Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Peter B. Lund

First Page



The Common Man in the Street, on being interviewed and asked the question, "What is the cost of the Vietnam War?," might respond, "I understand it's about twenty-five billion dollars a year." Twenty-five billion dollars per year is the current estimate of the tax cost of the Vietnam War and a figure which is widely circulated in this country. However, one need not be an especially astute observer of the domestic and international effects of the Vietnam situation as it affects this country domestically and internationally to realize that the cost to the United States of conducting a war of the size and sort which rages now in Southeast Asia greatly exceeds the nominal dollar sum which is borne by the nation's taxpayers. Consequently, one would expect, or at least hope, that our Common Man would append to this response some qualifications such as, "But that twenty-five billion dollars doesn't include the trouble we have here at home with the peaceniks and the ruckus and fuss kicked up around the world and aimed at our embassies and maybe a few other things which a guy can't really put his finger on."

I would like to put a finger on those "other things" which are implied by the Vietnam War and which should be included in a comprehensive measure of the true costs to the American people of the Vietnam War, but which are not counted in the calculations of the Bureau of the Budget and the Department of Defense. As an incidental exercise, not unrelated to the task of pinning down elements of the cost of the War, I would like to delve briefly into the question of how the cost is distributed among the citizens of this country. Whether or not our Common Man can readily and exactly identify the costs associated with the War, he and his fellows bear them all. However, depending on just who he is, he may bear a heavy cost burden or a light one. The uncommonly heavily burdened Common Man, in particular, has an uncommon interest in learning of his situation. Those who are most directly concerned with determining how the costs are distributed should also have an interest. At least, all Common Men would hope they do.