William Laws Calley Jr. (born June 8, 1943) is an American war criminal and a former United States Army officer convicted by court-martial for the premeditated killings of 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the Mỹ Lai massacre on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War. Calley was released to house arrest under orders by President Richard Nixon three days after his conviction. A new trial was ordered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit but that ruling was overturned by the United States Supreme Court.
Calley served three years of house arrest for the murders. Public opinion about Calley was divided at the time. Since his dismissal from the Army and release from prison, Calley has avoided public attention.
Lieutenant Calley: His Own Story (1971)
- It's odd about war crimes. We seem to have tried people only if they've lost the war.
- p. 18
- He just didn't understand it, the captain. Killing people in war's something new? Now what in the hell else is war than killing people? And destroying their homes and their farms and their way of life: that's war! And who in the hell is hurt besides civilians? I sat and I heard the captain talk and I could almost cry: I thought of the thousands of men, thousands of women, thousands of children, thousands of babies slaughtered in Vietnam, the bodies rotting away. The captain didn't seem to know about them. I did: I had been to Vietnam.
- p. 23
- We thought, We will go to Vietnam and be Audie Murphies. Kick in the door, run in the hooch, give it a good burst- kill. And get a big kill ratio in Vietnam. Get a big kill count. One thing at OCS was nobody said, "Now, there will be innocent civilians there." Oh sure, there will in Saigon. In the secure areas, the Vietnamese may be clapping the way the French in the '44 newsreels do, "Yay for America!" But we would be somewhere else: be in VC country. It was drummed into us, "Be sharp! Be on guard! As soon as you think these people won't kill you, ZAP! In combat you haven't friends! You have enemies!" Over and over at OCS we heard this, and I told myself, I'll act as if I'm never secure. As if everyone in Vietnam would do me in. As if everyone's bad.
- p. 28
- A village is the last damned place to RON: to remain overnight in. There would be Vietnamese all around us. Old mamasan might come with an AK-47 to show us whose hooch we were really in, with a VC battalion behind her.
- p. 55
- Everyone said eliminate them. I never met someone who didn't say it. A captain told me, "Goddamn it. I sit with my starlight scope, and I see VC at this village every night. I could go home if I could eliminate it." A colonel: he told me about a general's briefing where the general said, "By god, if you're chasing dead VC and you're chasing them to that village, do it! I'll answer for it! I'll answer for it!" The general was in a rage, saying, "Damn, and I'll lose my stars tomorrow if I tell those politicians who haven't been out of their bathtubs that." Americans would say, It's wrong, if American women fought in Vietnam, but the VC women will do it. And the VC kids: and everyone in our task force knew, We have to drop the bomb sometime. And still people ask me, "What do you have against women?" Damn, I have nothing. I think they're the greatest things since camels. And children: I've nothing against them. "Why did you kill them?" Well damn it! Why did I go to Vietnam? I didn't buy a plane ticket for it. A man in Hawaii gave it to me. "Why did you go? Why didn't you go to jail instead?" Oh, you dumb ass: if I knew it would turn out this way, I would have.
- We had a Plan, Medina was telling everyone now. And went to a Jeep: and taking a shovel out, he drew in the sand beneath him a map of our operation area. From left to right, this was Mylai Four, Mylai Five, Mylai ix, and Mylai One: or Pinkville, on the China sea. Pinkville now was the VC basecamp, Medina said, but we didn't want to get fired on from behind and we would start at Mylai Four. And continue on to Mylai Five, Mylai Six, and Mylai One. "We mustn't let anyone get behind us," Medina said, as I remember it. "Alpha and Bravo got messed up because they let the VC get behind them. And took heavy casualties and lost their momentum, and it was their downfall. Our job," Medina said, "is to go in rapidly and to neutralize everything. Kill everything." "Captain Medina? Do you mean women and children, too?" "I mean everything."
