The BBC and Vietnam War Deaths

This afternoon the BBC published on its website a news story relating to an injured Vietnamese Communist veteran soldier. It has ended the story with the following sentence:

The Vietnam war, which ended in 1975, killed an estimated 58,000 US soldiers and three million Vietnamese.

The amount of American soldiers killed during the war at about 58,000 is a generally accepted quantity and I am not disputing this. What shocks me is the estimate published by the BBC of three million Vietnamese deaths.  In 1978 Guenter Lewy estimated that the amount of Vietnamese killed in the war, including South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVN), North Vietnamese Army soldiers, (NVA), members of the Viet Cong (VC) and civilians equated to 1,250,000. (Source: Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam, [Oxford University Press, 1978],pp. 450-453.) Of course there have been other estimates of Vietnamese War related deaths since then. The most comprehensive study of which I am aware was that published in Population and Development Review in 1995. The authors estimated a lower figure than Lewy. They concluded  with an estimate of war-related deaths with “a  midpoint of 966,000 and a range of 791,000 to 1,141,000, or +/- 175,000 around the midpoint estimate.” (Source: Charles Hirschman, Samuel Preston, Vu Manh Loi, “Vietnamese Casualties During the American War: A New Estimate,” Population and Development Review, Vol. 21, No. 4 [December, 1995], pp. 783-812.) Even a much higher estimate, based off data published in 1992, of 1.55 million deaths, is still substantially lower than the 3 million provided by the BBC. (Source: David L. Anderson, The Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War, [Columbia University Press, 2002], p.289.)

The question is where does the figure of 3 million Vietnamese come from? The answer is that a figure around that level is the one that was provided by the Vietnamese Communists! (Associated Press, April 3, 1995) I hope that in future the BBC  take more care with their data sources.

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