The Economic Consequences of the Vietnam War

By Anthony S. Campagna | Go to book overview

It takes little imagination to wonder what sums like these could have accomplished if used for other purposes. The Great Society was sacrificed, urban problems were allowed to fester and grow, mass transportation was discarded, schools were ignored, and so on. There is little point in belaboring the issue or in listing the social ills--the butter, that was sacrificed for guns. Whether or not these problems would have been addressed in the absence of the war is problematical anyway, and little is gained in speculation. It is sufficient to point to the enormous waste of resources in the pursuit of unspecified goals and thereby hope to avoid its repetition.

The enormity of the folly is evident when one looks at the benefits of the war. That no one, except perhaps for defense contractors, seems to have benefited appears distressing in view of the costs involved. True, as in most cost-benefit analyses, the costs may be easier to measure than the benefits, but more gains should be readily identifiable. Only the military sector appears to show temporary gains, either for contractors or in promotions for officers who reported for battle. The rest of society was badly divided with little in economic gains to smooth over the dissention.

Considering the total costs minus the total benefits leaves only one conclusion-it was not a worthwhile endeavor. Looking at costs and benefits are one way to pass judgment but whether considered from an economic, legal, moral, or military view, the same conclusion emerges-- the war cannot be justified.


NOTES
1.
Robert W. Stevens, Vain Hopes, Grim Realities ( New York: New Viewpoints, 1976), 93.
2.
Thomas C. Thayer, "The American Style to War Made it Costly", in The Lessons of Vietnam edited by W. Scott Thomson and Donaldson D. Frizzell ( New York: Crane, Russak, 1977), 209-10. The same points are made by Senator Vance Hartke in his early book on the war, The American Crisis in Vietnam ( New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968), 100-115.
3.
Ibid., 96. Stevens estimated that 38,000 military personnel were on hand at the end of 1964. The support cost (at a rate of two support personnel per one directly involved is then $836 million per year (38,000 × 2 × $11,000 per person). For the nine years, the total comes to $7.5 billion. The remaining $7.5 billion results from official estimates made after the official reports began to issue both full and incremental costs. Stevens maintains that the estimate understated full costs in fiscal year 1967 by $4.4 billion. For fiscal years 1965 and 1966 no full costs were reported at all, and Stevens estimated the adjustment needed for these years at $3 billion.
4.
United States Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on United States Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, part 6, Republic of Korea, 91st Congress, second session, February 1970, 1552. In the course of these hearings, Senator

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The Economic Consequences of the Vietnam War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xi
  • I - Early Involvement in Southeast Asia 1
  • 1 - The Initial Years the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations 3
  • 2 - The Economy Prior to Full-Scale War 13
  • Notes 22
  • II - The War Years: the Economic Record 27
  • Notes 48
  • 4 - The Changing Economic Structure, 1966 51
  • Notes 76
  • 5 - Nixon's War, 1969-73 79
  • Notes 90
  • III - The Economic and Societal Consequences of the Vietnam War: a Final Accounting 93
  • Notes 109
  • 7 - The Post-Vietnam Society 113
  • Notes 135
  • 8 - Summary and Conclusions 139
  • Notes 151
  • Select Bibliography 153
  • Index 157
  • About the Author 161
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