- p. 89
- I know you'll say, "All right: if Medina said to kill everyone in Atlanta, would you?" And someday an Army officer may, the way this country is going now. I say this: if this were a hundred years ago, if I were a Union lieutenant and if Sherman told me, "Kill everyone in Atlanta," I guarantee I would have to. I once got a letter on Mylai saying, "My god! Why are the Yankees upset?" It said in the CIvil War, the Yankees were up against guerrillas, too. All the South's men, women, and children were out to defeat them. A very smart man in Missouri said, "If the Yankees come through here, do whatever you can. And poison the horses, and poison everyone's food. And invite the GIs-" I mean, "And invite the Yankees in, let them sleep with all your daughters, and if they're in the latrine for a pee: then shoot them. Let them believe you and kill them." The same as Vietnam: the people became guerrillas then. And used unconventional warfare: but the North wasn't about to sit in its trenches worrying, Gee, can I feed my horses here? It wasn't about to live afraid, and Sherman said if they wouldn't let the Army be, then there wouldn't be a Southerner left. He ordered his men to burn, to kill, and as soldiers say: to rape, pillage, and plunder the South. And there was no stopping him. The tactic worked. If you're a Yankee, you'll tell me, "Sherman's great," and you'll put a statue of Sherman in Central Park. As for me, I'd hate to see a monument to Calley's March to the Sea. But damn it! Sherman knew the solution to unconventional warfare.
- p. 92
- I don't wish to see anyone hurt: or anyone die for anyone else's sins. Not President Johnson or General Westmoreland or Captain Medina: I don't want to defame anyone to defend myself. I'm sorry about it: sometimes, my attorneys did to Medina what the prosecutor would do to me. "Now, wasn't the real villain in Mylai Captain Medina? And not that poor sweet lieutenant?" But the lieutenant wasn't all so sweet, and the captain was no more villain than any American from the President down. The guilt: as Medina said, we all as American citizens share it. I agree. I don't believe in goats, or pigeons, or patsies. I just don't believe they're in America's interest. For years, we Americans all have taken the easy way out. And been hypocritical fools. And gone around saying, "I'm nice. I'm sweet. I'm innocent." "You starved a thousand people today." "Who me?" "You threw away the scraps from the dinner table." "Aw-" "You killed a thousand people today." "Who me?" "You sent the Army to Mylai and-" "That wasn't me! That was Lieutenant Calley!" No, that isn't right for America. I say if there's guilt, we must suffer it. And learn. And change. And go on. For that is what guilt must be really for.
- p. 174
- In war, the dead people don't cry. The ones who are still alive do.
- p. 175
- Americans like to think that war is John Wayne. To get a grenade and a VC's throat, to shove the grenade right down it. Americans sit at television sets and say, "One hundred bodies. Boy!" And they think, Great, and they think that I'm the ugly one. I t ell you, a hundred bodies still are a hundred people, and if they're dead their guts are just hanging out. And that's pretty horrible: I had once thought, Oh, war is hell. And then I saw war, and I could only sit and cry. And ask, Why did I do it? Why didn't I stand on a corner and say, "It's wrong." Why didn't I burn my draft card, and I wouldn't have had to go? I don't know.
- p. 176
Quotes about Calley
- Can one credibly talk about fascism in the North American context as we approach the year 2000? Is it even remotely possible that the horrors of Nazi Germany could someday occur in Canada or the United States? When I talk about prefascist personalities, do I seriously propose that many North Americans could act like Hitler, Himmler, Hoess, and so on? [...] although the Nazis did monsterous things, it is a mistake to thing that only ardent fascists and psychopathic killers became Nazis. Adolf Eichmann struck some as a bland person, not particularly anti-Semitic, who basically wanted to advance his career and so worked hard to impress his superiors. His evil was "banal." I can also imagine that many of those who made the arrests and transported the victims to the death camps would have been described as "good, decent people" by their families and neighbors. So would many of those who ran the slave labor camps in which hundreds of thousands of prisoners perished and maybe even the SS soldiers who massacred whole villages. You can be an ordinary Joe, or Lieutenant Calley, and still do terrible things.
- Bob Altemeyer, The Authoritarian Specter (1996). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 305
- 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.
- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (2014)
- I'm going to go over and get them out of the bunker myself. If the squad opens up on them, shoot 'em.