THE U.S. last week began to abandon Khe Sanh, the once idyllic valley in South Viet Nam's northwest corner that early this year became the scene of the war's biggest and bitterest siege. The news could hardly have been more startling. For months, the American people had been told that the base was indispensable to U.S. strategy and prestige. When its 6,200-man garrison came under siege and heavy artillery bombardment from the North Vietnamese in mid-January, some observers saw an ominous similarity to Dienbienphu. The French base had been overrun in 1954 by another North Vietnamese army under the same commander...

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