Why the Crisis in Yemen Matters to Asian Americans
In 2014, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh entered an alliance with a previous enemy, the Houthi militia, against the current President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. By August of that year, Houthi rebels had taken Yemen’s capital, leading President Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia, where he currently resides. Today, two major forces continue to wage war in Yemen: the Saudi-led coalition, which backs President Hadi’s internationally recognized government and has support from the United States, and the Houthi militia, which is often associated with Iran.
While this overview discusses a small fraction of the military and political conflicts in Yemen, the humanitarian devastation that has followed is enormous. The war has caused an estimated 12,000 civilian deaths, not including victims of disease and hunger. The nation’s broken economy has caused many to live without a steady income, and 7.8 million children have no access to education. The coalition and the Houthi rebels have been known to threaten, attack, or disappear activists, journalists, and hostages. Consequently, more than 24 million people, around 80 percent of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance. Under the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, the lack of sanitation, clean water, masks, gloves, oxygen, and access to health facilities has taken an even greater toll on the population. Powers on both sides of the war fail to pay health care workers, leaving 19.7 million Yemeni people in need of access to reliable health care. And once again, these numbers summarize only a portion of the difficulties Yemeni citizens face.
Almost 70 years before the start of the Second Yemeni Civil War, the Soviet Union and the United States were locked in a Cold War, battling over their respective economic ideologies and competing over arms and space travel. Among the many conflicts were two large Asian wars: the Korean War and the Vietnamese War.
In 1948, two separate bodies governed Korea: one in Seoul, supported by the U.S., and one in Pyongyang, supported by the Soviet Union. The instability and competition between the governments culminated on June 25, 1950 when North Korean troops invaded the South. Over the next three years, around four million people were killed, with some historians estimating that 70 percent of the deaths were civilians. The war, which ended without a formal peace treaty, undoubtedly influenced modern political relations; however, it also took a heavy toll on everyday people.
The widespread destruction of the Korean War caused massive displacement in the north and the south, leaving thousands of people in need of new homes. The U.S. was a popular refugee site for the majority of immigrants, as just a year before the end of the war, the McCarran and Walter Act of 1952 nullified the Asian immigration ban and made Asians eligible for citizenship. In the decade after the war, 27,000 students and professionals would leave Korea for the United States. The wives of American servicemen also made up a large portion of Korea-U.S. immigrants, and orphans and abandoned babies were often adopted to American families (an estimated 13,000 between 1955 and 1977). The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act allowed Korean brides to sponsor the immigration of their family members to the States, and that, coupled with political instability in South Korea around the early 1960s, further incentivized immigration.
The situation in Vietnam was similar. In 1959, communist guerrillas known as the Viet Cong, battled with anti-communist South Vietnam and its U.S. ally. The war continued for more than 15 years, with the United States sending troops for the majority of its duration. In 1975, South Vietnam surrendered, and the nation was unified. The results of the war for civilians were once again devastating—estimates of civilian deaths fall around one million, Vietnamese children suffered from birth defects as a result of chemical warfare, and the destruction of land ruined Vietnamese rice exports and drastically reduced food production. Fearing relocation, imprisonment, concentration camps, and death, those connected to South Vietnam often fled to the United States, which sponsored the evacuation of 125,000 refugees. The federal government also carried out the controversial Operation Babylift, in which Vietnamese children and orphans were loaded onto planes and sent to the U.S. In the decades after the war, the number of refugees decreased and more immigrants arrived due to family ties. The Vietnamese immigrant population has continued to grow, today making up three percent of the nation’s 44.5 million immigrants.
There is little by means of direct political connection between the current war in Yemen and the historical wars in Vietnam and Korea. But they do share a key commonality- all three conflicts are classified as proxy wars, fought in one country but manipulated and influenced by the goals of other powers. Just as the Korean War and the Vietnam War became battlefields of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, Yemen has become a piece of the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict between religious rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. In all three cases, proxy conflicts have occurred with large expense to the domestic citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Korean and Vietnamese people felt that expense, moving to the United States to start Asian American communities in the late 1900s, and today that same expense is felt heavily among millions of Yemeni people. As a population that formed and grew as a result of proxy wars, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders occupy a unique position, having moved from nations historically devastated by war to one from which we observe devastation in the Middle East. The AAPI community is inextricably linked to the history of proxy wars, and now, as millions of people face the horrifying circumstances of proxy wars in Yemen, it is our responsibility as Americans to acknowledge the role that the United States has played in the conflict, educate ourselves on the severity of the situation, and do what we can to help.
The following websites contain links to various charities that support Yemeni people:
If you are interested in learning more about the war in Yemen, these links were very helpful:
Summary of the War-
Summary with a Healthcare Focus-
Saudi Arabia and Iran-