My Lai massacre

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The My Lai massacre was the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed citizens of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), mostly civilians and majority of them women and children, conducted by U.S. Army forces on March 16, 1968. The massacre took place in the hamlets of Mỹ Lai and My Khe of Sơn Mỹ village during the Vietnam War.[[1]]

Dead Vietnamese in My Lai shortly after U.S. soldiers killed them, March 16, 1968. Photo by Ronald L. Haeberle


  • After nearly four hours of gunfire, there was silence. There was silence, even though the order only applied to American soldiers. There was silence because none of the Viet Cong in the village were firing back. There was silence because the Viet Cong had never fired on US troops that day. There was silence because there were no Viet Cong in the village that day. There was silence because most of the people who were in the village that day were dead.
  • The My Lai killings weren’t indiscriminate. The GIs weren’t killing just anyone. They were killing everyone. They were killing everything: chickens, pigs, dogs, rabbits, cows, water buffalo, grandmothers, and children. Young girls, wounded boys, toddlers, infants. More than half of the 504 people murdered in Pinkville that morning were minors. The GIs were following orders and the orders were: to kill everything. Kill everything that breathes. Kill everything that moves.
  • It was terrible. They were slaughtering villagers like so many sheep
    • Sargent Larry La Croix[[2]]
  • As it happened, the fifth anniversary of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam occurred at the time of the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee. It was difficult to miss the analogy between the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and My Lai, 1968. Alongside the front-page news and photographs of the Wounded Knee siege that was taking place in real time were features with photos of the scene of mutilation and death at My Lai. Lieutenant William "Rusty" Calley was then serving his twenty-year sentence under house arrest in luxurious officers' quarters at Fort Benning, Georgia, near his hometown. Yet he remained a national hero who received hundreds of support letters weekly, who was lauded by some as a POW being held by the US military. One of Calley's most ardent defenders was Jimmy Carter, then governor of Georgia. In 1974, President Richard Nixon would pardon Calley.
  • That day it was just a massacre. Just plain right out, wiping out people.
  • We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how monies from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism; and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Vietcong. We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers that hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum. We learned the meaning of "free-fire zones," "shoot anything that moves," and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals. We watched the United States' falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while month after month we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons against “oriental human beings,” with quotation marks around that. We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in a European theater -- or let us say a non-third-world people theater.
  • War has its own laws and one of the oldest and most persistent is that those who have surrendered and civilians, where possible, should be spared. Yet we all know the stories or have seen pictures of the sacking of cities, the execution of prisoners of war, the shelling of churches filled with refugees, or the farm buildings deliberately set on fire, and we remember names such as Oradour or Wounded Knee or Nanjing. For any American who lived through the Vietnam War the incident at My Lai, when a representative group of ordinary American soldiers rampaged through a village, has come to represent the barbarism of much of that war. (The Vietnamese forces committed their own atrocities, but Vietnam has been slow to come to terms with them.) In 1968 American reporters in the country started to hear stories about the murder in cold blood of some 500 villagers, of all ages, by an American patrol. One courageous helicopter pilot who was there did his best to save the Vietnamese and later filed a report with his superiors, who did nothing.
  • Senior officers in Vietnam and later in Washington did their best to cover the incident up. In 1969 one of America’s most respected journalists, Mike Wallace, interviewed Paul Meadlo, one of the soldiers responsible, who admitted freely that he had fired at point-blank range into helpless civilians. ‘And you killed how many?’ asked Wallace. It was hard to tell, replied Meadlo, because with an automatic rifle you just spray the bullets about. Possibly, he added, ten or fifteen. ‘Men, women, and children?’ Yes, said Meadlo. ‘And babies?’ said Wallace. ‘And babies.’ Meadlo’s mother, who was interviewed by Seymour Hersh, who had first broken the story, said of her son, ‘I gave them a good boy and they sent me back a murderer.
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