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My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

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Encyclopedia
The My Lai Massacre ( tʰɐ̃ːm ʂɐ̌ːt mǐˀ lɐːj, mǐˀlɐːj; ˌmiːˈlaɪ, also ˌmiːˈleɪ, ˌmaɪˈlaɪ) was the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 mass murder
Mass murder
Mass murder is the act of murdering a large number of people , typically at the same time or over a relatively short period of time. According to the FBI, mass murder is defined as four or more murders occurring during a particular event with no cooling-off period between the murders...

 of 347–504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

 on March 16, 1968, by United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 soldiers of "Charlie" Company of 1st Battalion
Battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

, 20th Infantry Regiment
20th Infantry Regiment (United States)
The 20th Infantry Regiment is a United States Army infantry regiment.-History:It was organized on 6 June 1862 at Fort Independence , as the 2nd Battalion of the 11th Infantry, one of the nine "three-battalion" regiments of regulars, each battalion containing eight companies of infantry, in...

, 11th Brigade
11th Infantry Brigade (United States)
The 11th Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the United States Army. It was first formed as part of the United States Army's 6th Division during World War I, however it is best known for its service as a separate Brigade in the Vietnam War...

 of the Americal Division
Americal Division
The 23rd Infantry Division, more commonly known as the Americal Division of the United States Army was formed in May 1942 on the island of New Caledonia. In the immediate emergency following Pearl Harbor, the United States had hurriedly sent three individual regiments to defend New Caledonia...

. Most of the victims were women, children (including babies), and elderly people. Many were rape
Rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

d, beaten, and torture
Torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

d, and some of the bodies were later found to be mutilated. While 26 US soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses for their actions at Mỹ Lai, only Second Lieutenant William Calley
William Calley
William Laws Calley is a convicted American war criminal and a former U.S. Army officer found guilty of murder for his role in the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War.-Early life:...

, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but only served three and a half years under house arrest.

The massacre
Massacre
A massacre is an event with a heavy death toll.Massacre may also refer to:-Entertainment:*Massacre , a DC Comics villain*Massacre , a 1932 drama film starring Richard Barthelmess*Massacre, a 1956 Western starring Dane Clark...

 took place in the hamlets of Mỹ Lai
My Lai, Vietnam
Sơn Tịnh is a district of Quang Ngai province, in the South Central Coast region of Vietnam, situated to the northeast of the town of Quang Ngai...

 and My Khe of Sơn Mỹ village. The event is also known as the Sơn Mỹ Massacre or sometimes as the Song Mỹ Massacre. The US military
United States armed forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

 codeword for the "Viet Gong (sic) stronghold" was "Pinkville".

When the incident became public knowledge in 1969, it prompted widespread outrage around the world. The massacre also increased domestic opposition to the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Three US servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and protect the wounded were later denounced by US Congressmen. They received hate mail and death threats and found mutilated animals on their doorsteps. It was 30 years before they were honored for their efforts.

Background


Charlie Company
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

 of 1st Battalion
Battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

, 20th Infantry Regiment
20th Infantry Regiment (United States)
The 20th Infantry Regiment is a United States Army infantry regiment.-History:It was organized on 6 June 1862 at Fort Independence , as the 2nd Battalion of the 11th Infantry, one of the nine "three-battalion" regiments of regulars, each battalion containing eight companies of infantry, in...

, 11th Brigade
11th Infantry Brigade (United States)
The 11th Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the United States Army. It was first formed as part of the United States Army's 6th Division during World War I, however it is best known for its service as a separate Brigade in the Vietnam War...

, 23rd Infantry Division (the Americal Division), arrived in South Vietnam in December 1967. Though their first month in Vietnam passed without any direct enemy contact, by mid-March the company had suffered 28 incidents involving mines or booby-traps which caused injuries and five deaths.
During the Tet Offensive of January 1968, attacks were carried out in Quảng Ngãi by the 48th Battalion of the NLF (National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, commonly referred to by the Americans as the Vietcong or Victor Charlie [from the initials corresponding with the NATO phonetic alphabet
NATO phonetic alphabet
The NATO phonetic alphabet, more accurately known as the NATO spelling alphabet and also called the ICAO phonetic or spelling alphabet, the ITU phonetic alphabet, and the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet, is the most widely used spelling alphabet...

