Viewed through Vietnamese lenses, Vietnam has always been the center of the world and Indochina the center of the universe. And in the late 1960s, it seemed as if America shared that peculiar vision of the world. The war in Vietnam became the scar on the national psyche. It dominated our national agenda, flickering into our living rooms each night through television, fueling a series of firestorms of protest, laying the groundwork for the dislocations that still hobble the nation's economy, driving thousands of young Americans into exile and an American President from office. In the end, 2.6 million Americans served in that far-off land and 56,000 died there in what had become, without our quite knowing why, the nation's longest war.
Since the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement in Paris and the return of the last American prisoner of war 21 months ago, however, the war in Vietnam has faded rapidly from the national consciousness. With a few notable exceptions, our newspapers no longer carry stories from Saigon; it has been nearly two years since an American President has even been asked a question about Vietnam at a news conference. To all intents, Vietnam seems to be slipping back into what John Kenneth Galbraith called "the obscurity it so richly deserves."
Yet, in reality, the war in Vietnam is far from being finished. Nor, it seems to me, has the question of American involvement in the war finally been answered. In the 23 months since the ceasefire, nearly 100,000 Vietnamese soldiers and civilians of all political persuasions have been killed. Furthermore, instead of a general decline in the level of hostilities on the battlefield and the slow beginnings of a political dialogue between non-Communists and Communists, the exact opposite appears to be happening. In both Paris and Saigon, political talks between the two sides remain indefinitely suspended while on the battlefield the tempo of combat has begun to accelerate. The number of incidents in August of this year, for example, was nearly twice that
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