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The My Lai Massacre

Discussion in 'World History' started by YNCS, Jun 12, 2006.

  1. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    Because of a discussion in OT, I'm posting some information on My Lai.

    The worst atrocity ever committed by U.S. troops was perpetrated on March 16, 1968 by personnel of C Company, 1/20th Infantry, an element of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade of the Americal (23rd Infantry) Division. The incident occurred in the hamlet of My Lai 4, one of several in Son My village in Quang Ngai Province, one of the largest and most populous provinces in South Vietnam and an area known for its pro-Communist sympathies. On that morning, as part of a larger "search and destroy" operation, 2LT William L. Calley Jr. had let his platoon into the village, which they had been informed was occupied by a Viet Cong (VC) unit. In fact, there were no armed VC in the hamlet. Calley basically ordered his troops to undertake a systematic massacre. At least 150 and possibly as many as 400 Vietnamese civilians, mostly old men, women, and children were killed. Many of the troops protested, refusing to take part despite threats from Calley that they would be subject to court-martial. A helicopter pilot, WO2 Hugh Thompson, personally prevented the murder of a number of villagers by threatening to fire on the troops with a machine gun. In the after-action report on the operation, Calley indicated that his men had killed 128 enemy troops, for which a citation was issued.

    From the first, the nature of the action was known to Calley's superiors, among them his company commander, CPT Ernest Medina, who was actually present in the hamlet for a time during the massacre. The battalion and brigade commanders apparently knew about what had happened almost immediately afterward, as did the division commander, MG Samuel Koster, and several chaplains attached to the 11th Light Infantry Brigade. None of them did anything about the matter. Attempts by soldiers to report the incident through the chain of command were quashed. Outsiders from USARV (U.S. Army Vietnam) who inquired about anomalies in the official report of the "battle" (only a handful of weapons were recovered, and there were virtually no American casualties) were brushed off by double-talk or bluster. Communist propaganda broadcasts began circulating information about the massacre, although this was ignored because the North Vietnamese were in the habit of endlessly fabricating atrocity tales.

    Not until the spring of 1969 did the massacre come to the attention of people outside the Americal Division, when Vietnam veteran Richard Ridenhour--who had not been present at My Lai--wrote a letter to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, reporting that he had heard from several other soldiers that a massacre had occurred. The letter was passed on to Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor, who passed it on to GEN William Westmoreland, by then Chief of Staff of the Army. Westmoreland immediately ordered the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) to conduct an inquiry. After receiving preliminary reports from the CID, Westmoreland appointed LG William Peers to undertake a broader investigation. Peers, a Vietnam veteran who had commanded the 4th Infantry Division and I Field Force, conducted an extensive probe, focusing primarily on the cover-up and the causes of the massacre, rather than the actual criminal activity, which was the responsibility of the CID.

    Peers' investigation, which included traveling to My Lai, turned up an enormous amount of evidence, including an extraordinary collection of chilling photographs taken by combat photographer SGT Ronald Hoeberle, who had accompanied the platoon to My Lai. Peers also took over a hundred statements from people involved in the massacre and cover-up.

    The conclusion of Peer's inquiry was that there had been massive command failures right up to MG Koster. Among the factors cited were poor training in the Law of War and Rules of Engagement, a virulent anti-Vietnamese institutional culture in the division, poor discipline and poor leadership at all levels, excessive fear of the enemy, and poor communications. Unsaid was that the Army's leadership training and selection had declined so seriously that a man like Calley, who had never held a permanent job and had flunked out of a junior college, could receive a commission.

    Charges were brought against 25 soldiers (14 officers and 11 enlisted men), twelve of them for war crimes (2 officers and 10 enlisted) and the rest (12 officers and 1 enlisted) for the cover-up. Among those charged were the brigade, battalion and company commanders, as well as Calley and several staff personnel, including 2 chaplains. In the end, only four cases went to trial, the others being dismissed on technicalities (the CID had committed serious procedural violations, including coercion to get testimonies). Of the four men tried, three were not convicted due to technicalities, only Calley was convicted. Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment, but this was reduced by reviewing authorities first to 20 years, then to 10 and finally to 2 years of house arrest. So judicial penalties for the atrocity were comparatively light. However, there were other penalties, administrative ones, which the Army imposed.

    General Koster, who flat-out lied to the investigators, was removed from his choice assignment as Superintendent of Cadets at West Point. He was reduced to his permanent rank of Brigadier General, stripped of his Distinguished Service Medal, given a formal reprimand, and had his commission revoked "services no longer required" which gave him an "Other Than Honorable" (OTH) discharge with loss of pension and veterans' benefits. Virtually all the other officers who had been charged, and some who had not, found their promotion prospects reduced to nil, received reprimands, and major decorations rescinded, or some combination of all three. Eight enlisted men who had been prominent in the massacre were expelled from the Army with OTH discharges.
     
  2. RedWolf

    RedWolf Deity

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    I have so much respect for this man that I'm not even sure I can put it properly in words.

    He didn't potentially risk everything for just an ideal or a political statement... There was no black, white or grey here or right and wrong... Only humanity and incredible courage. He put it all on the line right there to stop a greivious atrocity while others stood by and did nothing.

    Honestly - stories like that are what stops me from completely losing faith in our miserable species.
     
  3. pboily

    pboily fingerlickinmathematickin

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    What is the corresponding thread in OT?

    Also, does anyone know how the My Lai Massacre is seen in military circles? Is Thompson revered? Is there a feeling that Calley was made a scapegoat (seeing as he was the only one "punished")?
     
  4. Ukas

    Ukas Pthooey of Tomainia

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  5. Adler17

    Adler17 Prussian Feldmarschall

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    A good page. And another bad light on Nixon to parole Calley. He deserved the life imprisonment. My Lai was a mass murder.

    Adler
     
  6. Berrie

    Berrie Proud father

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    We studied this case in law school (in Belgium). Not as an exemple of due process. Quite the opposite...

    I think for the US, this is one of the darkest pages in his history. Severe punishments of the ones in charge could have redeemed maybe some of the damage. The trial however was a big farce. A disgrace for a civilised country (much like the Dreyfuss case for France)
     
  7. Adler17

    Adler17 Prussian Feldmarschall

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    That's a good comparison although Dreyfus was accused innocently and Calley not. Or the modern day prisoners at Guantanamo...

    Adler
     
  8. Berrie

    Berrie Proud father

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    True.
    We studied both cases in a course about renowned trials all over the world. Sadly most of the cases are famous because of the "mistakes" (couldn't find the right wording) made during the trial: such as the Dreyfuss case and My Lai trial...
     

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