My Lai Massacre Essay, Research Paper
“My family was eating breakfast when the Americans came, nothing was said to us, no explanation was given,” This is what a man named Do Chuc reported to Time Magazine. He claimed to have lost a daughter and a son in the incident that occured in a small village of Vietnam in 1968.
The My Lai Massacre is an event that will be forever imprinted on our hearts. The stories of those who survived, and those who are gone. Many things have been written about My Lai, but not all of them are true. So many things were transposed that the facts are hard to find. I feel that I have done a careful job of weeding the true from the false. When one hears about My Lai, they must remember what happened, and the heinous cover-up of these events. All these findings will raise the biggest question of all, why is it important for us to know? In this study of the My Lai Massacre I intend to answer all these elements here mentioned.
The attack came without warning on March 16, 1968 at 0725 hours. The orders were simple, the US Army companies A, B, and C were to burn houses, kill livestock, destroy food stocks and perhaps even close wells. The soldiers were lead to assume that only the enemy would be there, that all the civilians would be gone by 0700 hours. They were also told that everyone in the village would be VC’s (Viet Cong) or VC sympathizers. This information was recorded in the Army’s summary report, edited by Joseph Goldstien (35). The Lieutenant Commander?s orders were embellished and replaced with revenge and rage.
Two platoons of soldiers swept over the village, killing the livestock and murdering the first 7-12 women and children. The GI’s didn’t care if the person was old or young, male or female, to them they were all VC. The highest death toll was of old men, women, and children. Even before they reached My Lai the soldiers gunned down fleeing civilians in the rice paddies. The company of 60-70 US men entered My Lai and destroyed houses, livestock, and all inhabitants they could find in less than 20 minutes.
No other resistance was encountered.
Some villagers were herded into ditches where they were shot. Still other groups were taken to a southern trail and shot there. Members of the 2nd Platoon killed at least sixty to seventy Vietnamese men, women, and children. The 2nd platoon also committed several rapes of the women. Military photographers recorded graphic images of bodies dumped in ditches. Many of these photos were given to Time Magazine and published. (Time 1) A group of about 70-80 Vietnamese were killed in a mass execution in the same fashion.
Orders were given during the morning to stop the mass killings. The 2nd platoon stopped at 0920 hours, but the 1st platoon didn’t stop until 1030 hours when the orders were repeated. There were only twenty-five or so Vietnamese survivors who excaped by hiding under the bodies of their neighbors and relatives. This was not an isolated incident however, while the massacre at My Lai was taking place there was a similar mission of nearby My Khe of a lesser magnitude. The death toll in My Khe was over 90 women and children, but far less than the estimated tolls of My Lai. The estimates of My Lai deaths of non combatants ranges from 175-450+. Only one US soldier was killed in action, and seven were wounded in action due to the numerous land mines.
My Lai and My Khe are both small hamlets of Son My, an area in Vietnam just east of Cambodia. This is one of the most brutal reports of an attack on a civilian village during the Vietnam war.
When one hears about all the horrorousities that occured, it brings one’s self to wonder; What was going on over there? What was going through the minds of these people? What atrousities did they see to drive them to this type of brutal attack? We are of course assuming that no one in the right mind would murder large groups of innocent people in that day in age, especially from the United States.
In March of 1969, a year after the attack, Richard Ridenhour, then 23, a former SF4, sent information he had pieced together in 30 letters to the president, congressmen, and other Washington officials. He was not involved in My Lai, nor a witness. He heard about it from friends and was deeply disturbed by the events he heard. At first he didn?t believe, but he soon realized they were true; do the the similarities of people’s stories
The letters written by Richard Ridennhour led to the investigation of the platoons in action on March 16. The investigation was suspiciously barren. The Army recorded that there was an almost total absence of files and records of documents relating to the Son My incident and its subsequent investigation. (Goldstien 313) The files had been purged of most all legal documents and records. They had been either removed or destroyed, but not maintained. An exception to the missing files was COL. Henderson?s April 24 report, which was found in another indiscriminate file. These findings led to the accusations of: Failure to report all civilian killings (Stated at 20-28, reality 400-500). Failure to report all acts of murder and other war crimes. False report of noncombatant casualties. Failure to report distruction of private property. Withholding and suppression of knowledge and evidence of war crimes by information office personnel. The troops were accused of failure to report complete facts, report alleged war crimes and not taking appropriate action when convinced a cover up was taking place.
