The Second Indochina War (aka. the Vietnam War or the American War) began in 1955 and ended in 1975 when North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon. During this period, the war escalated from an insurgency in South Vietnam sponsored by the North Vietnamese government to direct military intervention in the south by North Vietnam, as well as the active participation of military forces of the United States and other countries. The war also spilled over into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. An exhaustive reckoning of the total casualties must include statistical information available for each theater of the war. Most of the fighting took place in the Republic of Vietnam; accordingly it suffered the most casualties.
Estimates of the number of casualties vary, with the Vietnamese government suggesting as many as 3.1 million violent war deaths, Vietnamese and foreigners, soldiers included. A detailed demographic study calculated 791,000–1,141,000 war-related Vietnamese deaths, both soldiers and civilians, for all of Vietnam from 1965 to 1975. The study came up with a most likely Vietnamese death toll of 882,000, which included 655,000 adult males (above 15 years of age), 143,000 adult females, and 84,000 children.
195,000-430,000 South Vietnamese civilians died in the war. 50,000-65,000 North Vietnamese civilians died in the war. It was difficult to distinguish between civilians and military personnel on the Viet Cong side since many dressed as civilians.
R. J. Rummel estimated that NVA/VC forces killed around 164,000 civilians in democide between 1954 and 1975 in South Vietnam, from a range of between 106,000 and 227,000. Rummel's summary has a mid-level estimate of 17,000 South Vietnamese civil servants (ARVN's local millitia) killed by North Vietnamese forces (including the Viet Cong). In addition, at least 36,000 Southern civilians were executed for various reasons in the period 1967–1972. About 130 American and 16,000 South Vietnamese POWs died in captivity. During the peak war years, almost a third of civilian deaths were the result of Viet Cong atrocities.
From 1964 to 1975, an estimated 1,500 people died during the forced relocations of 1,200,000 civilians, another 5,000 prisoners died from ill-treatment and about 30,000 suspected communists and fighters were executed. 6,000 civilians died in the more extensive shellings. In Quang Nam province 4,700 civilians were killed in 1969. This totals, from a range of between 16,000 and 167,000 deaths caused by South Vietnam (Diem-era), and 42,000 and 118,000 deaths caused by South Vietnam (post Diem-era), excluding North Vietnamese forces killed by the ARVN in combat.
Rummel estimated that American forces committed around 5,500 democidal killings between 1960 and 1972, from a range of between 4,000 and 10,000. Estimates for the number of North Vietnamese civilian deaths resulting from US bombing range from 50,000-65,000. Although information is sparse, American bombing in Cambodia is estimated to have killed between 40,000 and 150,000 civilians and combatants.
18.2 million gallons of Agent Orange (Dioxin) was sprayed by the U.S. military over more than 10% of Southern Vietnam, as part of the U.S. herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam's government claimed that 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of after effects, and that 500,000 children were born with birth defects.
German historian Bernd Greiner mentions the following war crimes reported, and/or investigated by the Peers Commission and the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group, among other sources:
- Seven massacres officially confirmed by the American side. My Lai (4) and My Khe (4) claimed the largest number of victims with 420 and 90 respectively, and in five other places altogether about 100 civilians were executed.
- Two further massacres were reported by soldiers who had taken part in them, one north of Duc Pho in Quang Ngai Province in the summer of 1968 (14 victims), another in Binh Dinh province on 20 July 1969 (25 victims).
- Tiger Force, a special operations force, murdered hundreds, possibly over a thousand, civilians.
- In the course of large-scale operations an unknown number of non-combatants were killed either accidentally or deliberately – with some estimating more than 5,000 allegedly died in the course of Operation Speedy Express. Excluding deaths from artillery and air attacks, the total number of victims may have reached tens of thousands during the entire war.
- According to the 'Information Bureau of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam' (PRG), between April 1968 and the end of 1970 American ground troops killed about 6,500 civilians in the course of twenty-one operations either on their own or alongside their allies. Three of the massacres reported on the American side were not mentioned on the PRG list.
