Obedience To Authority Essay

1132 words - 5 pages

During the Vietnam War, a unit of American Army soldiers invaded My Lai a South Vietnamese hamlet resources contended was the enemy Viet Cong stronghold. That day in May 1968 an estimated 347 unarmed civilians “including women and children” died as a result (Cantrell, 2007). My Lai became one of the most controversial situations of the long Viet Nam War. When the truth came out due to letters to the government describing the horror, two questions resulted. Understanding why some of the young American soldiers that day killed so many innocent civilians and why did so few in the unit try to save the lives of as many as they could require moral clarity. Though obedience to authority has hurts and killed innocent people, but lack of moral clarity is the crux of what happened in My Lai, Vietnam in 1968.
Americans want moral clarity. Moral clarity is often more of a testament to the idea than a living reality. In the case of the My Lai incident, America faced a moral dilemma in trying to understand what went wrong, why it happened. Testimonies during the trial that ensued of those who participated in the massacre induce more questions than provide answers. “Beyond parading our moral presumptions, we come to believe we act more morally the less we think about it”, says Cotkin (2010, pp 1).” Kendrick, (2006) offers, “Nearly forty years on, however, the status of the massacre as historical pivot is unclear, not so much because it is explicitly contested, but because its memory is muted” (Kendrick, pp 37). Ending a war, keeping America free assumes these are moral actions, but what is acted upon to achieve this in the face of what is moral then becomes “problematic”. Accepting there is an inherent difficulty in acting morally in certain situations is the lesser road traveled to “moral enlightenment”. One suggestion, according to philosopher Hannah Arendt is to start “thinking.”This offers a certain direction for considering what actions lead to what consequences and remains another road less traveled. Bombing of civilians by Americans during WWII and the tragedy of the My Lai massacre of Vietnam brings the realization that “morality-evil, empathy, and virtue” are components of this dilemma that creates the truth in paradoxes (Cotkin, pp 2).
When the My Lai massacre reported at the hands of Army Unit Charlie Company came under military investigation, soldiers who were in the village that day, under oath gave testimony. Army Specialist 4, William Frederic Dougherty was asked if civilians were routinely the victims of cross fire when the fighting between the enemy Viet Cong was in a village and he replied that sometimes this happened if the Viet Cong were located behind the village firing through toward the Americans (Dougherty Testimony, 1969). He explained, “Well, sir, it has happened…they fire through village to us and it puts us in a bind where (we) don’t want to fire into a village – and they (villagers) can get as many casualties. The...

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