Editor's note

Never have numbers seem so important. Daily death tolls are delivered by officials, dutifully reported by the media and consumed by the public – all eager for signs that the enemy might be in retreat.

As it is now with the coronavirus, so it was 50 years ago with the Vietnam War. History lecturer and veteran Shad Thielman explores the impact of counting the dead in such a consistent and clinical fashion. But turning human life into quantitative data isn’t the only parallel he sees. Both the conflict and the pandemic interrupted “grieving as normal” in similar ways, leaving families to mourn in private and without public celebration.

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A lone visitor reads names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall during the coronavirus outbreak. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Death by numbers: How Vietnam War and coronavirus changed the way we mourn

Shad Thielman, California State University San Marcos

Unlike those who died during the Vietnam War, those who perish during the current pandemic are unlikely to receive a national memorial. Perhaps they should.


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