Opinions on Vietnam War casualties

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Vietnamese memorial of the dead
American memorial of the dead

Estimates of casualties in the Vietnam War vary widely. The most extensive survey estimates deaths in the war from 1954 to 1975 at between 1.5 and 3.6 million people. This estimate includes both civilian and military deaths in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Second Indochina War (aka. the Vietnam War or the American War) began in 1955 and ended in 1975 when North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon. During this period, the war escalated from an insurgency in South Vietnam assisted by the North Vietnamese government to direct military intervention in the south by North Vietnam to assist the insurgents and the intervention of military forces of the United States and other countries to assist South Vietnam. The war also spilled over into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. An exhaustive reckoning of the total casualties must include statistical information available for each theater of the war. Most of the fighting took place in South Vietnam; accordingly it suffered the most casualties.

Civilian deaths caused by both sides amounted to a significant percentage of total deaths, perhaps from 30 to nearly 50 percent. Civilian deaths caused by communist forces, which included the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese Army, Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge, mostly resulted from assassinations and terror tactics. Civilian deaths caused by the armed forces of the governments of South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the United States, South Korea, and other allies were primarily the consequence of extensive aerial bombing and the use of massive firepower in military operations conducted in heavily populated areas. The nature of the war often made it difficult to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

A number of incidents occurred during the war in which civilians were deliberately targeted or killed. The best-known are the Massacre at Huế and the My Lai massacre.


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