The announcement that President Nixon would deliver a major address on Viet Nam November 3 raised hopes that it might herald the end of the war, or at least the beginning of a definite disengagement process. The longer the war drags on, the more emotional we will tend to become and the more dissociated from the factors that brought on American involvement in the first place.

The October 15 demonstrations indicated that the American public is growing increasingly restless over our failure to extricate ourselves from Viet Nam. President Nixon probably recognizes this, but he leaves the impression that he is discounting the dissent. And that attitude gives his appeal for unity a hollow ring.

Vice-President Agnew likewise drove a deeper wedge when he complained that the demonstrators were encouraged by “an effete corps of impudent snobs which characterize themselves as intellectuals.” It is difficult to see what good purpose could be served by such invective, whether or not the characterization was accurate. Mr. Agnew might have done better merely to applaud the orderly and peaceful conduct of the demonstrators and at least for the time being let the issue rest.

So-called M-Day had a more rational orientation than previous Viet Nam protests, and this was an improvement. We doubt, however, that the war’s end can be hastened by demonstrations, and we are disinclined to resort to such tactics. Yet the urgency of the present situation should not be underestimated. There is a limit to how much this nation can afford to invest in the Viet Nam conflict, and we may have already passed a prudential point. God forbid that this war should be America’s undoing.

But as long as the Viet Cong refuse to make concessions, the “easy” way to end the war seems to be to effect an immediate unilateral pullout of American troops. That would be tragic. It would amount to handing South Viet Nam to the Communists on a platter, and closing the curtain on freedom. The leaders of South Viet Nam have left something to be desired; but the churches are open and the people enjoy liberties not available to their countrymen in the north.

What happens when the Communists take over? Who is to keep them from continuing to slaughter those who dissent from their principles?

Questions like these were not answered on October 15 in the streets. They seem not to occur to the dissenters. American policy cannot afford to have such blind spots.

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