Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

Vietnam a New Era
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Vietnam The New Era Begins

Daily Mail 2nd May 1975

Where did the welcome mat go?

THE first refugees to arrive at Camp Pendleton were those with connections, those who had worked for the Americans back in Vietnam, the clerks, the engineers, the secretaries, the hustlers and the bar girls.

Some were in Western dress, some women in the traditional costume. They got off the buses which had shuttled them the 25 miles from El Toro airbase to what is known locally as 'tent city'.

Some clutched at their hand-bags, some wore gold jewellery, some had suitcases. They have I been arriving in their thousands to a chilly welcome—despite the California sun — desperately repeating that they have 'contacts.'
But for many of them, those connections are at worst mythical and at best hopelessly tenuous.


These Vietnamese from the South know a breed of American they met in Saigon, the soldiers, the businessmen, the ones who had an interest and an understanding of the country.
But the Americans they are going to meet now are different — hostile, afraid. Already the word has gone out that the refugees are disease ridden, that they are to be given jobs that should go to Americans.

To counter those rumours the officials at Camp Pendleton have be-sn saying: 'You -must remember that these are people with American connections for the past ten years.

They  are  not  coming  out  of the "rice  paddies.'
But to the calif ornians, that 'American connection' means over 50,000.. lost lived. And the public distaste for trie massive human airlift is undisguised.

Americans see massive refugee camps growing up, like this one at Camp Pendleton, and they are afraid the camps will never go away. They fear that the tent cities will remain, sores on the apparently affluent hide of America, occupied by the world's new homeless Palestinians and to the industrious Vietnamese, the New World will seem full of opportunities, full of streets paved with dollars if not gold.


At first, at least. Then they will learn of the American recession and begin to understand why their hosts are so wary of having their jobs taken away, of having their taxes spent on foreigners.
The present cost of evacuation and immediate care is placed at around £1,500,000. And that is just a beginning. California governor Jerry Brown, a 36-year-old liberal, cringed when he was asked for £40,000 to, set up facilities for refugees who arrived in the State-He wants more information before is is willing to give his people's money to a federal government that most Californians now view as confused, disorganised and chaotic.
But as the refugees arrived yesterday clutching their brown paper parcels, each containing a toothbrush, a chocolate bar, sandals and toys for the children, they had no. idea of the mounting wave of anger, resentment and suspicion.

One elderly, dignified lady, .her spectacles held together by string, clutched a mushrooming parasol in one hand. Her brown 'Welfare* parcel was clamped between her- withered right arm and her body. She smiled and muttered 'thank you,1 two of her few words of English, to the marines who helped her.

There was no way she could comprehend the hate directed at her and her companions, A,s she made her way to the medical checkpoint, President Ford was standing up in Washington, defending his decision to bring in her and the other 60,000 refugees at the military camps at Port Chaffee, Arkansas, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Camp Pendleton here in California's Orange County.


Here, not far from former President Richard Nixon's exile in San Clemente, in the heart of the most conservative part of western America, the- resentment goes beyond fear for jobs and security. Here the people " want to forget Vietnam, forget the personal losses and the ideal which many feel their country abandoned.
And the refugees are a living reminder of all this.

Men like George Spelling, who runs a neighbourhood store, channel then- resentment into rational practicalities.
'These people's wants are my wants. That's what irritates. I just want to know if their arrival will make life more difficult for me. You ask the question "but no one -seems to know. And if they do. they're not telling me.'
. For the young, there is some chance that they will live through the resentment, adapt and learn a new way of life- But for the older people, that will be an impossibility.
Now they are all being treated as prospective immigrants and being 'paroled' into the United States until Congress passes legislation making them citizens.
Then they will face the harshest reality of all. That a rubber stamp approved by the President may make you a citizen. It will not make you American.

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