Friday, February 26, 2010

The Betrayal

Discovery, discovery!! I have uncovered a marvelous book on VietNam entitled "Betrayal" by William R. Corson, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps and was in charge of what is called "the Other War" in Nam, that is, pacification. Colonel Corson retired from the Marine Corps right before his book was published, which is understandable after you have read the book, which is an indictment of how the United States fought both "the War" and "the Other War." Let me just quote at length some passages here, reminding the reader that this book was published in 1968 and therefore written before that. For those who may not know, this was about the time LBJ decided he could not run for reelection because of the war and was the time that US "involvement" in Nam was nearing its peak in terms of men stationed there.

"From the American and Vietnamese point of view what may we reasonably expect if the hawks have their way and there is a massive escalation of the war? The American and Vietnamese people are not going to gain a thing; in fact, they - not the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong - are going to lose all. Bigger and bigger 'victories' will not only hasten the total destruction of South Vietnamese society, but at some time in the future the quest for victory will produce a grievous military defeat for American forces." [p. 286]

"Probably by the time this book reaches print the American eagle will be walking in the mud. The enemy is just a short step away from introducing heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles, and when that happens the helicopter will be shot out of the sky. The contest between our forces and the enemy has been like a bull fight. Slowly but surely they are wearing us down to where we must fight on their ground and on their terms, and when they succeed we will suffer a military defeat. The Westmoreland/JCS answer to the basic deficiency is more troops. All more troops will do is to put off the final reckoning - but not eliminate it.

"General Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese Defense Minister, has said that when the United States has a million men in South Vietnam, North Vietnam will have won the war. Giap's meaning is clear. The presence and the actions of one million US troops will destroy what is left of South Vietnam. The people will finally withdraw what little support still remains for our efforts and the cold, naked brutality of our messianic anti-communism will be exposed. The foretaste of things to come with more escalation was revealed in all of its horrendous irrationality at the city of Ben Tre during the Tet offensive. The American spokesman said, 'We had to destroy Ben Tre in order to save it.' This is the language of madness, a madness which if allowed to continue will destroy not only the people of Vietnam, but also the moral fabric and strength of America." [p. 289]

What makes Corson's book so interesting is that he does not think that the only option was to pull out of Nam, although that was one option. He argues that the government, our government, frequently sets up policies with an "either/or" framework, even though other options exist. Corson talks about these other options in his book and they seem to make sense. What makes the book valuable is the same thing that makes it relevant today when we are "engaged" in Iraq and Afghanistan. It left me wondering what other options we have today that are just dismissed because they don't fit into, say, a bureaucratic model of government and war-making. But anyway, this is a book worth reading.

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