South Viet Nam: Toward the Showdown?

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against the Viet Cong and his efforts to win over the peasants, particularly the half-savage montagnard tribesmen, whose multiple dialects Khanh learned to speak.

Khanh evidently took no part in the anti-Diem coup, though it is clear that he knew about the plot in advance. A week before the coup took place, he began to grow his black goatee. Apparently he did not like what he saw ahead, and a beard was his enigmatic symbol of future plans. After three months of watching the bickering and lethargy of the Big Minh junta, Khanh arrived in the capital to attend an officers' meeting, quietly rallied some fellow officers, including the commander of troops surrounding Saigon, and on the night of Jan. 30 pulled off his own coup, a silent one that caught his rivals in their pajamas. While persuading Big Minh to stay on as titular chief of state, to maintain at least a facade of continuity, Khanh took power as president of the Military Revolutionary Council and Premier.

Salems & Sea Swallows. In his new job Khanh has even less time for his handsome wife, Pham Le Tran, a North Vietnamese by birth, or his children: a six-year-old daughter and three sons, aged eleven, nine and two (a fourth son drowned in a Saigon fish pond last year). Neither does he get to pursue his favorite hobbies—the breeding of tropical fish and sea swallows. A clean-living type, Khanh rarely drinks; his only visible vice is chain-smoking. He puffs through three and four packs of Salems a day, shrugs: "I read all the reports about cancer, but I decided to go on smoking anyway. A soldier must never mind to be dead."

Such fatalism suits Khanh well, for should he fail, his task could turn out to be a killing one—literally. He is constantly under guard against the danger that an assassin will try to put a bullet in him. Working a 17-hour day in his grey and white headquarters, his office watched over by a soldier with a Colt .45 and a ferocious ornamental stuffed tiger, Khanh has striven to launch reforms and breathe new fire into the war effort. He has got a trickle of additional government administrators into the countryside. Though a Buddhist, he is a moderate one and has placated the Catholics. For the military he has increased salaries, pushed promotions. It is a difficult task, but he seems to have had some success in instilling more fight into the ranks, which appear more willing to face up to the Viet Cong in combat.

Aware that, like Diem, he has yet to capture the imagination of the countryside, Khanh week after week has stumped the backlands, pumping peasant hands, delivering speeches, doing what he could to rally the populace behind his Central Government. Last week, still at it, Khanh took time out to climb aboard his special DC-3 for a flying tour of the central coastal region. Dropping in on the fishing town of Hamtan, by the South China Sea—the first time in the republic's history that its head of government had visited the place—Khanh set the locals agog. Elegant in camouflage-pattern combat fatigues, he strolled down a sandy street, chatted with a crowd, asked a dumfounded schoolgirl, "Did you pass your exams?"—and drew cheers of "Hoan ho trim tuong [Hail to the general]!"

Ant & Boulder. But viewed against the enormity of South Viet Nam's problems, Khanh—a visibly wearier man than the bouncy

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