It may well be the opinion of future historians that the small but fierce engagements which in late 1965 pitted newly-arrived American troops against the Chu-Luc (Main Force) units of the Viet Cong and of North Viet Nam were the First Battle of the Marne of the Vietnamese War. The Battle of the Marne in September 1914 halted the seemingly irresistible onslaught of the Kaiser and thus foreclosed the possibility of an immediate end of the war through a collapse of the French; but the Great War, with its immense human and material losses, still ground on for four years and the enemy would often again come close to victory. The same happened in World War II before Moscow in the winter of 1941, or at Guadalcanal a few months later: no "turning point" as yet, but a halt to the runaway disaster. In South Viet Nam, after being stopped at Chu-Lai, Plei-Mé and the la-Drang, the Communist regulars lost enough of their momentum for the time being not to be able to bring about the military and political collapse of the Saigon government late in 1965-a situation which would have altogether closed out the American "option" of the conflict. But just as at the Marne 52 years ago, or before Moscow a quarter-century ago, nothing had been decided as yet. Years-perhaps a decade-of hard fighting could still be ahead. And the political collapse of the government in Saigon is still a distinct possibility. It is, however, important to assess in detail the military and political elements on which this precarious balance rests and what real possibilities for man?uvre (as against wishful thinking on one side or party rhetoric on the other) exist at present in the Viet Nam situation.
On the American and South Vietnamese side, two main events dominated the scene between the first deployment of major American combat units in September 1965 and the Saigon government's attempt at providing itself with the beginnings of a representative base in September 1966: the government
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