William Raymond Corson
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Marine Corps
a contemporary press report:
William R. Corson, 74, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps and expert on counterinsurgency warfare who was almost court-martialed for publishing a book that was highly critical of U.S. policy in Vietnam, died July 17, 2000, at Suburban Hospital, Virginia. He had lung cancer.
For much of his career, Colonel Corson was an intelligence officer on special assignment with the CIA and the Marine Corps. He spoke Chinese and specialized in Asian affairs.
In 1962, after four years as a liaison officer in Hong Kong, he was assigned to the office of the secretary of defense. This put him in touch with decision-making at the highest level as U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia deepened.
He began studying Vietnam in the early 1950s, when France was still trying to hold on to its colonial possession. In 1966, he was ordered there as commanding officer of a Marine tank battalion.
Early in 1967, he was named director of the Combined Action Program, in which small detachments of Marines served with South Vietnamese militia in villages throughout the country. The purpose of the program was to provide security from the communists and win the loyalty of the people to the Saigon government.
According to an official Marine Corps history, the program was highly successful. Colonel Corson was praised by his superiors for his ability to relate to Vietnamese villagers and win their confidence.
In 1967, when he returned to the United States, he received another sensitive assignment in Washington, becoming deputy director of the Southeast Asia Intelligence Force in the office of the assistant secretary of defense.
But by that time he was convinced that U.S. policies in Vietnam were doomed and he decided to write a book.
The book, "The Betrayal," argued that the Saigon government supported by Washington was corrupt and incompetent and that it was perceived by ordinary Vietnamese as being as much of a threat to their well-being as the communists. Unless the United States devised policies to take this into account, the book said, the war would be lost and American servicemen would have died in vain.
Publication was set for July 1, 1968, by W.W. Norton and Co. Inc., a month after Colonel Corson was scheduled to retire from the service.
This brought into play a Marine Corps regulation that required officers on active duty to submit statements on public policy to review before making them public. Colonel Corson claimed that this did not apply to him because the book would not go on sale until after he had become a civilian.
Marine Corps officials responded by having his retirement held up and by taking steps to convene a general court-martial. These plans were dropped on the grounds that they would only serve to draw attention to the book. Colonel Corson's retirement went through a month later than originally scheduled.
Colonel Corson later taught history at Howard University for a year and then wrote several books on national security issues, including "Promise or Peril," "Consequences of Failure," "The Armies of Ignorance" and "The New KGB" with Robert T. Crowley.
He also wrote a column on veterans affairs for Penthouse magazine for several years and was the publication's Washington editor.
William Raymond Corson was born in Chicago on September 25, 1925. He attended the University of Chicago, but left in 1943 to enlist in the Marine Corps during World War II. After the war, he graduated from the University of Miami, where he also received a master's degree in business and economics. He later received a doctorate in economics at American University.
In 1949, Colonel Corson was commissioned in the Marine Corps. He served in the Korean War in 1952. From 1953 to 1955, he was a student in the Chinese language course at the Naval Intelligence School in Washington. From 1964 to 1966, he taught a course on communism and revolutionary war at the U.S. Naval Academy.
His military decorations included the Navy Commendation Medal with combat "V".
Col. Corson, a resident of Potomac, was an elder and clerk of session at Harmon Presbyterian Church in Bethesda.
His marriage to Charlotte Corson ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Judith C. Corson,
and their three children, Adam, Zachary and Andrew, all of Potomac; two
children from his first marriage, Christopher Corson of Silver Spring and
David Corson of Greenville, S.C.; and five
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 later.
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 Washington.
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 saviors.
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 death.
"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."
William Corson was laid to rest at Arlington
National Cemetery on 27 July. A decorated Marine and outspoken citizen,
he was one of the initial soldier voices to tell the truth about the War
in Vietnam. In a note to friends, Roger Charles, one of our SFTT
trustees and retired Marine, appropriately expressed his emotions at the
funeral: "Bill was buried on a slight rise overlooking the Pentagon
where he could continue to keep his eagle eye on those entrusted with the
lives of young Americans and the security of our great country."
WASHINGTON, July 19 -- William R. Corson, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who was an expert on revolution and counterinsurgency and was nearly court-martialed for writing a book venting his disillusionment over the Vietnam War, died on Monday at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 74 and lived in Potomac, Md. The cause was emphysema and lung cancer, his wife, Judith, said.
In early 1968, Colonel Corson was just back from a tour in Vietnam and working in the Defense Department, looking forward to retirement. He spent much of his spare time hunched over a typewriter at home, working on a book he would call "The Betrayal."
Colonel Corson had never believed in the "domino theory" that one Communist takeover would lead to another, and he had long thought that the struggle in Vietnam was more about nationalism than Communism, his wife said.
