South Viet Nam: Toward the Showdown?

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is also the question of how long American opinion will accept being told that the war is endless, or as a U.S. official in Saigon puts it: "Only a fool would pick a date when we can consider the job done. Three years? Five years? Ten? Fifteen? You make your own bets." One even suspects that in officialdom there is a tendency to take the war for granted. Some Administration policymakers are fond of pointing out that more Americans are killed in traffic accidents in Washington, D.C.. each year than in the Viet Nam war—while adding, with more logic, that a single battle in a major escalation could cost more American lives in one day than have been lost altogether in Viet Nam.

True. But the root question is still whether the war can ever be won so long as the north continues its input of terror. Last week Washington officials would not predict that extension of the war could be avoided before the November election, although of course they hoped that with the buildup in the south it could be avoided. Said one: "Whether we can get through the election [without escalation] is almost up to Hanoi. If it turns out that they are infiltrating very large numbers into South Viet Nam, we would have to rethink." U.S. policymakers could only hope that Hanoi—and Mao—would bear the consequences.

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