the other side of the coin

Now, being all new to adoption two years ago, I wasn’t quite exactly sure what people meant by the word entitlement bandied about by anti-adoption adoptees, but I knew in other circles it meant the haves thinking everything can or should be theirs.  I also knew that adoptive parents really resented being accused of exercising their entitlement to adopt, especially since applying is viewed as an ordeal by some.

Living here in Korea and thinking about the war and Korea today, I’ve come to appreciate just what entitlement means.

Harry Holt, who is portrayed as a simple man of extraordinary magnanimity, was in actual fact a rather wealthy zealot:  wealthy enough to quit farming and travel the world to participate in missionary work without anybody missing bread on the table at home.  He claimed God spoke to him by pointing him to a piece of scripture which he interpreted as a command to take children from the East and turn them into Christians.  Because he was an evangelical zealot, he saw the entire population of Korean children as fodder for easy conversion, and it was his goal to bring as many as he could to God by removing them from their heathen country.  And so, in an amazing PR move, he set about making himself a precedent and getting the government to sanction his efforts by calling it war relief;  thus creating a mechanism whereby he could ship a steady stream of these children to America to live as Christians.  And which later he was able to permanently change adoption law…long after the war was over and continuing to the present day.

What he did by coming to Korea and starting International adoption was he carefully crafted the marriage of charity with the acquisition of children.  Social workers at the time were appalled that children would be uprooted from their native cultures and worried about how (or if) they would assimilate into a country where they would be a minority and possibly marginalized. They questioned whether importing these children was in the best interests of the child.

The first children he brought over were Amerasian children, who would have been targets for discrimination and difficult lives.  Were his intentions charitable, or were they exploitative?  Helping those Amerasian children was admirable, but was bringing them to America for the children, or were they being used as an experiment in gaining future evangelical Christian recruits?

I’ve talked to some of these older adoptees, and the stories are pretty horrific.  They were used as servants and laborers.  They had doctrine hounded into them.  They had the Korean LITERALLY beaten out of them.  They were abused in many ways.  They were denied shares of inheritance.  OR they became almost evangelical themselves, preaching the word of how Harry or God saved their lives.

But let’s get back to the topic at hand, entitlement. People around the globe were fascinated with this act by Mr. Holt.  FASCINATED.  My mother included.  Why, you mean we can be charitable AND get a child by doing so?  We can help a child and get to keep it?  And this is where entitlement comes in.  Because people who would have never considered helping a local orphan suddenly wanted a child that came delivered from a plane.  Or, the inverse:  the fact they could get a child previously only seen in magazines might prompt them to suddenly become charitable.  From that time forward, helping children overseas only became desirable if it gave an immediate and direct benefit to the benefactor, and in this way have the lives of children been com-modified as a luxury item.

And the reason for justifying the transportation of children 5,000+ miles away from their country was that they had the means.  EVEN if it was a struggle or sacrifice, they still had the means.  And having the means allows one to entertain one’s wants with less consideration.  And THAT is adoptive parent entitlement.

And that is by no means an indictment of adoptive parents:  I too am guilty of this on occasion.  It just is what it is and should be recognized, so we can really look at the whole picture honestly.  It’s like me recognizing when I’m being a racist.  It’s uncomfortable but necessary so we can work harder to make more informed decisions in the future before we’ve gone and contributed to this mess.

Not much has changed since then, except that Christianity is no longer the prerequisite for obtaining a child from another country.  And that’s only because the U.S. government made them…

No.  Wait.  I forgot what a strategic genius Harry was.  When the stock of Amerasian babies ran out, and when the economy improved and starving families ran out, he managed to convince Koreans that the children of unwed mothers should go to him.  So that he (and now his daughter) may call them motherless and homeless.  (they counsel the mothers to give up their children and then call the children motherless and put them in foster care and then call them homeless!)  So that people who want children from magazines can continue to think of their wants as charitable and totally ignore the social conditions that don’t improve because of the intervention of adoption agencies.  Adoption is to social services as the ajumma is to street cleaning, who arrives at dawn so the streets are spotless when the business day starts.  Yup, adoption is a wonderful thing for the Korean government.

It’s quite the marriage:  Harry Holt + Korea.

And now + Ethiopia, +China, +the Philippines, +India, +Thailand, +Vietnam, +Nepal, +Uganda, +Haiti.

And if you notice, Holt continues on in Korea almost 60 years later.  And notice too that Korea is the only country that isn’t in poverty, with China rising in ranks.  And that is because Korea has the dubious distinction of being the first country from which children have been taken for International adoption.  And you will no doubt notice that, if Holt International has their way, they will continue to “help” all those other countries long after their fortunes improve. And they will be there at the first international disaster, ready to lay the foundation for a continued presence in whatever country is currently on their knees.

Staying long after you’re no longer needed.  Creating a need where none exists.  Fighting efforts to improve social services.  To me, Holt and the other international adoption agencies are no charity.  They are exploiters now only pandering to the entitled.

All I’m saying is look.  Recognize.  Let’s stop the madness.

3 thoughts on “the other side of the coin

  1. So I am thinking to myself “we did this because we could.”

    Yep, that’s true.

    There is no mistake that the thinking that led us to do what we did is a mistake. But I don’t know if that can change or if the better chance is with Korea itself.

    I can’t climb down from this responsibility or up out of the pit ‘O guilt, but I have found some comfort in the idea I’ve always had on the purpose of human beings in the first place.

    That is for the Universe to know itself.

    This isn’t a religious thing, just a philosophical one. And that idea comforts me in that in the end, the purpose of all of this pain will be for Korea to know itself.

  2. That was beautiful, Ed.

    I think it is on both ends, however. If you look at it economically instead of philosophically, the demand adds to the forces which pressure the mothers into accepting the counseling of adoption agencies so they can create “unwanted” babies.

    You adding your comments here is a great step. Have you talked to Dr. Boas yet? I’m sure he feels rather lonely.

    Part of the Universe knowing itself includes adoptive parents knowing themselves and working towards being real humanitarians, which includes being humane to the children and their biological mothers. Transporting children sight unseen across continents and cultures isn’t very humane for the children, and conning their mothers out of a relationship with their children isn’t very humane for the mothers.

    This is also why Jane gets threats and is considered so dangerous, because her exposure of the unwed mom’s plight casts an unattractive light on people hell bent on looking good by “saving” through adoption.

    I believe in what Tobias Hubinette wrote for the presentation of the draft bill to the National Assembly, and that was that, when the laws change, the people will change.

    I’ll stand alone and say outright, out loud, that getting the international adoption agencies out of Korea’s wombs should come FIRST. We can not wait for the entire nation to adjust their discriminatory views. Those views will change when social services provide real choices to preserve families and when Korean people can see that successful outcomes really can happen.

    You know, no person wants to see it’s own black heart. There is a limit to what Korea wants to know about itself. And so your pain, my pain, will fall on deaf ears.

    What we really need to do is give Korea a way to absolve itself and shine. Everyone wants to be part of something positive, and that’s way more effective than telling them — go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. We fail when all we do is insist that they know themselves. That kind of reflection comes later.

    Must work on this angle. Korea’s all about being global leaders, but trailing the pack when it comes to taking care of its own citizens. Be a leader, Korea. Shine where it really matters.

  3. I think for adoptees in the U.S., and possibly other countries, there’s another extension of the attitudes that you describe so well in this essay. Korean Americans have carried their guilt to the U.S., where it often permeates interactions between adoptees, adoptive families and the Korean American community.

    You mentioned Rick Boas, so I’m passing on the link to the KUMSN website in case your readers may not have it:

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