]). US military intelligence postulated that the 48th NLF Battalion, having retreated, was taking refuge in the village of Sơn Mỹ, in Quang Ngai Province
Quang Ngai Province
Quảng Ngãi is a province in the South Central Coast region of Vietnam, on the coast of South China Sea. It is located 883 km south of Hanoi and 838 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.-History:...

. A number of specific hamlets within that village—designated Mỹ Lai 1, 2, 3, and 4—were suspected of harboring the 48th. (In February, the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre
Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre
The Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre was a massacre conducted by the 2nd Marine Brigade of the South Korean Marines on 12 February 1968 of unarmed citizens in Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat village, Dien Ban District of Quang Nam Province in South Vietnam....

 and Ha My massacre
Ha My massacre
The Ha My massacre was a massacre conducted by the South Korean Marines on 25 February 1968 of unarmed citizens in Ha My village, Quang Nam in South Vietnam. The victims were 135 women, children and elders from the thirty households...

 were perpetrated by South Korean Marines
Republic of Korea Marine Corps
The Republic of Korea Marine Corps is the marine corps of the Republic of Korea...

 in Quang Nam
Quang Nam Province
Quảng Nam is a province on the South Central Coast of Vietnam. It is bordered by Thua Thien-Huế province to the north, the nation of Laos to the west, Kon Tum Province to the southwest, Quảng Ngãi Province to the southeast, the South China Sea to the east, and the city of Da Nang to the...

, a neighboring province of Quang Ngai.)

US forces planned a major offensive against those hamlets utilizing Task Force Barker, a battalion-size unit made up of three rifle companies of the Americal Division and led by Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Barker. Colonel Oran K. Henderson urged his officers to "go in there aggressively, close with the enemy and wipe them out for good." Barker ordered the 1st Battalion commanders to burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells.

On the eve of the attack, at the Charlie Company briefing, Captain Ernest Medina
Ernest Medina
Ernest Lou Medina is a former captain of infantry in the United States Army. He served during the Vietnam War and was acquitted in a court-martial of war crimes charges in 1971...

 informed his men that nearly all the civilian residents of the hamlets in Sơn Mỹ village would have left for the market by 07:00 and that any who remained would be NLF or NLF sympathizers. He was also asked whether the order included the killing of women and children; those present at the briefing later gave different accounts of Medina's response. Some, including platoon leaders, later testified that the orders as they understood them were to kill all guerrilla
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 and North Vietnam
North Vietnam
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam , was a communist state that ruled the northern half of Vietnam from 1954 until 1976 following the Geneva Conference and laid claim to all of Vietnam from 1945 to 1954 during the First Indochina War, during which they controlled pockets of territory throughout...

ese combatants and "suspects" (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells. He was also quoted as saying "They're all V.C. now go and get them" and was heard saying "Who is my enemy?" and added "Anybody that was running from us, hiding from us, or appeared to be the enemy. If a man was running, shoot him, sometimes even if a woman with a rifle was running, shoot her."

Charlie Company was to enter the hamlet, spearheaded by its 1st Platoon
Platoon
A platoon is a military unit typically composed of two to four sections or squads and containing 16 to 50 soldiers. Platoons are organized into a company, which typically consists of three, four or five platoons. A platoon is typically the smallest military unit led by a commissioned officer—the...

. The other two companies that made up the task force were to cordon off the village.

Killings


On the morning of March 16, Charlie Company landed following a short artillery and helicopter gunship preparation. Though the Americans found no enemy fighters in the village, many soldiers suspected there were NLF troops hiding underground in the homes of their wives or elderly parents. The US soldiers, including a platoon led by Second Lieutenant William Calley
William Calley
William Laws Calley is a convicted American war criminal and a former U.S. Army officer found guilty of murder for his role in the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War.-Early life:...

, went in shooting at what they deemed to be an enemy position.

Once the first civilians were wounded or killed by indiscriminate fire, the soldiers began attacking humans and animals alike, with firearms, grenades and bayonets. The scale of the massacre grew, the brutality only increasing with each killing. BBC News
BBC News
BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

 described the scene: "Dozens of people, herded into an irrigation ditch and other locations, were killed with automatic weapons."

A large group of about 70–80 villagers, rounded up by the 1st Platoon in the center of the village, were killed on an order given by Calley who also participated. Calley also shot two other large groups of civilians with a weapon taken from a soldier who had refused to do any further killing.

