Courtesy Reuters

Viet Nam


RETURNING home after years of service in Viet Nam, I am nagged by the insistent thought that we have not yet adequately answered a plain question: What is it, exactly, that we seek in Viet Nam?

The question is hardly a new one. It has been asked over and over again and answered as often, in statements by leaders in Viet Nam and by leaders elsewhere, among them several Presidents of the United States and even a number of thoughtful writers in this review. Yet, judging by the nature of the actions undertaken in Viet Nam and by the continuing debates over the issues of the war wherever they can be freely discussed, it is evident that the answers have not satisfied a need and that the question remains still posed, alive, demanding.

We have to answer the question fully. In stopping short of complete answers, we may be compounding the cost of this long struggle in terms of irreplaceable human and spiritual resources as well as in material expenditures. This is most obvious on the battleground in Asia, but at home, too, the probing has gone so deeply that it touches the innermost core of American beliefs, troubling us more perhaps than any issue since the Civil War.

Without a sound answer, the seemingly endless war in Viet Nam becomes just that-seemingly endless. Alternatively, it may be headed for an end that could be dishonorable, with profound consequences. As a people who pride themselves on being pragmatic, we can surely accept the practical idea that when we are all risking so much to get some place, we must agree on the destination, so that all of our efforts will be directed toward it, not dispersed, reversed, tangled or impeded. We need goals that are truly defined, as a constant guide to action, whether for the prosecution of the war or for the founding of a just peace.


About two thousand years ago, Matthew of

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