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Vietnam War

The War's Costs

Period: 1960s

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Le Ly Hayslip was born into a peasant family a small village in Central Vietnam in 1949, which was caught in the crossfire of conflict between the French and Moroccan and Viet Minh soldiers, and later between the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong and the armies of South Vietnam and the United States. The daughter of a rice farmer, she served as a lookout and messenger for the Viet Cong, and planted booby traps for the Viet Cong at the age of 12. She was arrested and tortured by the South Vietnamese government police, and then was sentenced to death by the Viet Cong, who accused her of being a government informer. The men assigned to execute her raped her instead.

Like hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese, Le Ly was displaced from her village by the war. She fled to Danang and then in Saigon, she became a maid, a waitress in GI clubs, and an attendant in a hospital, before trying, out of desperation, to support herself through black market dealing and prostitution. At the age of 20, she married an American construction worker and moved to a San Diego suburb, where she later wrote a harrowing account of her life entitled When Heaven and Earth Changed Places.

An estimated 58,132 Americans died in Vietnam. More than 150,000 were wounded, and 21,000 were permanently disabled. More than 3 million Americans, average age 19, served in the Vietnam war. An estimated 100,000 Americans fled the United States to avoid serving in the conflict, and approximately 50,000 American servicemen deserted. The Veterans Administration estimates that 830,000 Vietnam vets suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, of whom 480,000 were so deeply affected that they can be considered disabled. Several hundred thousand American troops were exposed to defoliants such as Agent Orange. The estimated cost of the war in Vietnam during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations was $176 billion. Altogether 60 percent of draft age American men did not serve in the military between 1963 and 1974, and 98 percent did not see combat.

But the war's greatest costs and suffering were borne by the Vietnamese people, who may have lost 2 million lives during the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese were displaced from rural villages and their families splinterested. The countryside was ravaged by herbicides and bombs. Between 1964 and 1969, the United States dropped more than nine times the tonnage of high explosives on Vietnam as it did in the Pacific theater during World War II.

After the war, North Vietnam detained 50,000 to 100,000 former supporters of the Saigon regime in reeducation camps. Over a million "boat people," consisting largely of Vietnam's persecuted Chinese minority, fled persecution in the country.

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