Members of the 2nd Platoon killed at least 60–70 Vietnamese, as they swept through the northern half of Mỹ Lai 4 and through Binh Tay, a small subhamlet about 400 metres (1,312.3 ft) north of Mỹ Lai 4. The platoon suffered one dead and seven wounded by mines and booby traps.

After the initial "sweeps" by the 1st and 2nd Platoons, the 3rd Platoon was dispatched to deal with any "remaining resistance." They immediately began killing every living person and animal they could find. This included Vietnamese who had emerged from their hiding places as well as the wounded, found moaning in the heaps of bodies. The 3rd Platoon also rounded up and killed a group of seven to twelve women and children.

Since Charlie Company had encountered no enemy opposition, the 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, was transported by air to its landing zone at between 08:15 and 08:30 and attacked the subhamlet of Mỹ Khe 4, killing as many as 90 people.

Over the following two days, both battalions were involved in additional burning and destruction of dwellings, as well as mistreatment of Vietnamese detainees. While most of the soldiers did not participate in the crimes, they neither protested nor complained to their superiors.

Helicopter intervention


Warrant Officer One
Warrant Officer (United States)
In the United States military, the rank of warrant officer is rated as an officer above the senior-most enlisted ranks, as well as officer cadets and candidates, but below the officer grade of O-1...

 Hugh Thompson, Jr.
Hugh Thompson, Jr.
Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr., DFC, BSM, PH, AM was a United States Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. He is most well known for his role in stopping the My Lai Massacre, in which a group of US Army soldiers tortured and killed several hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians, mutilating their...

, a helicopter pilot from an aero-scout team, saw a large number of dead and dying civilians as he began flying over the village—all of them infants, children, women and old men, with no signs of draft-age men or weapons anywhere. Thompson and his crew witnessed an unarmed passive woman being kicked and shot at point-blank range
Point-blank range
In external ballistics, point-blank range is the distance between a firearm and a target of a given size such that the bullet in flight is expected to strike the target without adjusting the elevation of the firearm. The point-blank range will vary with the firearm and its particular ballistic...

 by Captain Medina (Medina later claimed that he thought she had a grenade). The crew made several attempts to radio for help for the wounded. They landed their helicopter by a ditch, which they noted was full of bodies and in which there was movement. Thompson asked a sergeant he encountered there (David Mitchell of the 1st Platoon) if he could help get the people out of the ditch, and the sergeant replied that he would "help them out of their misery". Thompson, shocked and confused, then spoke with Second Lieutenant Calley, who claimed to be "just following orders". As the helicopter took off, they saw Mitchell firing into the ditch.

Thompson then saw a group of civilians (again consisting of children, women and old men) at a bunker being approached by ground personnel. Thompson landed and told his crew that if the soldiers shot at the Vietnamese while he was trying to get them out of the bunker that they were to open fire at these soldiers. Thompson later testified that he spoke with a lieutenant (identified as Stephen Brooks of the 2nd Platoon) and told him there were women and children in the bunker, and asked if the lieutenant would help get them out. According to Thompson, "he [the lieutenant] said the only way to get them out was with a hand grenade". Thompson testified that he then told Brooks to "just hold your men right where they are, and I'll get the kids out". He found 12–16 people in the bunker, coaxed them out and led them to the helicopter, standing with them while they were flown out in two groups.

Returning to Mỹ Lai, Thompson and other air crew members noticed several large groups of bodies. Spotting some survivors in the ditch, Thompson landed again. A crew member entered the ditch and returned with a bloodied but apparently unharmed child who was flown to safety. The child was thought to be a girl, but later turned out to be a four-year-old boy. Thompson then reported what he had seen to his company commander, Major Frederic W. Watke, using terms such as "murder" and "needless and unnecessary killings". Thompson's reports were confirmed by other pilots and air crew.

For their actions, Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross (United States)
The Distinguished Flying Cross is a medal awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself or herself in support of operations by "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918." The...

