How many people died in the Vietnam War-Vietnam war Casualties
The Vietnam War, considered by many to be among the famous conflicts in global history (aside from the World wars), was a resistance war occurring in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. It began on 1st November 1955 and ended on 30th April 1975 with the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and South Vietnam. Among the enduring questions is how many people died in the war, but to understand why it occurred, we need to know the beginning of the conflict.
At its basic level, it was part of a proxy cold war in Asia, and was part of the USA and USSR attempts to gain control of communist and capitalist territories. North Vietnam received support from China, the Soviet Union, as well as other communist allies; while the South Vietnam region received support from Thailand, the United States, Australia and other anti-communist countries. The war resulted in a humiliating defeat for the United States.
Beginning of the Vietnam War
Vietnam has had a long history of colonial rule – since the 19th Century, when France colonized the country. In the Second World War, Japanese forces invaded the country, resulting in the Vietnamese communist political leader forming the Viet Minh (League of the independence of Vietnam). Ho Chi Minh formed it to fight off these forces.
When Japan suffered defeat in WWII, it removed its troops from Vietnam, and this left the Emperor Bao Dai in power. This was a loophole for the Viet Minh leaders to take over Hanoi (one of the northern cities) and declare the country as a socialist DRV – the Democratic Republic of Vietnam – with the president as Ho.
The French saw this as a threat, and wanted to take back control. They gave support to Emperor Bao and formed the state of Vietnam in 1949, with its capital at Saigon. They wanted Vietnam to have closer economic and cultural ties to the west.
The USA began to involve itself in the Vietnam War from 1954, though conflict in the region was already in existence. After the communist forces captured the north, they began to fight with the southern armies until the Dien Bien Phu battle in May 1954 (the northern forces won).
The signing of a treaty happened a few months later in Geneva, and this split the country into two, with Ho controlling the north and Bao the south. The treaty also proposed national reunification elections for 1956, though the plan changed when the staunch anti-communist politician Ngo Dinh Niem overthrew the Emperor to become president of South Vietnam.
The cold war was increasing in intensity globally, and the USA began to harden its stance against USSR allies and intensifying support for Diem’s government. The CIA and American military lent their equipment to South Vietnam, and this was useful in tracking Viet Minh sympathizers in the South – Diem called them the ‘Viet Cong’ – a derogatory word for Vietnamese communists. His administration arrested more than 90,000 people, majority who underwent torture and execution.
In 1957, the Viet Cong began to fight back, first attacking government officials and later the South Vietnamese army in 1959. In 1960, Diem’s opponents in South Vietnam formed the NLF (National Liberation Front) to resist the regime.
The Viet Cong fought a guerrilla war against the anti-communist forces, while the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) leaned towards confrontational war, including using large battle units. The South Vietnamese and American forces used more air superiority and firepower, including airstrikes, mass bombings and ground forces.
Deaths in the war – statistics
The war was very costly to both sides, and the number of people who died in the war includes both military and civilian deaths in Laos, South and North Vietnam and Cambodia. Most of these deaths were in South Vietnam, since this area is where most fighting took place.
The death of civilians through communist forces was mostly due to terror tactics and assassinations, while the civilian deaths from the anti-communist forces was because of massive firepower in military operations as well as extensive aerial bombs in areas of high population.
There are instances of massive civilian targeting by the troops, and the most infamous are the My Lai massacre and the Massacre at Huê.
Deaths caused by the American military
- According to estimates, American forces made between 4,000 and 10,000 killings between 1960 and 1972. North Vietnamese civilian deaths are about 50,000 to 65,000.
- In southern Vietnam, the U.S. military was responsible for spraying 18.2 million gallons of Agent Orange over 10% of the landmass as part of the USA herbicidal warfare program (Operation Ranch Hand) between 1961 and 1971. This led to the death and maiming of about 40,000 people, while an additional 500,000 births had birth defects.
- A special operations force, the Tiger Force, killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians.
- In larger scale operations, many civilians died either deliberately or accidentally. When excluding artillery and air attacks, the estimates of death may be in the thousands over the whole war.
- The estimate total figure of people who died in the war is about 313,000, though the exact figure is not clear.
American troop deaths
Out of the American soldiers who went to Vietnam, here are a few statistics on them:
- America lost about 58,220 soldiers. Most of these (an estimate of 47,434) died in action, while 10,786 died from other causes.
- About one in ten troops died in the war, while the average age for American troops was 21 (compared to WWII, where the average age was 26).
- Over 1,700 American troops are still unaccounted for to this day.
- Among the South Vietnamese allies, South Korea suffered the most casualties at about 4,000 deaths.
Communist forces deaths
- In its official report, Hanoi estimates that 1.1 million communist fighters including the Viet Cong died. This figure is closer to the figure from the U.S. Department of Defence, estimated to be 950,765 communists.
- The communist allies lost some soldiers too – with the heaviest casualty being the People’s Republic of China, which lost about 1,100.
Similar to other wars that have occurred throughout history, it is not easy to verify the number of people who died in the Vietnam War. Since the end of the war in 1975 through the fall of South Vietnam, some records seem to contradict each other often. The additional problem is the troops who went missing.