The My Lai Massacre

On March 16, 1968, American soldiers committed one of the worst atrocities in the Vietnam War. In My Lai, Vietnam, they killed over four hundred civilians, mostly consisting of women, children, and old men. The massacre and army cover-up became an important scandal that left the American people with a bad perception of the federal government and military.

Table Of Contents:

1. The Massacre
-------Who was there?
-------What Happened?

2. The Uncovering

3. The Trial of Lt. Calley

4. Legacy

5. Sources

The Massacre

Who Was There?

Lieutenant William L. Calley
The My Lai Massacre involved many American soldiers of Charlie Company, First Battalion, and Twentieth infantry Division, leading them was Lieutenant William Calley. Calley was given orders to kill the livestock and anything that moved and to treat My Lai as an enemy stronghold. On March 16, he and his men were ordered to My Lai, a small village in the province of Quang Ngai. They initially went into the village on a search and destroy mission because in days prior to this event, Viet Cong was believed to shelter the area. Sergeant George Cox had been killed by a booby trap in My Lai, and the squad members decided to take their anger out on a Vietnamese woman working in a field close by. When villagers complained, the squad members told them that the women was supposedly holding a land mind detonator.

Calley was given orders by his commanding officer, Captain Ernest "Mad Dog" Medina, that all Vietnamese citizens would be at the market, so all remaining in the village were Viet Cong sympathizers. Luckily, all young Vietnamese men had retreated from the village the day before.

What Happened?
Group of Dead Vietnamese Civilians
At 7:40 in the morning, the American soldiers emarked on an indiscriminate killing spree. They raped women and young girls, and even shot mothers holding their babies. Civilians were rounded up in ditches and sprayed with bullets accordingly. Others were clubbed to death, bayoneted, and even mulilated, with the words "C Company" carved on their chests. Its estimated by the U.S. Army that 347 villagers were murdered, but the Vietnamese claim the number to exceed 500.
Vietnamese Civilian
Luckily, some American soldiers refused to take part in the slaying. Pilot Hugh Thompson could only watch as his peers mutilated innocent people limb from limb. Finally seeing U.S. troops chasing a number of civilians, he lowered his helocopter down between the Vietnamese and the Americans. Thompson claimed to turn the guns of the helicopter on the Ameican soldiers if they continued this aimless violence. In the end, Thompson managed to rescue the Vietnamese that were being chased. A little while later, his crew pulled a baby child out of a ditch covered in bloody corpses. They went back to the base and reported what was going on to his superiors, only wondering how to stop such an atrocity from going on any longer

The Uncovering

American soldiers immediately tried to bury the story. If the media mentioned the incident at all, they were told that American troops had won a military victory over the Viet Cong. The massacre actually came to light in 1969 due to Ronald Ridenhour, a war veteran. He wrote letters to the House Armed Services Committee that he'd seen "something rather dark and bloody" happen in My Lai and wanted justice for the victims. William Westmoreland initiated an army investigation of the situation. From here, the investigation slowly started to fade away, but Seymour Hersh believed that the whole story wasn't being revealed. It was Hersh who uncovered the entire story, and published it in the New York Times on November 12, 1969. In 1970, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his international reporting.
In the following weeks, the My Lai Massacre swept all newspapers, radio, and television. Life magazine devoted ten pages of ruthless photographs documenting the brutality of the American soldiers. The massacre couldn't be ignored. Because of this, Americans fell into one of two categories. They either denied the fact that their own soldiers could commit such crimes, or they expressed pure outrage of the event.

The Trial of Lt. Calley

Only Lieutenant Calley, who had directly commanded Charlie Company, was convicted of many crimes. He openly admitted to having shot unarmed civilians and having ordered others to do so. "I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy," he said. "That was the mission I was given. I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women, and children. They were all classified the same, and that was the classification we dealt with, just as enemy soldiers." Medina denied having explicitly told Calley to kill the civilians. He also denied from some troops that he had participated in the massacre. Calley was found guilty of murder by military court martial and sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, many Americans felt that Calley's conviction was deeply unfair, since his superior officers went unpunished. As the Vietnam Veterans Against the War explained, "We are all of us in this country guilty for having allowed the war to go on. We only want this country to realize that it cannot try a Calley for something which generals and presidents and our way of life encourage him to do."


My Lai Massacre Monument
Today there is a monument in Vietnam devoted to the innocent Vietnamese civilians that died in the My Lai Massacre. It has enlisted on it all the known villagers that perished to the ruthless American soldiers.
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"Found: The monster of the My Lai massacre." Mail Online. Associated
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St. Louis Post Dispatch, Seymour M. Hersh, and Reporting Vietnam, Part Two:
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