One of the monumental blunders made by the allies during the Vietnam War was to rely heavily upon the concept of the ‘body count’ as their main yardstick for success. Not only were the reported figures often exaggerated and manipulated for political purposes, but the figures often included civilian deaths. Furthermore, the allies ignored the philosophical differences on this issue between the two opposing psyches. The ‘body count’ to the Communist Asian cause was of secondary importance in that the individual was expendable for the sake of the ‘common good’.
In other words, a growing death toll for an impoverished, totalitarian-ruled nation, whose populace and soldiers alike were driven by a fanatical and determined will to win and endure no matter what the cost, was never going to compare with the political ramifications in the West, where a growing death toll was always political dynamite.
Furthermore, it has long been recognised by competent military strategists that in a guerrilla type war, a better than 10:1 ratio of enemy casualties to allied casualties was the bare minimum necessary before even the beginnings of success could be contemplated. That ratio was rarely reached.
“Of some 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam, 8,700 - 11,600
of them - estimated - should not have! They were ‘friendly fire’
casualties from poor leadership, equipment and training!”
- Lt. Col. David Hackworth (U.S. Ret.), in his About Face.
♪♪ Oh this dirty old war ... it came and it went,
The reasons for fighting ... I never knew what they meant;
But I learned to accept them ... accept them with pride,
For you don't count the dead ... when God’s on your side! ♪♪
- Manfred Mann from the song With God On Our Side, (modified), 1968.
Thieves and beggars, pimps and bar girls,
Mingle with merchants in the crowd;
A few females dressed in ‘ao-dais’,
As aristocrats strut passed proud.
Most roads clogged by trucks and buses,
Cyclos, motor bikes and cars;
Despised ‘White Mice’, patrolled in jeeps,
Foreign soldiers, packing brothel bars.
Graft and corruption flourished, everywhere,
Like a plague, a weeping sore;
All power and any freedom,
Each controlled by martial law.
Some zealous shaved-headed protesters,
Squatted in the midday heat;
For Madame Nhu, ’twas a ‘barbecue’,
Self-immolation in the street.
Repressive regime, centred in Saigon,
Monks and students in revolt;
A military junta took control,
A ‘coup d’ état’, the end result.
Diem, Minh, Khanh and Ky, then Thieu,
Ambition, greed and stolen gold;
A corrupt police state, feared by all,
Hearts and minds not yet controlled.
All wealth confined to the urban few,
Unlocking powerful doors;
Whilst those out toiling in the fields,
Lost their sons to senseless wars.
First with China, Japan, France then us,
A long-term struggle, not yet done;
A divided nation for 30 years,
Finally united into one.
Too bad about elections pledged,
Although we’d come to lend a hand;
We knew what was best for them,
Yet, we would never understand.
Their struggle dragged, no end in view,
Casualties began to mount;
Civilians soon exceeding troops,
In that so-called ‘body count’.
* * *
Black market fed by Yankee dollars,
Though few seemed to really care;
Polluting waters, spraying crops,
Some plantations left partly bare.
Defoliation of jungle zones,
Flushing VC from their hide;
Yet, this ploy denied in later years,
As mal-formed babies died.
And should that place turn sterile,
Affecting families’ future genes,
Now out of sight and out of mind,
As ends justified the means.
Some homes just torched in vengeance,
Napalm destroyed farms and livelihood;
Slaughtered cattle and re-settlement laws,
And ‘charcoal burners’ out of wood.
Some ‘Diggers’, a generation passed,
Make pilgrimage returns,
Searching meaning for that war itself,
For answers, each one yearns.
From Saigon going eastwards,
Through many towns, just like Phuoc Le,
A night or two, spent down in ‘Vungers’,
To relive some memor-y.
On most faces of the people,
Looks of hate are now replaced,
By those of simple curiosity,
For strangers once held disgraced.
Then, we left their land in ruins,
Their suffering, still unchecked;
Ahead, ’twas a life of hardship,
In villages that we'd wrecked.
Surface potted by large craters,
Bare barren patches, here and there;
Locals claim that that was due,
To something sprayed down from the air.
That war there now is over,
And those casualties no longer mount,
Like they did so many years ago,
In that so-called ‘body count’.