Measuring Success by Counting Corpses
The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) relied heavily on a statistic that shaped the military’s definition of success: body count.
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National Archives photo no. A369434
Though the Vietnam War remains alive in the memories of many, the reasons behind American involvement in Vietnam and the death of 58,000+ Americans is still often questioned. We cannot begin diving into why the war is still so present today without having a basic framework of what the war was in the first place.
This is a brief overview of the Vietnam War, meant to be used as an educational starting point for the many high school students who do not learn about the Vietnam War in history classes. Here I intend to answer the basic question: What was the Vietnam War?
In the wake of the public realization of the Mỹ Lai Massacre, there were several movements which attempted to bring to light the number of war crimes that were being perpetrated in Vietnam. The most well-known of these was the unofficial investigation known as the Winter Soldier Investigation. WSI benefitted from publicity and the now-public knowledge of war crimes being committed in Vietnam. However, there were efforts to bring attention to the widespread atrocities being committed in Vietnam before WSI, and crimes that occurred well before the Mỹ Lai Massacre.
The term “Agent Orange” has been in and out of news media since the 1960s. Most stories featuring this chemical defoliant have focused on the medical impact of its use in Southeast Asia on the American veterans who came in contact with it. In more recent years, focus has shifted to children born to those veterans as well as the Vietnamese civilians whose children are affected by the lasting remnants of the herbicides. Due to this media coverage, Agent Orange is a term recognized by many. But there are few who understand what the term encompasses and exactly how and why it continues to impact people today, 48 years after the US Air Force conducted the last spraying mission in Vietnam.