Joy Damousi
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Humanitarian activism during the Vietnam War
The case of Rosemary Taylor, Elaine Moir and Margaret Moses
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During the Vietnam War, relief agencies and religious organisations were swamped with applications from Australians wishing to adopt refugee children from Vietnam. These appeals to government, religious and aid organisations were framed as humanitarian acts driven by compassion and empathy for children whose lives were devastated by war. Underpinning these campaigns was an understanding of humanitarianism informed by an imagined, fantasised future of happiness for such war refugee children. I argue these campaigns of inter-country and transnational adoption of war refugee children were marked by a humanitarianism which was characterised by several factors. The first was the attainment of an idealised, untainted childhood which had been destroyed by war, but which could how retrieved and reconstructed through adoption. Second, adoptees perceived themselves as saviours and heroes, saving innocent children and providing a narrative of uncomplicated happy resolution, speaking and acting for children. In so doing, they conflated individual motives with altruism and a social imaginary of an idealised family model. Finally, it is argued that the construct of the ‘war orphan’ is never an apolitical practice and a form of humanitarianism based on retrieving an idealised childhood attempts to depoliticise and neutralise the circumstances of violence and war.

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Humanitarianism, empire and transnationalism, 1760–1995

Selective humanity in the Anglophone world


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