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Meanwhile nearly every other major U.S. field combat unit in Viet Nam was out hunting in battalion-or larger-sized operationsand so, too, showing the flag of allied support, were the South Vietnamese, the Koreans, Australians and New Zealanders. The other G.I.s had little luck compared with the 173rd's: whether out of tactic or sheer prudence, the Viet Cong lay low. That, in a measure, deprived the U.S. of the firm point Johnson wanted to make: that to underestimate his resolve could be disastrous. So the U.S. made it in other ways. The bombers usually busy over North Viet Nam were put to work blasting the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos, flying as many as 250 sorties a day against Hanoi's pipeline, which was taking advantage of the bombing pause. And General Wheeler, back from a swing through Southeast Asia, announced that, should the peace offensive fail, he would immediately ask the President for a resumption of bombing the North.
The Trustworthy Man. While the sound of war continued in volume in Viet Nam, a remote and quiet Lyndon Johnson sat last week in his oval office watching for signs of peace. Beside his desk stood two news tickers. Every wire-service story that clattered in was scrutinized by the President for the slightest hint of response. Every phone call from Dean Rusk, every memo from the still-voyaging Harriman was eagerly accepted. Of the President's desire for peace there could be no doubt. Nor of the stakes, should the present all-out effort to get to the conference table fail. By any measure, Johnson had engaged the power and prestige of the U.S. to the hilt in one of the most intensive, difficult, carefully conducted and important global maneuvers in its diplomatic history. By the end of last week, the bombing pause and the peace offensive were in their 16th day. Were there any omens that they might just succeed, for all the odds against them?
On at least one level, it certainly had. Peking in splenetic fury denounced the peace offensive as a "trick," a "hoax," and "the greatest show on earth," featuring "freaks and monsters," meaning, presumably, the U.S. envoys. But America's allies and much of the nonaligned world clearly were impressed. Indian Prime Minister Shastri indicated to Harriman he would convey the American message to Russia's Kosyginand did so as soon as he reached Tashkent for his peace talks with Ayub Khan. The Japanese, despite considerable reservations about the growing scope of the war, greeted Harriman warmly as shin-yo aru hikeshi otoko"the trustworthy man who puts out fires." Foreign Minister Etsusaburo Shiina goes to Moscow this week to sign Russo-Japanese air and trade agreements, and, he, too, promised to urge upon the Kremlin the U.S. brief. Pope Paul, continuing the Vatican's campaign for an end to hostilities, announced he was ready to "attempt any means, beyond usual protocol" to facilitate peace.