Body count
A body count is the total number of people killed in a particular event. In combat, a body count is often based on the number of confirmed kills, but occasionally only an estimate.

Military use

Body count figures have a long history in military planning and propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

. In ancient battles, the penises (and sometimes the scrotums as well) of killed and dying enemies were collected from the field to count the dead.

The military gathers such figures for a variety of reasons, such as determining the need for continuing operations, estimating efficiency of new and old weapons systems, and planning follow-up operations.

Vietnam War

Since the goal of the United States in the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 was not to conquer North Vietnam but rather to ensure the survival of the South Vietnamese government, measuring progress was difficult. All the contested territory was theoretically "held" already. Instead, the U.S. army used body counts to show that the U.S. was winning the war. The Army's theory was that eventually, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army would lose due to attrition
Attrition warfare
Attrition warfare is a military strategy in which a belligerent side attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and matériel....


Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh
Hồ Chí Minh , born Nguyễn Sinh Cung and also known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc, was a Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader who was prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam...

 said, in reference to the French, "You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win." Most analysis of war casualties indicates that the allied army inflicted roughly a three-to-two ratio of communist combat deaths against allied deaths. Ho Chi Minh was proven correct in that the US eventually pulled out
Paris Peace Accords
The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 intended to establish peace in Vietnam and an end to the Vietnam War, ended direct U.S. military involvement, and temporarily stopped the fighting between North and South Vietnam...


The television series The 10,000 Day War estimated that 1 million North Vietnamese died and 58,000 Americans died in that conflict.

Iraq War

In the 2003 invasion of Iraq
2003 invasion of Iraq
The 2003 invasion of Iraq , was the start of the conflict known as the Iraq War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days of major combat operations...

, the US military adopted an official policy of not counting deaths. General Tommy Franks
Tommy Franks
Tommy Ray Franks is a retired general in the United States Army. His last Army post was as the Commander of the United States Central Command, overseeing United States Armed Forces operations in a 25-country region, including the Middle East...

' statement that "we don't do body counts" was widely reported. Critics claimed that Franks was only attempting to evade bad publicity, while supporters pointed to the failure of body counts to give an accurate impression of the state of the war in Vietnam. Various conflicting reports of the number of civilian deaths have surfaced. Iraq itself claims that around 12,000 deaths occurred in 2006 and perhaps ~16,000 since the invasion. The United Nations has also kept track, and they report 26,782 deaths in the first ten months of 2006. Several independent groups of researchers have also attempted to gather accounts of civilian deaths, with the most widely circulated project based on Google
Google Inc. is an American multinational public corporation invested in Internet search, cloud computing, and advertising technologies. Google hosts and develops a number of Internet-based services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program...

 rank being the Iraq Body Count project. As of the beginning of 2008, they estimate between 80,671 and 88,095 civilian deaths since the occupation. The highest estimate at this time comes from a survey by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which has estimated 600,000 Iraqi deaths due to the war.

At the end of October 2005 it became public that the US military had been counting Iraqi fatalitites since January 2004, though only those killed by insurgents and not those killed by the US forces.


In censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

, "Body count" has been used as a criterion to judge the 'shock value' of a movie, and hence its suitability for younger viewers. It is usually calculated by the number of deaths or bodies shown on-screen. This has led some directors to imply deaths instead of showing them, for example showing a group of unarmed people facing a villain, then cutting to the villain firing a gun and grinning. The victims' bodies are never shown, but the viewer will understand that they were killed.

See also

  • Casualty estimation
    Casualty estimation
    Casualty estimation is the process of estimating the number of injuries or deaths in a battle or natural disaster that has already occurred. On the other, casualty prediction is the process of estimating the number of injuries or deaths that might occur in a planned or potential battle or natural...

  • Casualty prediction
    Casualty prediction
    Casualty prediction is the science of predicting the number of deaths or injuries that may result from an epidemic, natural disaster or act of war such as the explosion of a nuclear weapon, chemical weapon or biological weapon...

  • Loss Exchange Ratio
    Loss Exchange Ratio
    Loss-Exchange Ratio is a military term that calculates the comparative casualties suffered by each combatant from a battle, engagement or extended conflict. For example, at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, the Union forces suffered approximately 23,000 casualties against...

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