A Voice of Refugee Reason

Frank Bauman, left, dining with his grandson, Tim. Bauman passed away in November. His sense of reason and open-mindedness is sorely missed as the U.S. debates whether to open its borders to Syrian refugees. Among his many achievements, Bauman is remembered for helping thousands of refugees during the Vietnam War find new homes in Australia. 

Frank Bauman, left, dining with his grandson, Tim. Bauman passed away in November. His sense of reason and open-mindedness is sorely missed as the U.S. debates whether to open its borders to Syrian refugees. Among his many achievements, Bauman is remembered for helping thousands of refugees during the Vietnam War find new homes in Australia. 

For Frank Bauman, refugees commanded compassion, not condemnation. What some saw as pariahs, he viewed as oppressed, stateless people who deserved a chance to live free from persecution.

Finding secure homes for refugees and shielding them from discrimination is the decent thing to do, the responsibility of civilized countries and quite possibly a Christian duty, according to Bauman.

Bauman’s view of refugees wasn’t cooked up in a kitchen debate. It came from a series of indelible life experiences, which included defending voting rights in Mississippi, assessing the damage of U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and resettling Indochinese refugees in Australia during the Vietnam War.

Wearing his favorite straw hat, Frank Bauman at Christchurch International Airport in New Zealand.

Wearing his favorite straw hat, Frank Bauman at Christchurch International Airport in New Zealand.

Bauman, a native Oregonian, Grant High School graduate and Yale-educated attorney, died Nov. 19 at the age of 94. His voice of experience would have been a welcome one in today’s shrill debate over Syrian refugees and Islamic faith.

How he reached his view of refugees is the story of his life.

While attending Stanford, where he majored in economics, Bauman enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He understood what WWII was about, but chose to serve in ways that didn’t involve killing. He passed a rigorous aptitude test and was assigned to the Navy language school in Boulder, Colorado where he learned Japanese in a crash nine-month course.

Bauman’s job often involved interviewing captured Japanese soldiers. But he also spent time on the front lines and was part of the First Marine Division that stormed Peleliu in the Palau Islands. More than 6,500 Marines lost their lives in an intense two-month battle, which military historians said produced a U.S. victory with little strategic value and persuaded military leaders to adopt smarter strategies.

Hiroshima in the aftermath of the world's first atomic bomb deployed in combat on Aug. 6, 1945. The blast instantly killed about 80,000 people, wiping 90 percent of the city's population.  

Hiroshima in the aftermath of the world's first atomic bomb deployed in combat on Aug. 6, 1945. The blast instantly killed about 80,000 people, wiping 90 percent of the city's population.  

After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrendered, Bauman was chosen by Paul Nitze, who later would become the architect of major nuclear arms deals, as part of a 4-man team to survey the damage. The sight of so much devastation cemented Bauman’s conviction to further international understanding and promote global governance as an alternative to war.

Following the war, Bauman returned to Portland. He helped his parents with their Seaside motel, went to law school, got married and practiced law. He also took time to attend the University of London where he studied international law. He stepped away from his traditional law practice to become a volunteer in Mississippi to protect voter rights after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Frank Bauman, right, in his role as Australia's chief diplomat to the United Nations. 

Frank Bauman, right, in his role as Australia's chief diplomat to the United Nations. 

Tiring of practicing law and influenced by swirling events, Bauman sought a job with the United Nations as its principal diplomat/administrator in Australia. With a political nudge from former Oregon Congressman Wendell Wyatt, Bauman landed the job and moved his family to Sydney in 1971.

During his five-year stint, Bauman oversaw the establishment of Papua New Guinea, a land where 700 dialects were spoken, as a sovereign state. His other principal job was to sponsor thousands of displaced Vietnamese as well as Croatian and Chilean refugees in Australia.

In those days, Australia wasn’t very diverse. It banned non-white immigration. Through persistent, respectful diplomacy, Bauman persuaded a newly elected Labour government to repeal the ban and accept thousands of Vietnamese refugees stranded on a small island in the Pacific.

Indochinese refugees fleeing their homeland by boat during the Vietnam War. Thousands of them found safety in Australia after Frank Bauman convinced the government to overturn a ban on non-white immigration.  

Indochinese refugees fleeing their homeland by boat during the Vietnam War. Thousands of them found safety in Australia after Frank Bauman convinced the government to overturn a ban on non-white immigration.  

An oral history provided by Bauman recounts how his advocacy on behalf of the refugees occurred as Australian sympathies for the Vietnam War soured. Bauman kept emphasizing that “wars create refugees” and civilized countries, especially ones involved in the wars, need to take responsibility to help victims of those wars.

Todd Bauman, Frank’s son who followed him into the practice of law, said his father, a Christian Scientist, believed helping refugees was the “Christian thing to do.” It wasn’t a condescending perspective. Bauman saw the world as a whole and his faith encouraged him to embrace that world and all of its people.

After his tour in Australia ended, Bauman returned to Portland, where he taught international law at Lewis & Clark College and served as president of the World Affairs Council of Oregon and the United Nations Association of Oregon. He and his wife travelled extensively, further expanding his world view.

Frank Bauman believed helping refugees was simply the "Christian thing to do," his son, Todd Bauman says.

Frank Bauman believed helping refugees was simply the "Christian thing to do," his son, Todd Bauman says.

As time passed, Bauman’s unique experience and personal commitment to refugee assistance slipped from public awareness. A voice with first-hand experience was never asked to speak when more strident voices called for banning Syrian refugees from American shores and even denying Muslims to come here.

Through his own eyes, Bauman saw the damage mankind can do to one another. He also saw the character leaders can exhibit. Bauman told of being aboard a creaky transport carrying 300 Japanese prisoners from the South Pacific to Honolulu. Bad weather slowed the journey and rations ran short. The ship’s commander issued an order that prisoners should receive priority for available food. He told his officers and men the prisoners were in their charge and were their responsibility to treat with respect.

It was an order and a life lesson Bauman took to heart.