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The Real Cost of Vietnam

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Vietnam warThe commemoration of the end of the Vietnam War this week in 1975 will be lost on many Americans who are too young to recall the tumultuous events of the Indochina wars. (We also bombed Laos and Cambodia mercilessly in the same period.)

The iconic photographs of the U.S. helicopter about to lift off from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, with desperate Vietnamese scrambling to board, as the final reckoning are symbolic but also misleading. The image of the "pitiful, helpless giant" misleads because the U.S. military had almost completely withdrawn many months before after having laid waste to Vietnam, north and south, for nearly a decade.

What we will hear this week is heartbreaking: 56,000 American soldiers and marines killed in the war, tens of thousands more permanently scarred. They were young men, boys really, some pressed into service by the draft, but many misled into enlisting in a morally bankrupt war. Even then, so many gave, in Lincoln's words, the last full measure of devotion. It is the deepest tragedy and sadness of my generation.

What we won't hear so much this week is the story of the Vietnamese, the burned out villages, the bombed dams, the five million people displaced, the promiscuous use of napalm and Agent Orange (which still ravages Vietnamese), the three million dead.

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