The Impact of the Vietnam War on Vietnam

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  • 0:03 Impact of the Vietnam War
  • 0:29 The Toll of the War
  • 2:27 The War's Legacy
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we'll explore the toll of the Vietnam War upon Vietnam itself, including the military and civilian death toll the war exacted and some of the cultural issues faced by Vietnam in the aftermath of the war.

Impact of Vietnam War

Playing board games about war, like Risk or Axis & Allies, can be an enjoyable way to spend a few hours and even learn a little bit about the history of certain conflicts. But, what war games often hide is the devastating effect that warfare often has on people who live through a major conflict. In this lesson, we'll examine the impact of the Vietnam War on Vietnam and take a look at how the war continues to impact the country culturally.

The Toll of the War

In nearly two decades of involvement in the Vietnam conflict, the United States lost more than 58,000 servicemen and women; that's enough to make it one of the United States' most costly foreign wars and the costliest since World War II. Still, that number pales in comparison to the loss of Vietnamese lives. Estimates of the dead in Vietnam tend to run the gamut, but even conservative estimates say that over two million Vietnamese died in the conflict, with at least 1.2 million of these being civilian deaths. Many estimates place these numbers even higher. The U.S. government has estimated that approximately 200,000 - 250,000 South Vietnamese fighters also died.

The damage was not limited to the dead; many of those who survived the conflict lived on with less overt scars. Throughout the Vietnam War, the United States attempted to defoliate the landscape, that is, destroy the dense jungle that often hid North Vietnamese operations from airborne surveillance. They did this by dropping a variety of chemicals on the countryside, the most notorious of which was Agent Orange. About 12 million gallons of the chemical were dropped on Vietnamese soil throughout the course of the war, and it was absorbed into the environment, including the human population. This has resulted in the poisoning of later generations, with a multitude of malformed children in areas where the chemicals were dropped in large concentrations.

Many of Vietnam's cities and much of its infrastructure were utterly destroyed by multiple decades of continuous warfare. By some estimates, 29 of 30 regional capitals in northern Vietnam sustained heavy bombing, and the country as a whole largely had to be rebuilt. The sheer amount of bombing in Vietnam by both sides still impacts society today: unexploded devices still routinely maim or kill Vietnamese citizens when they're discovered by farmers plowing fields or children at play.

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