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Of course, the most important cost of the Vietnam War (in the United States) was to the people who fought in it and their families. Nearly 60,000 Americans were killed in the conflict in Vietnam and hundreds of thousands of other Americans were wounded. For these people and their families, the war had costs that could never be repaid.
Monetarily, it is hard to say how much the Vietnam War actually cost. There are many issues with creating such a number (for example, how much of what was spent on the military was for the war and how much would have been spent even without the war). However, a recent estimate puts the financial cost at around $690 billion dollars (expressed in today's money).
You could also argue that there were other costs of this war. For example, what might have been done with that money that was spent on the war? Or by the people who died? These resources were lost to our economy. What impact did the higher taxes needed to pay for the war have on our economy? There is no way to put a number on any of these types of losses, but they are real costs of a war.
In addition to the lives lost and the tremendous financial cost, innumerable losses were also incurred in the United States. Besides the deaths of nearly 60,000 soldiers, there were 350,000 casualties. More Vietnam veterans are in mental hospitals and treated for mental problems than any other war veterans. A disporportionate number of veterans of the Vietnam Conflict are incarcerated, also. In fact, there are Incarcerated. Vietnam Veteran Programs designed specifically for these mentally wounded veterans/prisoners.
During the 1960s, along with the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement, the United States saw a socially contentious period in which leaders were worried that the Vietnam War would tear the country apart. With a war that brought to living rooms its horrors as it was televised to the public, the country was split between those who supported this war and those who supported the protestors. In May of 1964, hundreds of students marched through Times Square, while 700 marched in San Francisco. In 1966 three soldiers know as "The Fort Hood Three" refused to deploy to Vietnam, calling the war illegal and immoral; they were subsequently sentenced to prison. The May 4, 1970, Kent State debacle is, of course, an incident that will never be forgotten as students were shot by Ohio National Guard, who fired 67 rounds upon unarmed college students, killing four, and wounding nine others, one of whom was paralyzed.
In 1964, Robert MacNamara, Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, presented the Bay of Tonkin Incident as a pretext for escalation of the war which led to the deployment of hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Vietnam. Years later, an audacious MacNamara apologized to the country for the massive loss of life for which he was involved, admitting that he knew that the report of naval vessels firing on U.S. destroyers was falsified. (In 1965 in a private meeting, President Johnson confided, "For all I knew our Navy were shooting at whales out there.")
What were the costs of the Vietnam War? There were costs that cannot be measured. Lives were lost, ruined; minds were damaged, hearts were broken, men were expatriated, a generation lost its innocence; the country was not the same as it was before. The Vietnam War marks the beginning of much disillusionment in the government by Americans as they learned of the political conspiracies connected to this war.
In all wars it is hard to measure the cost, the Vietnam War is possibly even harder. It is the first time that war was brought into our homes on a nightly basis. I would probably even say it was the first war that did not have the full support of the American people. The loss of life and the eventual treatment of the returning veterans is impossible to measure.
The continuing cost of war does not end when the guns fall silent. Nations must deal with the aftermath. 400,000 Americans suffered physical wounds; thousands more suffered wounds to the spirit and others from efforts to defoliate the jungles to deprive the enemy of sanctuary. The Vietnamese and American veterans and their children suffered wounds from the exposure of their fathers and mothers. I'm 80% disabled from the war and recently involutarily retired becaus of my disability.
Afghanistan and Iraq highlight the problems that surfaced after the Vietnam War. Thousands of men and women maimed physically and mentally and hundreds taking their own lives.
All wars do not end with the peace,truce, or whatever. Governments need to plan on how to deal with a generation crippled in the prime of life, and we live longer now.
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