Any war is costly. Lasted for almost thirty years, including 8 years of the United States’ direct intervention from 1965 to 1973, the Vietnam War was considered the most expensive war in Cold War era. The price that the United States had to pay for the war in Vietnam was not limited in the battlefield but also in various aspects of the nation from human lives to political problems.
Among all the wars the United States had fought, Vietnam War is ranked 4th in casualties just below the Civil War and the two World Wars. Out of 2,594,000 personnel who served in Vietnam, there were 58,220 Americans dead, 153,303 wounded and 1,643 missing. More than 23,214 soldiers suffered one hundred percent disabled. Even when it already ended, the war continued to cost many American lives. It’s estimated that 70,000 to 300,000 Vietnam Veterans committed suicide and around 700,000 veterans suffered psychological trauma.
The Department of Defense (DOD) reports that the United States spent about $168 billion (worth around $950 billion in 2011 dollars) in the entire war including $111 billion on military operations (1965 – 1972) and $28.5 billion on economic and military aid to Saigon regime (1953 – 1975). At that rate, the United States spent approximately $168,000 for an “enemy” killed. However, $168 billion was only the direct cost. According to Indochina Newsletter of Asia Resource Center, the United States spent from $350 billion to $900 billion in total including veterans’ benefits and interest.
During the Vietnam war, in order to meet its required war efforts, factories in the U.S. which used to produce consumer goods were now converted to produce military equipment. This change caused a plunge in shopping rates, thus hurting the economy. Military fund spent overseas also led to budget deficits which caused a weaker dollar, galloping inflation and increasing interest rates. Owing to the Vietnam War, American economy was brought down from its growth in early 1960s to an economic crisis in 1970s.
Political and Social Cost
The United States paid a high political cost for the Vietnam War. Large-scale anti-war movements around the country caused a great rift within American society. Likewise, the leak of Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal critically damaged the government credibility. Americans people now kept a deep suspicion and distrust of their government.
The failure in Vietnam not only questioned the U.S. superiority as the world defender of freedom and justice but also impacted greatly on its domestic affairs. Many years after the war, American public still biased against any kind of American conflicts for the fear of “another Vietnam” while its government cautiously implemented a “less interventionist” foreign policy as a result of the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome” which continued until a swift victory over Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991 – fifteen long years since the fall of Saigon.