What Happened During the Vietnam War?

Sean Hayford Oleary/CC-BY 2.0

The Vietnam War was fought in an attempt to stem the communist rule of Vietnam; it did not succeed in its objectives despite massive loss of life for both South and North Vietnamese and the United States, who stepped in to try and prevent Communist rule in the region. The Vietnam War formerly held the title of the longest war in U.S. history until the war in Afghanistan. Despite military intervention by the U.S., the North Vietnamese was able to overtake the South Vietnamese and the Vietnam War takes its place in history as the only war that the U.S. ever lost.

Casualties on the U.S. side were vast. More than 47,000 military personnel were killed in action with another 11,000 dying from noncombat deaths during the occupation. More than 150,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded and more than 10,000 were missing at the end of the conflict. The U.S. citizenry at large disagreed with the U.S.’s involvement in the conflict, and returning soldiers often faced stigma about the war upon return.

Loss of life to the Vietnamese was also enormous. Estimates hold that around 110,000 South Vietnamese were killed and a half million soldiers were wounded. Loss of civilian life was heavy as well; some low estimates say that more than 400,000 civilians were killed during the long conflict. Although casualty totals for the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong (who were South Vietnamese who sided with the Communist North) are sketchy, the government claims that 1.1 million combatants died during the 21 years of the Vietnam War.