Portland State University. Department of History
David A. Horowitz
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
Intercountry adoption -- United States -- History, Children -- Korean (South), Mass media and children -- United States -- History
1 online resource (132 pages)
From 1951 to 1964, American sponsored relief and adoption agencies evacuated more than two thousand children from the nation of South Korea, adopting these children into American families and inspiring some of the most intensive discussions about international adoption yet to occur in the United States.
Intervention on behalf of Korean children began in the 19.SOs when American Gis sought to aid child victims of war, a relief effort that was carefully documented by American media outlets seeking some means of understanding the U.S. intervention in Korea. When the Korean War ended in stalemate in 1954, many were inspired by media depictions of Korean waifs. Following the pioneering efforts of the Holt family of Creswell, Oregon, adoption advocates argued for the placement of children impacted by the Korean war, many of whom were fathered by American Gls. The Holt family quickly became the spokespeople for a national movement to aid Korean children and were depicted as model Americans in the numerous media outlets which followed their work.
The placement of Korean children in American families was seen as a means of healing the wounds of the Korean War and one way of saving the world from communism in a period of intensive Cold Warfears. For many in the United States, the adoptions affirmed the superiority of American culture and illustrated the humanitarian instincts of a nation struggling with its responsibilities across the globe. Legislative debates over adoption quotas and regulations reflected the lack of clarity about the American role in a changing global landscape and subsequent attempts to articulate the American mission and global purpose.
The legacy of the Korean period was that exhibitions of American strength and compassion could be extended to encompass the plight of children around the globe for whom many Americans felt a growing sense of responsibility. Relief efforts have become increasingly more common and while the magnitude and intensity of Korean adoptions from 1951 to 1964 was unprecedented. the evacuations effectively synthesized a number of issues which arose again during "Operation Babylift" in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War.
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Didier, Sydne J., "“Just a Drop in the Bucket” : An Analysis of Child Rescue Efforts on Behalf of Korean Children, 1951 to 1964" (1998). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 6297.