Heavy fighting broke out again this week around the South Vietnamese town of Ben Cat.?
Heavy fighting broke out again this week around the South Vietnamese town of Ben Cat. The capital, Saigon, is itself almost within range of Communist guns. Casualty figures issued by the South Vietnamese army, covering two days of fighting on a number of fronts, spoke of over one thousand troops killed or injured last week.
Such are the facts and figures about a country which has been officially at peace for the past sixteen months.
It was in February last year that months of negotiation finally brought agreement to stop a war which had charged on throughout Vietnam for over a decade. But, in fact, the ceasefire did little more than allow the Untied States to withdraw from a crippling war it was no longer prepared to support.
Ceasefire violations began to nibble at the peace agreement within hours of its signing. And they escalated until, now, neither South Vietnam nor its enemy from the North bother to excuse the continual fighting.
Operating with American equipment but without American support, the South Vietnamese army of well over one million men -- the fourth largest army in the world -- is battling to contain the gradual advance of Communist forces -- an advance which has brought them within thirty miles of Saigon itself.
On the political front, both sides have withdrawn to their former position. In response to the step-up of military activity by the Communists, the South Vietnamese pulled out of the long-term peace discussions which were still being held in Paris. This in turn was followed by a suspension of military and political talks in Saigon. As the fighting intensified, what remained of a largely ineffective ceasefire machinery has thus come to a complete halt.
In the meantime, South Vietnam's economy, which, with American aid and the introduction of miracle rice, seemed to be booming, has been badly hit by rising commodity prices, notably oil.
And yet, the South Vietnamese survive. President Thieu daily exhorts his people to ever greater efforts, and they respond. Their army of conscript peasants, badly paid and with no hope of demobilisation, slogs on and manages to contain its enemy.
But the cost is enormous. The casualty lists are as long as ever. The destruction goes on as savagely as ever. Sixteen month after the ceasefire, the dream of peace in South Vietnam is still no more than a bitter joke.