FROM the outset of the presidential campaign, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon have tiptoed with excruciating care around the issue of the Viet Nam war. Both wished to avoid saying anything that might jeopardize the peace talks in Paris. Conveniently, the negotiations also gave both an excuse to avoid making themselves targets for either hawks or doves in the U.S.

But that unnatural silence could not endure. Last week the issue emerged, noisily if not very clearly, as a crucial point of debate in the race.

Slapped Down. It was Humphrey who, seeking to convince skeptics of his dedication to peace, forced the...

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