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The Cost of War

By Chapter Member Scott Brooks - Miller 04/16/2018

The cost of war is an often used phrase given to an analysis as to how much a war costs its citizens who pay for any given conflict.  It doesn't however take into account the short and long term affects of the many other factors that must be taken into account, some decades after a war is over. These costs include continuing medical and mental healthcare through the US Department of Veterans Affairs along with associated financial care for disability for Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, loss and health care associated with dioxin poisoning.  Then there is the incalculable costs associated with caregivers and their families. How do you assess the cost of a family taking care of a loved one who is unable to care for him or herself. The flash of anger, screaming, tension of bad dreams and loss sleep, the inability to work or hold a job. It goes on and on. It is not unusual to find that many combat veterans have had multiple marriages.

The most contemporary example could be the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the post 9/11 world. Dollar wise they have cost the Department of Defense and the America taxpayer well over one trillion dollars in just military spending. But that doesn't take into account the human suffering of citizens of those nation who have lost loved ones, their destroyed homes and any quality of life that they might have had prior to the beginning of hostilities.  A more tangible reminder and one the we are often wrestling with now is the returning disabled veteran, and his or her physical or psychological wounds. How do you put a cost to lives inflicted with repeated tours of duty, combat, death, mayhem, PTSD, divorces and children without their fathers and mothers either through death, suicide or separation.  

Never has the cost of war in these terms been studied more then in recent 9/11 conflicts.  What does the VA budget reflect in-terms of costs as well as the numerous 501c3's and there efforts to help in the transition from warrior to veteran in civilian life?  While a dollar figure could be established through a review of the federal budget, how do you evaluated and assign a cost to human suffering, both physical and emotional?  Maybe it can't be and that is the silent cost of war.


Now, nearly forty years after the end of the Vietnam War it's interesting and a challenge to try and establish a cost for those efforts to stop the dominoes from falling across Southeast Asia.  So much about that war is still largely unfamiliar with the American populace. A larger question looms over this type of analysis as to what constituted involvement in Vietnam. Who were the participants and how did they interact in this new type of undeclared war?

Most American are unfamiliar with the complexity of the war and it's funding. We know that between 1959 and 1975 the war cost over 738 billions dollars at a cost of 58,236 Americans lives.  This included, according to the US. Department of Defense, 55,661 killed in the Republic of South Vietnam, 1,120 in North Vietnam, 728 in Laos, 523 in Cambodia, 178 in Thailand and 10 in China.  There were also numerous American civilians killed in these countries, either assigned to the CIA, Agency for Internal Development, relief organizations, missionaries such as the Catholic Church, Quakers, the American Red Cross and over 68 members of the press who lost their lives covering the war including: Dicky Chapelle, female reporter who covered the Battle of Okinawa for National Geographic; Bernard Fall, author of Road Without Joy;" and Sean Flynn, son of actor Eroll Flynn.

While it is commonly known that we were fighting for and with the South Vietnamese to end communism, few are aware of our allies and how they served alongside American Forces in the Republic of Vietnam. Interestingly a majority of the funding for the war was financed by the United States.

Our allies were diverse and their contributions both great and some infamous.  Over 312,853 South Korean troops served in Vietnam, with 5,099 killed in action(KIA), 11,232 wounded(WIA) and 4 missing(MIA). Their presence in Vietnam was well known for its ferocity and several instances of war crimes. Through a treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States, (ANZUS), Australia furnished 7,672 military personnel with 426 KIA, 2,940 WIA and 6 MIA. New Zealand sent 3,000 troops, suffering 55 KIA and 212 WIA.  Though secretly engaged, Taiwan lost 35 KIA and an unspecified numbered of wounded, including 17 pilots ferrying in supplies. Thailand committed over 30,000 troops suffering 351 KIA and 1,358 WIA.

Ironically, while an estimated 16,000 US draft age males fled to Canada between 1967 through 1973 and some 5,500 deserters fled north across the border over 30,000 Canadians males volunteered for the US military service. Of those and an estimated 134 were killed in action while serving the United States in Vietnam.

In addition to above referenced figures the greatest number of casualties in the allied coalition to fight communism were the South Vietnamese. Between the years of 1959 and 1975 the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) lost over 260,000 in combat and an even greater number wounded, with precise numbers unavailable. Civilian casualties exceeded over 400,000 killed in military hostilities and a wounded casualty far greater. Medical aid outside metropolitan areas was almost non-existent unless furnished by allied forces such as Civic Action Platoons staffed by active duty American personal or Special Forces medics. An injury was more likely to become a fatality through infection or ineptness of care. To say that the Vietnamese civilian population suffered during the war is a gross understatement.

But what about the enemy, those Vietnamese from the North of members of the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong VC)? There is no estimated cost of what the war cost the North, though much of it was underwritten by Russia and China in terms of arms, munition, advisers and other military assistance and humanitarian aid. Cross border supply from China was common as was shipments from the Soviet Union by ship. The Soviet Union lost 16 KIA during the war and China 1,446. N Korean missile battery staff lost several dozen though exact numbers are not known.

Casualties to the North Vietnamese are the most cruel of all. Over 849,000 member of the North Vietnamese Army(NVA) and 251,000 members of the NLF or Viet Cong were Killed in Action. Those are of reported losses, many more were not recorded as they died in combat or American bombings along the Hi Chi Minh trail in Laos and Cambodia or along the borders in South Vietnam. There was no process for recording for these losses.

In addition to military losses it is estimated that over 550,000 civilians were killed as a result of the war. Many of those as a result of bombing, starvation and wounds.

In all of these figures there is no way to measure the impact the war had on the human psyche. How do you calculate the loss of a loved one, your home, your livelihood? Is the loss of a son any different in the United States as it is on Quang Tri Province in South Vietnam or in Haiphong in the north? And what about now? Over 270,000 American veterans suffer from varying degrees of PTSD. That is approximately 15% or those who served in Vietnam. It is a daily struggle with intrusive thoughts, sleeplessness, isolation, fear of crowds and strangers and loss of affection. This is only these American side. Veterans also struggle with Agent Orange (Dioxin poisoning from defoliation) complications including a range of cancers and type II diabetes and other diseases associated with being poisoned.

But what about our former allies, how have they fared? It is highly ironic that New Zealand, home to a Dow Chemical facility in New Plymouth, New Zealand that manufactured Agent Orange that was then sent to SE Asia for use. It’s the Vietnam Veteran population that suffers from the negative effects of dioxin poisoning. All of our former allies whose veterans served in Vietnam and suffer from the long term effects dioxin poisoning.

There is also an adverse affect on the populations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia that range from UN-exploded ordinance and Agent Orange and whose symptoms are well known, ranging from birth defects, cancers and early and often times, violent death.  Only recently have there been efforts to clean up the dioxin and explosive hot spots around the country with money allocated by the US and Non-governmental agencies, like the Halo Foundation, which seek out and disarm unexploded ordinance.  Hundreds of deaths are reported annually from cancers associated with chemical poisoning from defoliation. Though Vietnamese have sued for compensation in US courts and have had their legal actions dismissed. Similar lawsuits filed in France are still pending. It is an ugly reminder of how wars do not end on a specific date or place. So in the final count the cost of war is not easily determined. Now, over four decades since the end of hostilities in Vietnam, the suffering and grieving goes on both here, on the former battlefields and with our former allies.

Now another generation of Americans, its allies and those indigenous people whose countries we fight in have already begun their slow and painful tabulation of the "Cost of War."