I remember watching the evening news as a 10-year-old and hearing the anchormen report the weekly totals of US and North Vietnamese fighters killed in combat. The enemy's totals were always higher and usually much higher. 

The focus on “body counts” started as a military strategy based on attrition: eliminate enemy troops faster than they could be replaced. But military and civilian leadership soon realized that body counts also provided an easily-understood way of convincing people that the US was winning. It worked on me, and I wasn’t alone.

Because leadership stressed body count, the military obsessed over the numbers (at the expense of more relevant indicators) and frequently inflated them. The public was fooled for many years as a senseless, unwinnable war dragged on. 

Body count is a tragic example of focusing on the wrong thing simply because it can be measured. In an age when we can capture and analyze data on just about anything, we have to be extra careful that we focus on the metrics that really matter. 

As you may have guessed, I’ve been watching The Vietnam War on PBS. While it’s difficult to watch in many ways, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a beautifully-made film about a seminal event, and it’s filled with themes and lessons that still resonate.

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