South Viet Nam: Toward the Showdown?

  • Share
  • Read Later

(9 of 10)

you have got to work and work hard and make decisions. Well, do you want it?" Minh, according to the version, quickly decided that he did not.

Responding to the pressures, Khanh. addressing a Saigon rally fortnight ago, called in effect for "liberating" North Viet Nam. Next day Taylor paid a visit to the Premier, asking an explanation, since South Viet Nam had always shared Washington's position that the Geneva accords, guaranteeing both north and south, should simply be observed. Taylor was assured that it was a political gesture not to be taken seriously. But then the to-the-north campaign bloomed again in Saigon's government-influenced press, and several of Khanh's generals began similarly sounding off. Back to Khanh's office went Taylor. This time Khanh explained that he had to offer his people some hope of bringing the war to an end, added that the Vietnamese are studying plans for extending the war above the 17th Parallel, and might some day have specific proposals to present to the U.S.

Bomb for Bomb. No one in the American mission in Saigon expects Khanh to move against Hanoi unless he is assured of full American backing. "After all," noted an American, "we supply the Vietnamese air force. The bombs are ours. The fuel is ours." But even if the U.S. decided to change its policy and go along with a blow against the north, such an action would be precise and designed to minimize the possibility of further escalation. To discourage further subversion in the south, the first steps would probably be air strikes against Viet Cong supply lines in the Laotian corridor. Most likely target: the big staging center of Tchepone, which has an airfield. The purpose would be to put Hanoi on notice that the U.S. was ready to do more if necessary. If that didn't work, the next step would be bombings inside North Viet Nam. First would come tit-for-tat reprisals: if the Viet Cong sabotaged an oil dump in the south, there would be immediate destruction of a similar installation in the north. From there, if need be, there would be general punishment of North Viet Nam from the air; one reported plan calls for bombing, after a week's notice in advance (to minimize civilian casualties), any one of 200 North Vietnamese villages each time a South Vietnamese village was overrun. Another contingency plan, falling somewhere in between: blockading or mining Ho Chi Minh's ports.

Pointed Power. There are those who believe that such retaliation, if carefully limited to its purpose of dissuasion, might be carried out without further escalation. Despite angry howls, the Communists swallowed the U.S. air strike two months ago against Pathet Lao antiaircraft guns in Laos—a pointed demonstration of power that has shored up anti-Communist morale all over Asia. But the U.S. would still have to be prepared to back up a blow against North Viet Nam all the way. Peking has so far stopped short of an outright commitment to intervene if North Viet Nam should be attacked, but warned last month that in such an event, "posing a threat to China's peace and security, the Chinese people naturally cannot be expected to look on with folded arms."

Message for Mao. Even so, the risk might conceivably have to be taken, for the fall of South Viet Nam would probably mean the Communists' overrunning of all Southeast Asia. There

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10