The My Lai Massacre Essay

1045 words - 4 pages

It was early spring of 1967. U. S. military officials strongly suspected Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam, as being a Viet Cong stronghold. Military officials declared the province a free-fire zone and subjected it to frequent, violent bombing missions and artillery attacks. By the end of 1967, most of the dwellings in the province had been destroyed and nearly 140,000 Vietnamese civilians were left without homes. "The war had taken on a hard-nosed character of its own. It was getting bloodier," said authors Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim in their book Four Hours In My Lai. Seymour Hersh wrote that by March of 1968, "many in the company had given in to an easy pattern of violence." Soldiers systematically beat unarmed civilians. Some civilians were murdered. Whole villages were burned. Wells were poisoned. Rapes were common. On March 16, 1968, Captain Ernest Medina ordered Charlie Company, a unit of the U.S. Eleventh Light Infantry Brigade, into combat. The 150 soldiers, led by Lt. William Calley, stormed into the hamlet, and four hours later more than 500 civilians, mostly unarmed women, children, babies and elderly people, were dead. The objective of the U.S. military mission was clear: search and destroy the My Lai hamlet. What wasn't clear was what should be done with any civilians who might be encountered along the way. Charlie Company had not encountered even one enemy soldier, only three weapons were confiscated from the entire hamlet, and the only American casualty was a soldier who accidentally shot himself in the foot. It was a massacre that would haunt the conscience of the US Army and the American people.

Abraham Lincoln once gave the following warning to his troops before they went into battle during the Civil War: "Men who take up arms against one another in public do not cease on this account to be moral human beings, responsible to one another and to God." If only Mr. Lincoln had been in My Lai on March 16, 1968 to remind the U.S. troops of that very point, maybe things would have turned out differently. "My Lai conveys terrible truths about the Vietnam war that we simply must face. We cannot avoid the abyss that is our history. We repeat it, if we are ignorant of it, and if we cannot confront it," said David L. Anderson in his book Facing My Lai: Moving Beyond the Massacre.

The massacre at My Lai was witnessed by at least one soldier who wasn't swept up in the drama unfolding on the ground beneath his helicopter. Pilot Hugh Thompson, enraged by what he was witnessing in the hamlet below, set down his aircraft and began to rescue the Vietnamese survivors. He ordered his machine gunner to open fire on any American soldiers who continued to shoot villagers. Thompson would later be questioned by U.S. military officials for making the decision to threaten his own troops with bodily harm. In military circles, this action could be seen as insubordination, and Thompson could have faced severe consequences. Yet his conscience would...

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