No one had reported the crime. Things just went on as they had before. The only thing that was recorded was that officers would report to higher officials how many VC killed and who they were. They stopped reporting illegally at 8:40 am. The final report was that 38 VC were killed. This was not true. Only 3 or 4 were confirmed Viet Cong. There were however probably several unarmed VC men, women, and children, or those who were VC sympathizers.
One reason that the attack on My Khe remained buried for so long was that there were only 10 men involved at the massacre. Two were dead, and the others refused to testify. There were instructions given by CPT Medina not to discuss or report the operation of March 16.
Of the soldiers charged, only Lt. William Calley was convicted by court-martial. These led to formal charges of murdering approximately 100 civilians at My Lai. Considerable public sympathy surprisingly developed for Calley, many thought that he had “taken the rap” for his men. Others thought that it was war, and in war innocent people die, and that Calley was only doing his job. On March 29, 1971, Calley was found guilty of the slaying of at least 22 Vietnamese Civilians. On April 1, 1971, Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment. The options were this or death. He was ordered “To be confined at hard labor for the length of your natural life, to be dismissed from the Army and forfeiture of all pay, and allowances here of” (NY Times).
After all is said and done, one wonders; Now that I know what happened and the results of it, but why? What would lead a person to do this kind of thing? Surely not any law abiding citizen, and especially not an army officer in his/her right mind would ever do a thing like this. One question that we may never know is what was going through the minds of the soldiers at that time.
James Armstrong Ph.D. once said, ” They say we were there to defend the Vietnamese civilian, yet of all the persons involved, they were undoubtedly the primary casual, the primary victim of the war.” (Armstrong 133).
I feel this statement is so true. It really expresses the truth that I have not been able to put into words before. The main victims of Vietnam were not the soldiers who went off to war and not always those who even gave their lives, but perhaps the victims were the poor Vietnamese farmer who defends a dying cow with a pitchfork.
In order to confront the events of My Lai, we must report the happenings very accurately. We must learn from out mistakes, not repeat them (Armstrong)
In regard to the battle of communism and capitalism during the 50?s and 60?s, a Vietnamese native said, “The French respected out traditions,” (Armstrong 132). The war destroyed their traditions almost completely. My Lai came to symbolize the brutality of a war waged by an advanced technological power against a largely agricultural people.
Professor Morgenthau uses the analogy of, “What has been sane becomes psychotic, and what has been psychotic becomes sane,” (Armstrong 110).
Armstrong is convinced that the leaders of the world are bound and confused by the communist depravity (Armstrong 105). Meaning, it?s hard for them to change their old ways. Hard to have to admit that they were wrong and be a hypocrite. Armstrong also feels that to diffuse the rage of seeing their friends killed in Vietnam, the GI?s felt the need to find an enemy who would stand still and take the beating, such as women, old men, and even babies (Armstrong 106).
The troops held racism against the Vietnamese in the general category of Oriental, that they were inferior and not used to a civilized government. The American troops were caught in an Asian revolution and are confused by their inability to distinguish the enemy from the people (Armstrong 105).
Another theory is that the anger of the troops at those friends not fighting turns into racist perceptions of the Vietnamese as non people, inanimate objects that are expendable. This is also due to our (US) government?s compensation for our “blindness”, which conveys to the GI that Vietnamese are a dime a dozen. Not until we realize and firmly establish the motive behind the killings can we be sure that a similar event will not happen.
All of these things are horrable and most injust. It?s hard to believe that something like this could happen involving our country. All that we usually hear about is the white gloved surgical attacks, but they are not always that way. The violent nature of our soldiers under stress and pressure, the botch job on a cover up and yet the starteling question still is: Will it happen again?