentration camp program, said that despite building a better life in the United States, her father had yet to recover psychologically from his experiences after the Americans left Saigon.

When they first learned about the program that allowed them to move, he couldn’t believe it was real. When he was offered promotions at his job as an assembly worker in Seattle, he thought his bosses were trying to trick him into doing more work. When Lu’s mother tried to convince him of the need to buy a house, he worried it might be acquired.

He never got over his life, Lu said.

Courtesy of Thao-Nguyen Le

Thao Nguyen Lee (right) and her younger brother Trong Lo at their grandparents’ home in Dalat in 1993.

in a Twitter thread About her family’s experience and fears about Afghans, Lu writes that while she is known as a Vietnamese American, she has to endure “the dichotomy that America is both [her] savior and [her] aggressor.”

“Without being able to come to America, I don’t think I’d be where I am right now,” said Lee, who now works for a New York-based technology company. “Maybe I would be like a prostitute somewhere in Vietnam or I would be somewhere in the street and in poverty. I don’t think I would have been able to be where I am now.”

But at the same time, she wonders if her family would have had to leave their country had the United States not been involved in the war.

“I don’t know what would have happened,” she said.

Now, the Vietnamese refugees hope the United States and other countries will take in as many Afghans as possible and give them opportunities to start over.

They need the same things that my family did when we came here. Of course the circumstances are a bit different. It’s a different war, it’s a different period, but I think the most compelling common denominator is Thoi Kim, who immigrated to Alabama at age two in 1991. is that they are human too, and they need our support as human beings above all else.” ●

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