South Viet Nam: Toward the Showdown?

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Across the weary, tortured land, the strange conflict grinds on in its savage way, filling the eye with myriad tableaux of tragedy. At an army camp in Tayninh province, surrounded by moldy bags and barbed wire, a Jeep arrives containing one dead soldier and five live ones, who almost casually share the vehicle with the corpse. On a canal bank in Chuong Thien province, the body of a Communist guerrilla sprawls among the water lilies. On a track through a swamp in Hau Nghia province, a young Vietnamese rifleman happily plucks a duck for supper, white feathers sticking to his mud-spattered battle dress. At an isolated Special Forces post near the Laotian frontier, a supply helicopter arrives carrying, in a sling under its belly, two bewildered cows.

Always there are the innocent caught in the crossfire. On a Mekong Delta back road, a country cop flags down a row of buses packed with peasants, cabbages and poultry, to let a column of armored personnel-carriers rumble past to a fire fight just ahead. In a village hut in Kienhoa province, an old woman lies dying, broiled lobster-red from napalm, while a soldier spoons watery soup between her flayed lips. At another hamlet a teen-age girl, driven mad from the explosions of mortar shells, runs screaming from her house across the paddy-fields, stark nude.

Some Under the Ground. There are the tall, serious Americans. At Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Airport, a line of UH-1B "Huey" choppers, cigar-chomping U.S. Army pilots at the controls, shatters the morning calm with a roar of cranked-up motors and the whip-whip-whip of whirling rotors. In Quang Due province, the local American adviser, a Negro captain, jounces along a red-dust path in his familiar Jeep, packing a .45 on his hip and speaking Vietnamese with a Basin Street beat. In a sandbagged patrol base in Binh Duong province, a U.S. captain sprawls in a hammock, exhausted after a night's march, a carbine across his belly and a can of Schlitz in his hand. In cemeteries back home, many of his less-fortunate buddies rest underground.

Such is the war in Viet Nam—a dirty, ruthless, wandering war, which has neither visible front lines nor visible end and in which the U.S. over the past three years has become increasingly involved. Last week the involvement was carried a step further with the revelation that President Lyndon Johnson has ordered thousands of additional American troops into the struggle. At the same time the war took on a new dimension with increasing talk of carrying it to the home ground of the principal force behind the battling: Communist North Viet Nam. The loudest calls for such a move have come from the man on whom Washington has desperately placed its chips in Viet Nam: Major General Nguyen Khanh, the moonfaced, goateed, 36-year-old career officer who seized power six months ago.

"Communists are the aggressors, not us," insists Khanh. "If we were to go back to the north, it should be termed a counterattack." The U.S., hoping to avoid a direct attack on North Viet Nam as long as possible, was vexed at Khanh's cries but in a way sympathetic, for his outburst reflected the frustrations of a people who have been at war for the better part of two decades.

Policy Reversal. South Viet Nam's morale was one very good unannounced reason for the big new buildup of

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