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
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
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
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
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 Editor/publisher/janitor ---------------------------------------------------- THE RECORD On line news from Nootka Sound & Canada's West Coast An independent, progressive regional publication http://www.island.net/~record/
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