[sixties-l] Vietnam War Critic Passes On

From: Jerry West (record@island.net)
Date: Wed Aug 02 2000 - 17:29:01 CUT

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    Lt.Col.USMC (ret.), William Corson; Critic of U.S. Policy in Vietnam War
    dies at age 74

    By ELAINE WOO, LA Times Staff Writer

    William Corson, a retired Marine Colonel and expert in counterinsurgency
    who was threatened with a court-martial when he wrote a scathing
    analysis of U.S. military strategy in Vietnam at the height of the
    country's antiwar movement, has died.

    Corson, who was 74 and suffered from emphysema and lung cancer, died
    Monday in a Bethesda, Md., hospital.

    He was the author of "The Betrayal," a book published amid unusual
    rancor in 1968.

    Arguing that America would lose the Vietnam War if it supported a
    corrupt Saigon government, it was to be released on the day after
    Corson's retirement from the Marine Corps.

    But Corson, who had fought in three wars during 24 years in the Marines,
    was not permitted to retire on his scheduled date. Marine Corps
    officials accused him of violating a regulation requiring approval of
    statements on public policy by officers.

    Corson had believed he was exempt from the regulation because the book
    would be published when he was a civilian.

    Unpersuaded by his arguments, a task force was convened to consider his
    court-martial. The investigation was dropped when publicity over the
    controversy seemed to be heightening public interest in the book. Corson
    was given a non-judicial reprimand and cleared for retirement a month

    The book won praise from critics. Corson later became a consultant to
    the Senate Intelligence Committee during its investigation of the CIA in
    the 1970s. He also taught history at Howard University and wrote several
    books on national security issues and a Penthouse magazine column for
    Vietnam veterans.

    He grew up "a slum kid," by his own account, on the wrong side of
    Chicago, raised much of the time by grandparents after his parents
    divorced when he was 2. At 10 he was working a newsstand. At 14, he was
    touring the country as a migrant worker, picking fruit and learning to
    gamble. At 15, he entered college, a scholarship student in math and
    physics at the University of Chicago.

    He left the university at 17 to join the Marines and fought in Guam and
    Bougainville during World War II. After the war, he went back to school,
    eventually earning a doctorate in economics at American University in

    He fought in Korea, then studied Chinese at the Naval Intelligence
    School in Washington, mastering four dialects. In the late 1960s he
    taught a course on communism and revolution at the U.S. Naval Academy,
    where one of his most devoted students was Oliver North, the White House
    aide dismissed for his central role in the Iran-Contra scandal during
    the Ronald Reagan administration.

    In 1966, he was given command of a tank battalion in Vietnam, whose
    history he had been studying since the early 1950s when it was still a
    French colony.

    He headed the combined action program in which a Marine squad of 15 men
    was merged with a Vietnamese Popular Force platoon of 35, and earned
    praise for his ability to relate to the Vietnamese peasants and inspire
    their confidence.

    But this job exposed Corson to the rampant dishonesty of local
    government officials, who often sold U.S. supplies meant for refugees
    and gouged villagers on rent.

    By the time he left Vietnam, he was angry.

    "The peasant sees that we are supporting a local government structure he
    knows to be corrupt," Corson said in a July 1967 interview with The
    Times, "so he assumes that we are either stupid or we are implicated.
    And he decides that we are not stupid.

    "The problem here is that we treat the government of Vietnam like we
    should treat the people, and we treat the people like we should treat
    the government. Frankly," he said, "I am not sanguine about the
    prospects here."

    He returned to a desk job in the Pentagon, but the frustrations he had
    felt in battle-torn Southeast Asia gnawed at him. He decided to write a
    book that would blast the South Vietnamese government, American
    involvement and the military strategy that not only failed to crush the
    enemy but also turned the South Vietnamese people against their vaunted

    Rising at 5 a.m. every day to write, he was driven by the memory of a
    young Marine whom he had cradled in his arms in the moments before his

    "He said to me, 'Colonel, doesn't anybody care?' I told him they did,"
    he told the Washington Post a short while later. "He asked me why
    someone didn't tell them the truth about the war. I said I would. And he
    grabbed me by the arm and said, 'Colonel, do it!' Then he died, right
    there in my arms."

    Jerry West
    On line news from Nootka Sound & Canada's West Coast
    An independent, progressive regional publication

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