 (DFC) and his crew were awarded Bronze Star medals. Andreotta received his medal posthumously, as he was killed in action on April 8, 1968. As the DFC citation included a fabricated account of rescuing a young girl from My Lai from "intense crossfire" Thompson threw his medal away. He later received a Purple Heart
Purple Heart
The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is located in New Windsor, New York...

 for other services in Vietnam. In 1998, the helicopter crew's medals were replaced by the Soldier's Medal
Soldier's Medal
The Soldier's Medal is a military award of the United States Army. It was introduced as Section 11 of the Air Corps Act, passed by the Congress of the United States on July 2, 1926...

, "the highest the US Army can award for bravery not involving direct conflict with the enemy." The medal citations state they were "for heroism above and beyond the call of duty while saving the lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of non-combatants by American forces at My Lai". Thompson initially refused the medal when the US Army wanted to award it quietly. He demanded it be done publicly and that his crew also be honored in the same way. The veterans also made contact with the survivors of Mỹ Lai.

Aftermath


Owing to the chaotic circumstances and the Army's decision not to undertake a definitive body count, the number of civilians killed at Mỹ Lai cannot be stated with certainty. Estimates vary from source to source, with 347 and 504 being the most commonly cited figures. The memorial at the site of the massacre lists 504 names, with ages ranging from one to 82. A later investigation by the US Army arrived at a lower figure of 347 deaths, the official US estimate.

Cover-up and investigations


The first reports claimed that "128 Viet Cong and 22 civilians" were killed in the village during a "fierce fire fight". General William C. Westmoreland, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
The U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, MACV, , was the United States' unified command structure for all of its military forces in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.-History:...

 commander, congratulated the unit on the "outstanding job". As related at the time by the Army's Stars and Stripes
Stars and Stripes (newspaper)
Stars and Stripes is a news source that operates from inside the United States Department of Defense but is editorially separate from it. The First Amendment protection which Stars and Stripes enjoys is safeguarded by Congress to whom an independent ombudsman, who serves the readers' interests,...

magazine, "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle."

Initial investigations of the Mỹ Lai operation were undertaken by the 11th Light Infantry Brigade's commanding officer, Colonel Henderson, under orders from the Americal Division's executive officer, Brigadier General George H. Young. Henderson interviewed several soldiers involved in the incident, then issued a written report in late April claiming that some 20 civilians were inadvertently killed during the operation. The Army at this time was still describing the event as a military victory that had resulted in the deaths of 128 enemy combatants.

Six months later, Tom Glen, a 21-year-old soldier of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, wrote a letter to General Creighton Abrams
Creighton Abrams
Creighton Williams Abrams Jr. was a general in the United States Army who commanded military operations in the Vietnam War from 1968–72 which saw U.S. troop strength in Vietnam fall from a peak of 543,000 to 49,000. He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1972 until shortly...

, the new overall commander of US forces in Vietnam, accusing the American Division (and other units of the US military) of routine and pervasive brutality against Vietnamese civilians. The letter was detailed and its contents echoed complaints received from other soldiers.

Colin Powell
Colin Powell
Colin Luther Powell is an American statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He was the first African American to serve in that position. During his military...

, then a 31-year-old Army major, was charged with investigating the letter, which did not specifically reference Mỹ Lai (Glen had limited knowledge of the events there). In his report, Powell wrote, "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between Americal Division soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." Powell's handling of the assignment was later characterized by some observers as "whitewashing" the atrocities of Mỹ Lai. In May 2004, Powell, then United States Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

, told CNN
CNN
Cable News Network is a U.S. cable news channel founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States...

's Larry King
Larry King
Lawrence Harvey "Larry" King is an American television and radio host whose work has been recognized with awards including two Peabodys and ten Cable ACE Awards....

, "I mean, I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened. So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored."

Independently of Glen, a former member of Charlie Company, Ronald Ridenhour
Ronald Ridenhour
Ronald Lee Ridenhour , a young GI who served in the 11th Infantry Brigade during the Vietnam War, played a central role in spurring the investigation of the My Lai Massacre. -Life:...

, sent a letter in March 1969 detailing the events at Mỹ Lai to President Richard M. Nixon, the Pentagon
The Pentagon
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself.Designed by the American architect...

, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the United States Department of Defense who advise the Secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council, the National Security Council and the President on military matters...

 and numerous members of Congress. Most recipients of Ridenhour's letter ignored it, with the exception of Congressman Morris Udall and Senators Barry Goldwater
Barry Goldwater
Barry Morris Goldwater was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona and the Republican Party's nominee for President in the 1964 election. An articulate and charismatic figure during the first half of the 1960s, he was known as "Mr...

 and Edward Brooke
Edward Brooke
Edward William Brooke, III is an American politician and was elected to the United States Senate as a Republican from Massachusetts in 1966, defeating his Democratic opponent, Endicott Peabody, 60.7%–38.7%...

. Ridenhour had learned about the events at Mỹ Lai secondhand, by talking to members of Charlie Company while he was still in the Army.

Eventually, Calley was charged with several counts of premeditated murder in September 1969, and 25 other officers and enlisted men were later charged with related crimes. It was another two months before the American public learned about the massacre and trials.

Independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh
Seymour Hersh
Seymour Myron Hersh is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and author based in Washington, D.C. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine on military and security matters...

, after extensive conversations with Calley, broke the Mỹ Lai story on November 12, 1969, on the Associated Press wire service; on November 20, Time, Life and Newsweek
Newsweek
Newsweek is an American weekly news magazine published in New York City. It is distributed throughout the United States and internationally. It is the second-largest news weekly magazine in the U.S., having trailed Time in circulation and advertising revenue for most of its existence...

magazines all covered the story, and CBS
CBS
CBS Broadcasting Inc. is a major US commercial broadcasting television network, which started as a radio network. The name is derived from the initials of the network's former name, Columbia Broadcasting System. The network is sometimes referred to as the "Eye Network" in reference to the shape of...

 televised an interview with Paul Meadlo, a soldier in Calley's unit during the massacre. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

) published explicit photographs of dead villagers killed at Mỹ Lai.

In November 1969, General William R. Peers
William R. Peers
William R. Peers was a United States Army General, who is most notable for presiding over the Peers Commission investigation into the My Lai massacre and other similar war crimes during the Vietnam War.-Biography:...

 was appointed to conduct a thorough investigation into the Mỹ Lai incident and its subsequent cover-up. Peers' final report, published in March 1970, was highly critical of top officers for participating in the cover-up and the Charlie Company officers for their actions at Mỹ Lai 4. According to Peers's findings:


[The 1st Battalion] members had killed at least 175–200 Vietnamese men, women, and children. The evidence indicates that only 3 or 4 were confirmed as Viet Cong although there were undoubtedly several unarmed VC (men, women, and children) among them and many more active supporters and sympathizers. One man from the company was reported as wounded from the accidental discharge of his weapon.

However, critics of the Peers Commission pointed out that it sought to place the
real blame on four officers who were already dead, foremost among them the commander of Task Force Barker, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Barker, who was killed in a mid-air collision on June 13, 1968.

Court martial


On November 17, 1970, the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 charged 14 officers, including Major General Samuel W. Koster
Samuel W. Koster
Samuel W. Koster was a United States Army officer accused of war crimes. The highest-ranking officer punished in connection with the My Lai Massacre, Koster was slated for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General at the time he was charged, but was demoted and ended his military career in mild...

, the Americal Division's commanding officer, with suppressing information related to the incident. Most of those charges were later dropped. Brigade commander Henderson was the only officer who stood trial on charges relating to the cover-up; he was acquitted on December 17, 1971.

In a four-month-long trial, despite claims that he was following orders from his commanding officer, Captain Medina, Calley was convicted on March 29, 1971, of premeditated murder for ordering the shootings. He was initially sentenced to life in prison. Two days later, however, President Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 made the controversial decision to have Calley released, pending appeal of his sentence. Calley's sentence was later adjusted, so that he would eventually serve three and one-half years under house arrest
House arrest
In justice and law, house arrest is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all...

 at Fort Benning
Fort Benning
Fort Benning is a United States Army post located southeast of the city of Columbus in Muscogee and Chattahoochee counties in Georgia and Russell County, Alabama...

.

In a separate trial, Captain Medina denied giving the orders that led to the massacre, and was acquitted of all charges, effectively negating the prosecution's theory of "command responsibility
Command responsibility
Command responsibility, sometimes referred to as the Yamashita standard or the Medina standard, and also known as superior responsibility, is the doctrine of hierarchical accountability in cases of war crimes....

", now referred to as the "Medina standard". Several months after his acquittal, however, Medina admitted that he had suppressed evidence and had lied to Colonel Henderson about the number of civilian deaths.

