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"The Administration's present policy in Vietnam raises--to be polite--certain questions," Stanley H. Hoffmann, professor of Government, commented last night at the East House Forum.
Debating the issue of Vietnam with Daniel Ellsberg '52, Special Assistant in the Department of Defense, Hoffmann began his attack by agreeing with ten points of Administration policy, a tactic which Ellsberg admitted was "very disarming."
"Mr. Hoffmann is something of an impostor; he is certainly not a typical critic of the government position," Ellsberg said. He added that there seemed to be very few points of disagreement, since Hoffmann had "conceded a number of points which usually form the body of the debate."
The major controversy centered around the question of United States withdrawal from Vietnam. "There might be a time when we have to ask how we can fail best," Ellsberg admitted. He went on to explain that withdrawing from Vietnam now would have "disastrous consequences."
While Hoffmann agreed that the consequences in Vietnam might be disastrous, he asked Ellsberg to "produce some evidence that the present policy offers a chance of preventing a Vietcong victory." Although Ellsberg never answered the challenge directly, he did say that U.S. action offered a "chance of improving the prospects for negotiation."
"As Americans, we are constantly faced with the problem of making a choice," Hoffmann explained. In his attempts to explain why gradual withdrawal was the "lesser of two evils," Hoffmann asked "Is defeat more demoralizing than a strategic retreat, especially when we can't win?"
"The question is not whether the odds are against us or whether we have to give up the goal of total victory," Ellsberg replied. "The primary issue is to improve conditions in the South," he said. Explaining U.S. bombings as "putting pressure on the North," Ellsberg added that the U.S. was making a simultaneous effort to improve social, political, economic, and military programs in South Vietnam.
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