Nick Turse, in his 2013 book, Kill Anything that Moves, argues that a relentless drive toward higher body counts, a widespread use of free-fire zones, rules of engagement where civilians who ran from soldiers or helicopters could be viewed as Viet Cong, and a widespread disdain for Vietnamese civilians led to massive civilian casualties and endemic war crimes inflicted by U.S. troops. One example cited by Turse is Operation Speedy Express, an operation by the 9th Infantry Division, which was described by John Paul Vann as, in effect, "many My Lais". In more detail,
Air force captain, Brian Wilson, who carried out bomb-damage assessments in free-fire zones throughout the delta, saw the results firsthand. "It was the epitome of immorality…One of the times I counted bodies after an air strike—which always ended with two napalm bombs which would just fry everything that was left—I counted sixty-two bodies. In my report I described them as so many women between fifteen and twenty-five and so many children—usually in their mothers' arms or very close to them—and so many old people." When he later read the official tally of dead, he found that it listed them as 130 VC killed.
Nick Turse argues that the enormous toll of civilian victims was neither accidental nor unpredictable. The Pentagon's demand for quantifiable corpses surged down the chain of command, through all branches of the U.S. military, until many units had become fixated on producing indiscriminate casualties that they could claim as enemy kills. Under this system, killing was incentivized: those with high body counts not only got promoted more quickly, their units were treated better and enjoyed greater safety than those who missed their 'killing quotas'... The incentivizing of death encouraged some U.S. soldiers to rack up thousands of kills over multiple tours. In a telling detail repeated in many of the case studies examined, the alleged Viet Cong eliminated by these American super killers often had no weapons on them when they were gunned down. Turse makes it clear that such high numbers would have been all but impossible without the inclusion of innocent bystanders.
ROK Capital Division massacred Tây Vinh citizens between February and March 1966. ROK Capital Division massacred Bình An citizens on 26 February 1966. In October, 1966, Tịnh Sơn citizens were massacred. 2nd Marine Brigade massacred Binh Tai citizens on 9 October 1966. In December, 1966, Blue Dragon Brigade massacred Bình Hòa citizens. Second Marine Brigade massacred Phong Nhị citizens on 12 February 1968. South Korean Marines massacred Hà My citizens on 25 February 1968.
According to the Vietnamese government, there were 1,100,000 North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong military personnel deaths during the Vietnam War (including the missing). Rummel reviewed the many casualty data sets, and this number is in keeping with his mid-level estimate of 1,011,000 North Vietnamese combatant deaths. The official US Department of Defense figure was 950,765 communist forces killed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1974. Defense Department officials believed that these body count figures need to be deflated by 30 percent. In addition, Guenter Lewy assumes that one-third of the reported "enemy" killed may have been civilians, concluding that the actual number of deaths of communist military forces was probably closer to 444,000.
The Phoenix Program, a counterinsurgency program executed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States special operations forces, and the Republic of Vietnam's security apparatus, killed 26,369 suspected NLF operatives and informants.
For historian Christian Appy, "search and destroy was the principal tactic; and the enemy body count was the primary measure of progress" in Westmoreland’s war of attrition. Search and destroy was coined as a phrase in 1965 to describe missions aimed at flushing the Viet Cong out of hiding, while the body count was the measuring stick for the success of any operation. Competitions were held between units for the highest number of Vietnamese killed in action, or KIAs. U.S. Army and marine officers knew that promotions were largely based on confirmed kills. The pressure to produce confirmed kills resulted in massive fraud. One study revealed that American commanders exaggerated body counts by 100 percent.
Casualties as of 8 July 2014:
During the Vietnam War, 30% of wounded service members died of their wounds.
Note: *One escapee died of wounds sustained during his rescue 15 days later.
