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In May 1861, three enslaved men who were determined not to be separated from their families ran to Fort Monroe, Virginia. Their flight led to the phenomenon of Civil War contraband camps. Contraband camps were refugee camps to which between four hundred thousand and five hundred thousand enslaved men, women, and children in the Union-occupied portions of the Confederacy fled to escape their owners by getting themselves to the Union Army. Army personnel had not envisioned overseeing a massive network of refugee camps. Responding to the interplay between the actions of the former slaves who fled to the camps, Republican legislation and policy, military orders, and real conditions on the ground, the army improvised. In the contraband camps, former slaves endured overcrowding, food and clothing shortages, poor sanitary conditions, and constant danger. They also gained the protection of the Union Army and access to the power of the US government as new, though unsteady, allies in the pursuit of their key interests, including education, employment, and the reconstitution of family, kin, and social life. The camps brought together actors who had previously had little to no contact with each other, exposed everyone involved to massive structural forces that were much larger than the human ability to control them, and led to unexpected outcomes. They produced a refugee crisis on US soil, affected the course and outcome of the Civil War, influenced the progress of wartime emancipation, and altered the relationship between the individual and the national government. Contraband camps were simultaneously humanitarian crises and incubators for a new relationship between African Americans and the US government.

Article

Cambodians entered the United States as refugees after a group of Cambodian Communists named Khmer Rouge, led by the French-educated Pol Pot, won a civil war that had raged from March 1970 to April 1975 and proceeded to rule the country with extraordinary brutality. In power from April 17, 1975, to January 7, 1979, they destroyed all the major institutions in the country. An estimated 1.7 million people out of an estimated total population of 7.9 million died from executions, hunger, disease, injuries, coerced labor, and exposure to the elements. The refuge-seekers came in three waves: (1) just before the Khmer Rouge takeover, (2) during the regime’s existence, and (3) after the regime was overthrown. Some former Khmer Rouge personnel, who had escaped to Vietnam because they opposed Pol Pot’s extremist ideology and savage practices, returned in late December 1978, accompanied by 120,000 Vietnamese troops, to topple the government of their former comrades. A second civil war then erupted along the Thai-Cambodian border pitting the rump Khmer Rouge against two groups of non-communist combatants. Though fighting among themselves, all three groups opposed the new Cambodian government that was supported and controlled by Vietnam. When hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, along with Laotians and Vietnamese, showed up at the Thai-Cambodian border to seek refuge in Thailand, the Thai government and military did not welcome them. Thailand treated the Cambodians especially harshly for reasons related to the Thai officials’ concerns about the internal security of their country. Almost 158,000 Cambodians gained entry into the United States between 1975 and 1994, mainly as refugees but with a smaller number as immigrants and “humanitarian parolees.” Cambodian ethnic communities sprang up on American soil, many of them in locations chosen by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. By the time the 1990 U.S. census was taken, Cambodians could be found in all fifty states. The refugees encountered enormous difficulties adapting to life in the United States. Only about 5 percent of them, mostly educated people from the first wave of refugees who came in 1975 and who, therefore, did not experience the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era, managed to find white-collar jobs, often serving as intermediaries between their compatriots and the larger American society. About 40 to 50 percent of the Cambodian newcomers who arrived in the second and third waves found employment in blue-collar occupations. The rest of the population has relied on welfare and other forms of public assistance. A significant portion of this last group is composed of households headed by women whose fathers, husbands, or sons the Khmer Rouge had killed. It is they who have had to struggle the hardest to keep themselves and their children alive. Many women had to learn to become the main bread winners in their families even though they had never engaged in wage labor in their homeland. Large numbers of refugees have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but have received very little help to deal with the symptoms. Some children, lacking role models, have not done well academically and dropped out of school. Others have joined gangs. Despite myriad difficulties, Cambodians in the United States are determined to resuscitate their social institutions and culture that the Khmer Rouge had tried to destroy during their reign of terror. By reviving Cambodian classical dance, music, and other performing and visual arts, and by rebuilding institutions, particularly Buddhist temples, they are trying valiantly to transcend the tragedies that befell them in order to survive as a people and a culture.

Article

Amanda C. Demmer

It is a truism in the history of warfare that the victors impose the terms for postwar peace. The Vietnam War, however, stands as an exception to this general rule. There can be no doubt that with its capture of the former South Vietnamese capitol on April 30, 1975, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam won unequivocal military victory. Thereafter, the North achieved its longtime goal of reuniting the two halves of Vietnam into a new nation, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV), governed from Hanoi. These changes, however, did not alter the reality that, despite its military defeat, the United States still wielded a preponderant amount of power in global geopolitics. This tension between the war’s military outcome and the relatively unchanged asymmetry of power between Washington and Hanoi, combined with the passion the war evoked in both countries, created a postwar situation that was far from straightforward. In fact, for years the relationship between the former adversaries stood at an uneasy state, somewhere between war and peace. Scholars call this process by which US-Vietnam relations went from this nebulous state to more regular bilateral ties “normalization.” Normalization between the United States and Vietnam was a protracted, highly contentious process. Immediately after the fall of Saigon, the Gerald Ford administration responded in a hostile fashion by extending the economic embargo that the United States had previously imposed on North Vietnam to the entire country, refusing to grant formal diplomatic recognition to the SRV, and vetoing the SRV’s application to the United Nations. Briefly in 1977 it seemed as though Washington and Hanoi might achieve a rapid normalization of relations, but lingering wartime animosity, internal dynamics in each country, regional transformations in Southeast Asia, and the reinvigoration of the Cold War on a global scale scuttled the negotiations. Between the fall of 1978 and late 1991, the United States refused to have formal normalization talks with Vietnam, citing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and the need to obtain a “full accounting” of missing American servicemen. In these same years, however, US-Vietnamese relations remained far from frozen. Washington and Hanoi met in a series of multilateral and bilateral forums to address the US quest to account for missing American servicemen and an ongoing refugee crisis in Southeast Asia. Although not a linear process, these discussions helped lay the personal and institutional foundations for US-Vietnamese normalization. Beginning in the late 1980s, internal, regional, and international transformations once again rapidly altered the larger geopolitical context of US-Vietnamese normalization. These changes led to the resumption of formal economic and diplomatic relations in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Despite this tangible progress, however, the normalization process continued. After 1995 the economic, political, humanitarian, and defense aspects of bilateral relations increased cautiously but significantly. By the first decade of the 21st century, US-Vietnamese negotiations in each of these areas had accelerated considerably.