Sunday, February 28, 2010

More From Corson

Here are some more interesting arguments made by William Corson in his book, "Betrayal," which I cited in my last post. Corson manages to put our options in Vietnam in a wholly new light. He thinks, or at least seems to think, that by exercising these options we could have won the war there. I am not so sure but at least Corson shows that he can think independently. For example, he criticizes the way the political system characterized our options as either (a) escalate the conflict or (b) pull out. Or as Corson puts it, both sides in the debate over Vietnam viewed the choice as either "to stay" or "not to stay." Hawks or doves, that was, allegedly, our choice. In one chapter in "Betrayal," which is entitled "Birdwatching in Vietnam," Corson enumerates and then elaborates on the many different kinds of birds one can see in Nam, to wit: vultures, parrots, woodpeckers, magpies, dodos, owls, falcons, hummingbirds, and peacocks. This is good stuff. But here is another paragraph from Corson which sheds a light on the situation in Nam that, to my knowledge, no one and certainly no one in power had ever seen.

"Central to this action [withdrawing our total sanction of the GVN, the Government of Viet Nam] is the fact that the general officers of the ARVN are (1) not competent to lead their forces and (2) are considered by the able fighting men to be 'turncoats' an opportunists. The second reason is the key, but it has been ignored by our leadership ever since we have been in Vietnam. Consider if you will how the leaders of George Washington's Continental Army would have reacted if after the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War the junior officers who served under the British commander, General Cornwallis, had been appointed generals in the new United States Army. That is what happened in Vietnam. Every general officer in the ARVN either served on the side of the French in the Vietminh war or sat out the war in a French university. The highest ranking officer in the ARVN who fought against the French is a colonel. More to the point is the fact that seven out of eight of the elite ARVN battalions [Rangers, Airborne, and Marines, etc.] are commanded by officers who did fight the French - and in many cases they then held ranks two or three grades above the rank they currently hold in the ARVN.

"The ARVN officers who fought on the side of the Vietminh are an interesting breed of cat. As a group they are ascetics among whores....These men have refused, as a matter of principle, to participate in the 'take.'" [pp. 278-79]

Corson looked at Vietnam through the lens of Vietnam, not through the lens of an ideologically focused anti-communism or nation-building. I wonder if anyone is doing this in Afghanistan today, where it seems that once again escalation or non-escalation are the only two choices we are told are available.

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