Blacks were suffering disproportionately high casualty rates in Vietnam, and in 1965 alone they comprised almost one out of every four combat deaths. With the draft increasing due to the troop buildup in South Vietnam, the military significantly lowered its admission standards. In October 1966, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara initiated Project 100,000 which further lowered military standards for 100,000 additional draftees per year. McNamara claimed this program would provide valuable training, skills and opportunity to America's poor - a promise that was never carried out. Many black men who had previously been ineligible could now be drafted, along with many poor and racially intolerant white men from the southern states. The number of US military personnel in Vietnam jumped from 23,300 in 1965 to 465,600 by the end of 1967. Between October 1966 and June 1969, 246,000 soldiers were recruited through Project 100,000, of which 41% were black, while blacks only made up about 11% of the population of the US. Of the 27 million draft-age men between 1964 and 1973, 40% were drafted into military service, and only 10% were actually sent to Vietnam. This group was made up almost entirely of either work-class or rural youth. College students who did not avoid the draft were generally sent to non-combat and service roles or made officers, while high school drop-outs and the working class were sent into combat roles. Blacks often made up a disproportionate 25% or more of combat units, while constituting only 12% of the military.
Civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John Lewis, Muhammad Ali, and others, criticized the racial disparity in both casualties and representation in the entire military, prompting the Pentagon to order cutbacks in the number of African Americans in combat positions. Commander George L. Jackson said, "In response to this criticism, the Department of Defense took steps to readjust force levels in order to achieve an equitable proportion and employment of Negroes in Vietnam." The army instigated myriad reforms, addressed issues of discrimination and prejudice from the post exchanges to the lack of black officers, and introduced "Mandatory Watch And Action Committees" into each unit. The proportion of black casualties began to decrease, and by late 1967, black casualties had fallen to 13%, and were below 10% in 1970 to 1972. Upon the war's completion, black casualties made up 12.5% of US combat deaths, approximately equal to percentage of draft-eligible black men, though still slightly higher than the 10% who served in the military.
Up to 155,000 refugees fleeing the final NVA Spring Offensive were killed or abducted on the road to Tuy Hoa in 1975. Sources have estimated that 165,000 South Vietnamese died in the re-education camps out of 1-2.5 million sent, while somewhere between 50,000 and 250,000 were executed. Rummel estimates that slave labor in the "New Economic Zones" caused 50,000 deaths (out of a total 1 million deported). According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 Vietnamese boat people died at sea, although Rummel cites estimates ranging from 100,000 to 1,000,000. Including Vietnam's foreign democide, Rummel estimates that a minimum of 400,000 and a maximum of slightly less than 2.5 million people died of political violence from 1975-87 at the hands of Hanoi. In 1988, Vietnam suffered a famine that afflicted millions.
Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge killed 1-3 million Cambodians in the killing fields, out of a population of around 8 million. The Pathet Lao killed some 100,000 Hmong people in Laos.
Explosive remnants of war (ERW) continue to detonate and kill people today. The Vietnamese government claims that ordnance has killed some 42,000 people since the war officially ended. In 2012 alone, unexploded bombs and other ordnance claimed 500 casualties in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, according to activists and government databases. The United States has spent over $65 million since 1998, trying to make Vietnam safe.
Agent Orange and similar chemical substances, have also caused a considerable number of deaths and injuries over the years, including the US Air Force crew that handled them. The government of Vietnam says that 4 million of its citizens were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suffered illnesses because of it; these figures include the children of people who were exposed. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to contaminated Agent Orange.
On the 9th of August 2012, the United States and Vietnam began a cooperative cleaning up of the toxic chemical on part of Danang International Airport, marking the first time Washington has been involved in cleaning up Agent Orange in Vietnam. Danang was the primary storage site of the chemical. Two other cleanup sites the United States and Vietnam are looking at is Biên Hòa, in the southern province of Đồng Nai - a 'hotspot' for dioxin - and Phù Cát airport in the central province of Bình Định, says U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear. According to the Vietnamese newspaper Nhân Dân, the U.S. government is providing $41 million to the project, which will reduce the contamination level in 73,000 m3 of soil by late 2016.
People's Republic Of China
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