South Viet Nam: Toward the Showdown?

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arms and men. Pentagon spokesmen would reveal no hard figures, but confirmed that the U.S. will send "several thousand" more men to Viet Nam over the next six months, most of them "military advisers." This would increase the American military contingent there, currently numbering 16,323, to probably 20,000 or more. Also to be sent are more helicopters, planes, trucks, Jeeps and armored cars—plus at least 300 additional AID technicians, to join the 414 already at work on the Viet Nam economic front.

The new muscle will increase American aid to Saigon from its present $625 million a year to nearly $700 million. It is the largest expansion of Washington's commitment in Viet Nam since the U.S.'s first big buildup there in 1962 under President Kennedy. And it represents a reversal of policy for the U.S. Government. Only ten months ago, shortly before the overthrow of President Ngo Dinh Diem, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was talking of bringing most American training troops home from Viet Nam by the end of 1965. Now there is no more talk of being out by 1965—or any other year in the foreseeable future. Of McNamara's statement, one Administration colleague confessed last week: "We hope it's forgotten."

Same Medicine. The hard facts are that infiltration from North Viet Nam is on the increase. Of late the Viet Cong have boosted their hard-core strength from an estimated 25,000 regulars to 31,000 (not counting 80,000 part-time guerrillas); approximately 25% of the increase is thought to be elite infiltrators from the north. The tempo of tension and terror rises weekly, with the Reds showing no signs of being rolled back.

Washington's medicine may best be described as a big dose of more of the same. It "does not imply," U.S. Ambassador to Saigon General Maxwell Taylor was quick to warn, "any change in U.S. strategy or in the command structure"—meaning that the U.S. was still not taking over direct command in the war or changing the rules. Like those who preceded them, the bulk of the new men will fan out into the most harassed provinces, not to command but to teach, cajole, curse, exhort, and occasionally inspire Vietnamese soldiers half their size, in what must be history's first war fought by on-the-job training.

The "adviser's" role is not easy. Last week five more U.S. servicemen died in Viet Nam—two Army officers and an Air Force captain killed when an electric mine was detonated under their Jeep; an Army major shot dead by guerrillas in broad daylight in a village ten miles from Saigon; another major caught by machine-gun fire that raked his Vietnamese Ranger battalion. The roll of American dead would grow at a swifter pace as reinforcements arrived. Said a senior U.S. official in Saigon dryly: "When you put more people in a zone traversed by enemy bullets, your casualties are going to increase."

High Noon? The U.S., as President Johnson reiterated in June, "seeks no wider war." Yet even as it tried to shush Khanh, American officialdom privately conceded anew that retaliation against the north has not been ruled out. At least three turns of events could trigger direct retaliation against North Viet Nam's Ho Chi Minh: 1) assassination of Khanh by the Viet Cong, 2) a renewed terrorist campaign against U.S.

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