Most of the enlisted men who were involved in the events at Mỹ Lai had already left military service, and were thus legally exempt from prosecution. In the end, of the 26 men initially charged, Calley was the only one convicted.

Some have argued that the outcome of the Mỹ Lai courts-martial was a reversal of the laws of war that were set forth in the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals. Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway
Howard Callaway
Howard Hollis "Bo" Callaway is a businessman and former politician from the state of Georgia.-Early life and education:Callaway was born in LaGrange, Georgia, west of Atlanta. His grandfather was Fuller Earle Callaway. He attended Georgia Tech and graduated from the United States Military Academy...

 was quoted in the New York Times as stating that Calley's sentence was reduced because Calley honestly believed that what he did was a part of his orders—a rationale that stands in direct contradiction of the standards set at Nuremberg and Tokyo, where German and Japanese soldiers were executed for similar acts.

Survivors


In the spring of 1972, the camp (at Mỹ Lai 2) where the survivors of the Mỹ Lai Massacre had been relocated was largely destroyed by Army of the Republic of Vietnam
Army of the Republic of Vietnam
The Army of the Republic of Viet Nam , sometimes parsimoniously referred to as the South Vietnamese Army , was the land-based military forces of the Republic of Vietnam , which existed from October 26, 1955 until the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975...

 (South Vietnam) artillery and aerial bombardment. The destruction was officially attributed to "Viet Cong terrorists". However, the truth was revealed by Quaker
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

 service workers in the area through testimony (in May 1972) by Martin Teitel at hearings before the Congressional Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected with Refugees and Escapees. In June 1972, Teitel's account of the events was published in the New York Times.

More than a thousand people turned out March 16, 2008, forty years after the massacre, to remember the victims of one of the most notorious chapters of the Vietnam War. The memorial drew the families of the victims and returning US war veterans alike.

On August 19, 2009, Calley made his first public apology for the massacre in a speech to the Kiwanis club of Greater Columbus Georgia:
There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai", he told members of the Kiwanis club. "I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."

Effects and analysis


Some military observers concluded that Mỹ Lai showed the need for more and better volunteers to provide stronger leadership for the troops. As the Vietnam War dragged on, the number of well-trained and experienced career soldiers on the front lines dropped sharply as casualties and combat rotation took their toll. These observers claimed the absence of the many bright young men who avoided military service through college attendance or homeland service caused the talent pool for new officers to become very shallow. They pointed to Calley, a young, unemployed college dropout, as an example of the raw and inexperienced recruits being rushed through officer training. Others pointed out problems with the military's insistence on unconditional obedience to orders while at the same time limiting the doctrine of "command responsibility" to the lowest ranks. Others saw Mỹ Lai and related war crimes as a direct result of the military's attrition strategy
Attrition warfare
Attrition warfare is a military strategy in which a belligerent side attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and matériel....

, with its emphasis on "body counts" and "kill ratios". The fact that the massacre was successfully covered up for 18 months was seen as a prime example of the Pentagon's "Culture of Concealment" and of the lack of integrity that permeated the Defense establishment. South Korean Vietnam Expeditionary Forces Commanding Officer General Chae Myung Shin
Chae Myung Shin
Chae Myung Shin is a Republic of Korea Army general and South Korean Vietnam Expeditionary Forces Commanding Officer during the Vietnam War.-Korean War:...

 remarked, "Calley tried to get revenge for the deaths of his troops. In a war, this is natural."

Commanders

  • Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Barker – , commander of Task Force Barker who ordered the destruction of the village, controlled the artillery preparation and combat assault from his helicopter; he was killed in Vietnam on June 13, 1968, before the investigation had begun.
  • Lieutenant Stephen Brooks - platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company.
  • Second Lieutenant William L. Calley
    William Calley
    William Laws Calley is a convicted American war criminal and a former U.S. Army officer found guilty of murder for his role in the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War.-Early life:...

     – platoon leader of 1st Platoon, Charlie Company.
  • Colonel Oran K. Henderson – brigade commander who ordered the attack; he had been in a helicopter over Mỹ Lai.
  • Major General Samuel W. Koster
    Samuel W. Koster
    Samuel W. Koster was a United States Army officer accused of war crimes. The highest-ranking officer punished in connection with the My Lai Massacre, Koster was slated for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General at the time he was charged, but was demoted and ended his military career in mild...

