The Unlearned Lesson of My Lai


“When U.S. Army soldiers ended their massacre of elderly men, women, and children in a South Vietnamese hamlet 50 years ago—on March 16, 1968—perhaps 500 civilians lay dead. The green troops expected to meet Vietcong forces, but instead found unarmed families. ‘During the next few hours, the civilians were murdered,’ Seymour Hersh later wrote. ‘Many were rounded up in small groups and shot, others were flung into a drainage ditch at one edge of the hamlet and shot, and many more were shot at random in or near their homes. Some of the younger women and girls were raped and then murdered. After the shootings, the G.I.s systematically burned each home, destroyed the livestock and food, and fouled the area’s drinking supplies.’ The My Lai massacre still shocks the conscience. It’s hard to fathom how a group of young American men, most of whom would never have killed anyone but for the Vietnam War, spiraled out of control together, perpetrating atrocities that rival any committed in the annals of human warfare. A country can minimize the evil perpetrated in its name, by its soldiers, by going to war only as a last resort; maintaining discipline as best as is humanly possible during armed conflict; holding war criminals responsible for their deeds; and treating those who stop or uncover crimes against humanity as heroes rather than villains. The hero of the My Lai massacre was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. Along with the members of his crew, Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, he began observing the U.S. troops in Sơn Mỹ Village from the air, believing them to be attacking enemy forces. It took time for him to realize that the soldiers of Company C were committing mass murder. At that moment, he could easily have just flown away.And yet, whenever a country’s civilian leaders decide to send young men to fight any war of sustained length, it is almost certain that discipline will break down somewhere, that savagery will take hold sometime, and that shameful evil will be done, as had happened during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. …”
The Atlantic (March 16, 2018)
TIME: Only One Man Was Found Guilty for His Role in the My Lai Massacre. This Is What It Was Like to Cover His Trial (Video)
Arab News: 50 years ago, the My Lai massacre shamed the US military
PBS: American Experience – My Lai, Chapter 1 (Video)

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