The publisher, W. W. Norton, planned to publish the book the day after Colonel Corson's retirement became effective. But the colonel ran afoul of a regulation requiring officers to submit statements on public policy for official review before making them public.
Unconvinced by his argument that the regulation should not apply to him because he would be a civilian when the book came out and that his manuscript violated no national-security laws in any event, the Marine Corps delayed his retirement and moved to convene a court-martial. As the debate grew heated, the corps dropped the court-martial, and Colonel Corson retired a month later than planned.
The book condemned the assumptions that had led the United States into a quagmire. "The politicians saw in Vietnam, or so they thought at the time, a chance to pull off a cheap victory against the Communists," he wrote. "When their initial judgments about Vietnam were found to be in error, there was no way to confess their error, without risking defeat at the polls."
Colonel Corson argued that the American-backed Saigon government was inept and corrupt and out of touch with the people.
William Corson became familiar with Southeast Asia as a young officer. After service in the Korean War, he learned Chinese at the Naval Intelligence School in Washington. In the late 1950's he was stationed in Hong Kong, and in 1962 he was assigned to the office of the secretary of defense. From 1964 to 1966, he taught a course on communism and revolution at the Naval Academy.
In 1966, he was sent to command a tank battalion in Vietnam, a country he had been studying since it was a French colony. In 1967, he was named head of the Combined Action Program, in which marines aided South Vietnamese militia in villages. Colonel Corson's superiors praised his ability to win the confidence of the Vietnamese. Had he decided to remain in the corps instead of retiring, he seemed destined to wear the eagle of a full colonel, perhaps even the star of a brigadier general.
His career path had been unusual. Born in Chicago, he spent much of his early childhood with his grandparents after his mother and father divorced. As a teenager, he preferred wandering and odd jobs over the classroom. Then he got a job at The Chicago Daily News, whose publisher saw something in him.
The publisher was Frank Knox, later to become secretary of the Navy, who was on the board of the University of Chicago and helped the young man get a scholarship to the university.
William Corson enlisted in the Marine Corps
in World War II and fought in Guam and Bougainville in the Pacific, rising
to sergeant. After the war, he returned to the University of Chicago and
earned a degree in mathematics. He received a master's degree in economics
at the University of Miami and re-entered the Marines in 1949 as an officer.
Years later, he got a doctorate in economics from American University in
After leaving the Marines, he taught history at Howard University in Washington for a year and wrote several books on national-security issues. He also was compliance director of the Price Commission, the agency created in 1971 as part of President Richard M. Nixon's efforts to stabilize the economy and hold down inflation.
In addition to his wife, Colonel Corson is survived by their three sons, Adam, Zachary and Andrew, all of Potomac; two sons from an earlier marriage, Christopher, of Silver Spring, Md., and David, of Greenville, S.C.; and five grandchildren.
Despite the unpleasantness surrounding his
retirement, Colonel Corson remained a marine at heart, up to a point. "I
could kill you in eight seconds," he boasted to an interviewer a year after
leaving the corps. "But I don't have the instinct for that sort of thing
Services for LtCol WILLIAM R. CORSON will be
held on Thursday, July 27, 10 a.m. at the US Navy Chapel, 3801 Nebraska
Ave., NW, followed immediately by interment at Arlington National Cemetery
at 12:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to
the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, PO Box 3008, Princeton, NJ 08543.
Judith Ellen Corson, 60, a former Pentagon analyst and the widow of William R. Corson, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps who wrote "The Betrayal," a controversial book about U.S. policy in Vietnam, died February 8, 2001, at her Potomac, Maryland, home. She had melanoma.
Mrs. Corson helped her husband research the book and also served as his researcher and confidante for six subsequent books and his column on veterans issues for Penthouse magazine. At the time of her death, she was working on his biography as well as research for a screenplay. Colonel Corson died last year.
Mrs. Corson was born in Philadelphia. She moved to Washington in 1958 to attend George Washington University, from which she graduated and received a master's degree in international relations. She spoke Chinese and German.
Mrs. Corson worked briefly for the Institute for Defense Analyses, an Alexandria think tank, and then became an analyst in the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Defense Department.
The Corsons met while they were working at the Pentagon, and they were married for 33 years.
Mrs. Corson worked for the Pentagon from 1962 to 1972, when she stopped to begin her family. She returned to the government briefly in the mid-1970s but then resigned.
She was a volunteer in local chapters of the Lupus Foundation of America and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She also was an active alumna of her college sorority, Delta Gamma.
Survivors include three sons, Adam, Zachary
and Andrew Corson, all of Potomac; and a brother, Dan Crumlish of Gaithersburg.