     – commander of the Americal Division.
  • Captain Eugene Kotouc – military intelligence officer who provided some of the information on which the Mỹ Lai combat assault was based; together with Medina and a South Vietnamese police officer, he tortured and executed suspects later that day.
  • Captain Ernest Medina
    Ernest Medina
    Ernest Lou Medina is a former captain of infantry in the United States Army. He served during the Vietnam War and was acquitted in a court-martial of war crimes charges in 1971...

     – company commander of Charlie Company who planned, ordered, and supervised the execution of the operation in Sơn Mỹ village.

1st Platoon, Charlie Company

  • Sergeant Michael Bernhardt – refused to participate in the killing of civilians. He was threatened by Medina to not attempt to expose the massacre by writing to his congressman, and as a result, was allegedly given more dangerous duties such as point duty on patrol. Later he would help expose and detail the massacre in numerous interviews with the press, and also served as a prosecution witness in the trial of Medina, where he was subjected to intense cross examination by defense counsel F. Lee Bailey. Recipient of the New York Society for Ethical Culture's 1970 Ethical Humanist Award.
  • Herbert Carter – platoon "tunnel rat". He claimed he shot himself in the foot in order to be MEDEVACed out of the village.
  • Dennis Conti – testified he initially refused to shoot, but later fired some M79 grenade launcher
    M79 grenade launcher
    The M79 grenade launcher is a single-shot, shoulder-fired, break-action grenade launcher that fires a 40x46mm grenade which used what the US Army called the High-Low Propulsion System to keep recoil forces low, and first appeared during the Vietnam War...

     rounds at a group of fleeing people with unknown effect.
  • James Dursi – killed a mother and child, then refused to kill anyone else even when ordered.
  • Ronald Grzesik – a team leader. He claimed he followed orders to round up civilians but refused to kill them.
  • Robert Maples – stated to have refused to participate.
  • Paul Meadlo – said he was afraid of being shot if he did not participate. Lost his foot to a land mine the next day. Later, he publicly admitted his part in the massacre.
  • Sergeant David Mitchell – accused by witnesses of shooting people at the ditch site; pleaded not guilty. Mitchell was acquitted. His attorney was Ossie Brown
    Ossie Brown
    Ossie B. Brown was a Baton Rouge Democrat who served two six-year terms as district attorney of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, from 1972—1984. In 1970, he successfully defended United States Army Sergeant David Mitchell in the My Lai Massacre cases...

     of Baton Rouge, thereafter the district attorney
    District attorney
    In many jurisdictions in the United States, a District Attorney is an elected or appointed government official who represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. The district attorney is the highest officeholder in the jurisdiction's legal department and supervises a staff of...

     of East Baton Rouge Parish.
  • Varnado Simpson
    Varnado Simpson
    Private First Class Varnado Simpson was an American soldier of the US Army who participated in the My Lai Massacre, murdering, torturing and mutilating Vietnamese villagers. He claimed to be wracked with remorse after the killings, eventually committing suicide nearly 30 years later.Simpson...

     – committed suicide in 1997, citing guilt over several murders committed in Mỹ Lai.
  • Charles Sledge – radio operator, later prosecution witness.
  • Harry Stanley – claimed to have refused to participate.
  • Esequiel Torres – previously had tortured and hanged an old man because Torres found his bandaged leg suspicious. He and Roschevitz (described below) were involved in the shooting of a group of ten women and five children in a hut. Later he was ordered by Calley to shoot a number of people with a M60 machine gun
    M60 machine gun
    The M60 is a family of American general-purpose machine guns firing 7.62×51mm NATO cartridges from a disintegrating belt of M13 links...

    ; he fired a burst before refusing to fire again, after which Calley took his weapon and opened fire himself.
  • Frederick Widmer – Widmer, who has been the subject of pointed blame, is quoted as saying, "The most disturbing thing I saw was one boy—and this was something that, you know, this what haunts me from the whole, the whole ordeal down there. And there was a boy with his arm shot off, shot up half, half hanging on and he just had this bewildered look in his face and like, What did I do, what's wrong? He was just, you know, it's, it's hard to describe, couldn't comprehend. I, I shot the boy, killed him and it's—I'd like to think of it more or less as a mercy killing because somebody else would have killed him in the end, but it wasn't right."

