True Words + Well Spoken = Lives Saved

boat_people300Thirty years ago, Lear Center director Marty Kaplan was chief speechwriter for then-Vice President Walter Mondale  when Vietnam began forcing hundreds of thousands of its merchant-class families to flee the country, most often in  small, unseaworthy boats.
The Carter-Mondale administration asked the U.N. for a special refugees conference in Geneva in July 1979 to solve the growing tragedy. Kaplan’s task was to build an argument that would rouse the staid and disinterested UN delegates to action. In background materials, Kaplan found a chilling account of a previous U.N. refugee conference, in Evian near Geneva, just as World War II was breaking out. Delegates at that meeting had failed to agree on a rescue plan for Germany’s Jews.
“At that conference, if every nation had agreed to accept something like 15,000 Jews, there would have been no Jews left in the Third Reich to send to concentration camps,” Kaplan said.
Mondale spoke to his Geneva listeners: “The civilized world hid in the cloak of legalisms, and the result was the Holocaust.” Kaplan and Mondale said the audience snapped to attention, as Mondale framed the humanitarian crisis in Vietnam as a world problem needing a world solution. “We all know the grim statistics, the toll being taken among those refugees forced out by Vietnam in inadequate and unseaworthy boats.” He closed by saying, “History will not forgive us if we fail. History will not forget us if we succeed.”
Those present recall a moment of silence after Mondale finished, before the delegates rose as one in a standing ovation. Read a more detailed version of this story here.

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