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Thus, unless the new buildup saves the day, the U.S. is quite possibly heading for a showdown with the Communists in Asia over Viet Nam. Already Viet Nam is an important issue in what promises to be a hammer-and-tongs U.S. presidential campaign. The words of Barry Goldwater at San Francisco will be repeated and repeated by the G.O.P.: "Yesterday it was Korea; tonight it is Viet Nam. And yet the President . . . refuses to say. refuses to say, mind you, whether or not the objective over there is victory . . ." Plagued by the civil rights and law-and-order crises at home, Lyndon Johnson can ill afford a debacle abroad.
Changeless Nightmare. In his allusion to Korea, Goldwater touched a responsive nerve, for the American people's experience in South Viet Nam has been the most frustrating since the long, tragic "police action" of the 1950s that ended in a stalemate with the Reds, at a cost of 33,629 U.S. lives. Small wonder that a recent American visitor to Viet Nam, on his third night in Saigon, had a dream in which he discovered the solution to the Vietnamese problem. "It was brilliant and simple," he recalls, "but somehow it kept slipping away." Feeling slightly embarrassed, he confided his vision to another American, who replied. "Everybody in Saigon has that dream."
But if its solution is an elusive dream, the Viet Nam dilemma to Americans is also an all-too-real nightmare. For after three years of intensive effort and considerable pain, including the expenditure of $3.3 billion in aid, after the loss of 262 Americans killed, 1,196 wounded or injured and 17 missing, the war is still not being discernibly won. Probably no conflict has ever been more elaborately computed, analyzed, studied: the Pentagon even sent out a team of psychiatrists to examine the "attitudes" of frustrated G.I.s. Yet, as a Washington policymaker said tiredly, "nothing really changes."
Crippling an Infant. In 1954, after Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnamese guerrillas smashed the French at Dienbienphu and Viet Nam was partitioned, the U.S. threw its support in the south to an ex-law student and anti-Communist nationalist, Ngo Dinh Diem. But Diem's infant state ,was soon crippled. Though the Red guerrillas who had been fighting the French in the south were supposed to be repatriated to the north, many of them stayed in the south, disguising themselves as peasants and caching weapons. In 1957 they rose up against the government.
In six years the Viet Cong assassinated 13,000 village leaders. With the infiltration of cadres from the north and the brainwashing of village youths, the guerrillas' ranks grew. Washington responded to Diem's requests for help by expanding the military advisory mission in Saigon and later sending its men to counsel the Vietnamese in the field.
By 1961 the U.S. had 1,000 advisers slogging around Viet Nam. After an inspection trip by General Maxwell Taylor, then military representative of President Kennedy, the latter announced a crash 'program to bolster Diem even further. In six months U.S. troops in Viet Nam burgeoned to 12,000 men.
When Is a War? As their involvement grew, American advisers were