In the sixth paragraph of his front-page obituary of Vietnam War-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (7/7/09), the New York Times‘ Tim Weiner tries–and fails–to give some idea of the human cost of McNamara’s war:
Half a million American soldiers went to war on his watch. More than 16,000 died; 42,000 more would fall in the seven years to come.
What’s missing, of course, is the number of Vietnamese and other Indochinese who died as a result of the war whose escalation McNamara oversaw; estimates range from 1 million to more than 3 million, but Weiner never gets around to mentioning them. More than halfway through the piece, the article does quote a repentant McNamara talking about how escalating the war would cause “more distress at the amount of suffering being visited on the noncombatants in Vietnam, South and North”–though the reference is to unspecified “suffering,” and even then the focus is on the “distress” such suffering would cause us.
Clearly, it’s morally perverse to treat one’s own nation’s losses in a war that nation started as the important point, while ignoring the far greater losses of the lands your country invaded. It’s that ability to set aside the evil that one inflicts on others that allows wars like Vietnam to be carried out.