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Operation Passage to Freedom information


Up to a million people (about 800 thousand of them are Roman Catholics)[1] left communist North Vietnam during Operation Passage to Freedom after the country was partitioned (USS Calaveras County).
Propaganda poster exhorting Northerners to move South-title: "Go South to avoid Communism". Bottom caption: "Southern compatriots are welcoming Northern brothers and sisters with open arms."

Operation Passage to Freedom was a term used by the United States Navy to describe the propaganda effort[2][3] and the assistance in transporting in 310,000 Vietnamese civilians, soldiers and non-Vietnamese members of the French Army from communist North Vietnam (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) to non-communist South Vietnam (the State of Vietnam, later to become the Republic of Vietnam) between the years 1954 and 1955. The French and other countries may have transported a further 500,000.[4][5][6] In the wake of the French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Geneva Accords of 1954 decided the fate of French Indochina after eight years of war between the French Union forces and the Viet Minh, which fought for Vietnamese independence under communist rule. The accords resulted in the partition of Vietnam at the 17th parallel north, with Ho Chi Minh's communist Viet Minh in control of the north and the French-backed State of Vietnam in the south. The agreements allowed a 300-day period of grace, ending on May 18, 1955, in which people could move freely between the two Vietnams before the border was sealed. The partition was intended to be temporary, pending elections in 1956 to reunify the country under a national government. Between 600,000 and one million people moved south, including more than 200,000 French citizens and soldiers in the French army[7] while between 14,000 and 45,000 civilians and approximately 100,000 Viet Minh fighters moved in the opposite direction.[4][8][9]

The 1954–1955 Great Migration of Northerners was facilitated primarily by the French Air Force and Navy. American naval vessels supplemented the French in evacuating northerners to Saigon, the southern capital. The operation was accompanied by a large humanitarian relief effort, bankrolled mainly by the United States government in an attempt to absorb a large tent city of refugees that had sprung up outside Saigon. For the US, the migration was a public relations coup, generating wide coverage of the flight of Vietnamese from the perceived oppression of communism to the "free world" in the south. The period was marked by a Central Intelligence Agency-backed propaganda campaign on behalf of South Vietnam's Roman Catholic Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. The campaign was usually viewed to exhort Catholics to flee "impending religious persecution" under communism,[10] and around 60% of the north's 1.14 million Catholics immigrated.[11] The Viet Minh also tried to forcefully prevent would-be refugees from leaving, especially in rural areas where there were no French or American military forces.[12]

The migration was conventionally supposed to boost the Catholic power base of Diem; whereas the majority of Vietnam's Catholics previously lived in the north, now most were in the south. Fearing a communist victory, Diem cancelled the elections. Believing the newly arrived Catholics to be a bastion of solid anti-communist support, Diem supposedly treated the new constituents as a special interest group. In the long run, the northern Catholics never fully integrated into Southern society and Diem's alleged favouritism toward them were often thought to cause tension that culminated in the Buddhist crisis of 1963, which ended with his downfall and assassination.[13][14] In fact, Catholics moving to the South were foremost the active agents of their own lives, not because of the CIA or Ngô Đình Diệm's efforts.[15] About 25% of the migrants were non-Catholic and a number of Catholics who moved to the South did not do so because of their religion.[16] Northern Catholic émigrés actually brought complex challenges to the Church in South Vietnam, and Ngô Đình Diệm also did not resettle northern Catholics in and around Sài Gòn as a deliberate and strategic policy.[17] As Vietnamese Catholics were far from monolithic,[18] and were not in any way unified in their political stances,[19] it is a myth to conflate "Catholic refugees with all Catholics, with all refugees or with staunch supporters of Ngô Đình Diệm".[20] In reality, the Personalist Revolution under Diệm's regime promoted religious freedom and diversity to oppose communism's atheism. However, this framework itself ultimately enabled Buddhist activists to threaten the state that supported their religious liberty.[21]

  1. ^ "The State of The World's Refugees 2000: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action - Chapter 4: Flight from Indochina". unhcr.org. UNHCR.
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference jacobsp132 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference j52 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  4. ^ a b Frankum, Ronald (2007). Operation Passage to Freedom: The United States Navy in Vietnam, 1954–55. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 978-0-89672-608-6.
  5. ^ Prados, John (January 2005). "The Numbers Game: How Many Vietnamese Fled South In 1954?". The Veteran. Archived from the original on 2006-05-27.
  6. ^ Cite error: The named reference l5557 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  7. ^ Lindholm, p. 49; Prados
  8. ^ Ruane, Kevin (1998). War and Revolution in Vietnam. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-85728-323-5.
  9. ^ Trân (2005).
  10. ^ Jacobs (2006), p. 45
  11. ^ Trân (2005), p. 431.
  12. ^ Frankum, pp. 159–160.
  13. ^ Jacobs (2006), pp. 56, 143, 153.
  14. ^ Frankum, pp. 151, 191.
  15. ^ Hansen (2009), p. 175.
  16. ^ Hansen (2009), p. 184.
  17. ^ Hansen (2009), p. 176.
  18. ^ Trân (2013), p. 447.
  19. ^ Nguyen-Marshall (2009).
  20. ^ Nguyen (2016), p. 210–211.
  21. ^ Nguyen (2018).

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