Col. America

The Betrayal

by Colonel William Corson
Norton, 317 pp., $5.95

“For more than twenty years we have been on the emotional jag of messianic anti-communism.”

“Much of our present difficulty in Vietnam still derives from the fact that the Vietnamese people continue to reject the idea that the NLF is Communist.”

“Escalation and its ramifications have corrupted the people of the United States and South Vietnam …”

“The terrorism of the enemy has been equally matched by our own.”

“This is not war—it is genocide.”

“At some time in the predictable future the quest for victory will produce a grievous military defeat for American forces.”

It is little wonder that the writer of the above, Lt.-Colonel William B. Corson of the Marines, Ph. D., master of half a dozen Asian languages, who had spent twenty-five years in the Corps, found himself in June, when the Marines read the manuscript of this book, on the verge of a court-martial. The New York Times and other papers picked up the story, and The Betrayal, an “exposé” of our intervention in Vietnam was published ahead of schedule. Colonel Corson escaped into civilian life, and now lectures at Howard University in Washington, where the late Bernard Fall used to teach.

Probably everyone who visits Vietnam meets American military officers who are fiercely critical of US policy in Vietnam, sometimes because of the tactics used (which have lost us the war, they say), occasionally on moral grounds. Few are as intelligent as Colonel Corson, but he is not unique. I know another official in Vietnam, also a Ph. D., who has similar views: we should not have come to Vietnam, we should not be there now. We are destroying the country and propping up a corrupt clique of former collaborators: The generals in the ARVN and all but two or three of the colonels were on the French side. He asserts that if he were a Vietnamese he would fight with the National Liberation Front. Even humble infantrymen can be heard to say, “By God, if we had the Viet Cong on our side we would win this war in a month.”

Corson’s account of our involvement is reasonably accurate, lucid, and brutal. He tells the shabby story of the early American support of France, the betrayal of the Vietminh after Geneva, the origins of the NLF (“The Vietcong originated…as a popular revolt directed against the…repression of the Diem-Nhu regime”), the growing intervention sponsored by Kennedy and his advisers, the murder of Diem, Johnson’s decision to bomb North Vietnam before the 1964 election, the scandal of Tonkin, the phony “infiltration” figures (there were 400 known North Vietnamese regulars in the South before 1965 despite Rusk’s claims of “a division”), and the brutality of pacification, which more than once he calls “genocide.” Many of those who sneer at information from such experts as Philippe Devillers, Jean Lacouture, Georges Chaffard, Bernard Fall, George Kahin, and John Lewis, or even from Walter Cronkite, may be willing to listen to Corson, because he is a well-informed defector. In…

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