Other soldiers

  • William Doherty and Michael Terry – soldiers in the 3rd Platoon who killed the wounded in the ditch.
  • Ronald L. Haeberle
    Ronald L. Haeberle
    Ronald L. Haeberle is a manufacturing supervisor and former United States Army photographer who is most widely known for the photographs he took of the aftermath following the My Lai Massacre in March 1968...

     – photographer attached to the 11th Brigade information office who accompanied C Company.
  • Nicholas Capezza – chief medic in Charlie Company. He insisted he saw nothing unusual.
  • Sergeant Minh – ARVN
    Army of the Republic of Vietnam
    The Army of the Republic of Viet Nam , sometimes parsimoniously referred to as the South Vietnamese Army , was the land-based military forces of the Republic of Vietnam , which existed from October 26, 1955 until the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975...

     interpreter who confronted Captain Medina when he entered the hamlet on why so many civilians had been killed. Medina replied, "Sergeant Minh, don't ask anything – those were the orders."
  • Gary Roschevitz – grabbed an M16 rifle
    M16 rifle
    The M16 is the United States military designation for the AR-15 rifle adapted for both semi-automatic and full-automatic fire. Colt purchased the rights to the AR-15 from ArmaLite, and currently uses that designation only for semi-automatic versions of the rifle. The M16 fires the 5.56×45mm NATO...

     from Varnado Simpson to kill five Vietnamese prisoners. According to various witnesses, he later forced seven women to undress with the intention of raping them. When the women refused, he reportedly shot them.

Rescue helicopter crew

  • Warrant Officer One Hugh Thompson, Jr.
    Hugh Thompson, Jr.
    Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr., DFC, BSM, PH, AM was a United States Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. He is most well known for his role in stopping the My Lai Massacre, in which a group of US Army soldiers tortured and killed several hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians, mutilating their...

     – helicopter pilot who confronted the ground forces personally.
  • Specialist Four Glenn Andreotta
    Glenn Andreotta
    Glenn Urban Andreotta was an American helicopter crew chief in the Vietnam War noted for being one of three who intervened in the My Lai Massacre, in which at least 300 unarmed children, women and men were murdered....

     – crew chief.
  • Specialist Four Lawrence Colburn
    Lawrence Colburn
    Lawrence Colburn is a United States Army veteran who, while serving as a helicopter gunner in the Vietnam War, intervened in the March 16, 1968 My Lai Massacre....

     – door gunner.

Photographs


The massacre, like many other operations in Vietnam, was captured in photographs by US Army personnel. The most published and graphic ones were taken by Ronald Haeberle
Ronald L. Haeberle
Ronald L. Haeberle is a manufacturing supervisor and former United States Army photographer who is most widely known for the photographs he took of the aftermath following the My Lai Massacre in March 1968...

, a U.S Army 'Public Information Detachment' photographer who accompanied the men of Charlie Company that day. Some of the black-and-white photographs he took were with an Army camera and were either subject to censorship or did not depict any Vietnamese casualties when published in an Army newspaper. Haeberle also took color photographs with his own camera while on duty the same day, which he kept and later sold to the media.

The derision "baby killers" was often used by anti-war activists against American soldiers, largely as a result of the Mỹ Lai Massacre. Although Vietnam soldiers had been so taunted since at least 1966, Mỹ Lai and the Haeberle photographs further solidified the stereotype of drug-addled soldiers who killed babies—according to M. Paul Holsinger, the And babies
And babies
And babies is an iconic anti-Vietnam War poster. It is a famous example of "propaganda art" from the Vietnam conflict that uses the now infamous color photograph of the My Lai Massacre taken by U.S. combat photographer Ronald L. Haeberle in March 1968...

poster, which used a Haeberle photo, was "easily the most successful poster to vent the outrage that so many felt about the conflict in Southeast Asia. Copies are still frequently seen in retrospectives dealing with the popular culture of the Vietnam War era or in collections of art from the period."

Another soldier, John Henry Smail of the 3rd Platoon, took at least 16 color photographs depicting US Army personnel, helicopters, and aerial views of Mỹ Lai. These, along with Haeberle's photographs, were included in the 'Report of the Department of the Army review of the Preliminary Investigations into the My Lai Incident'. Roger Louis Alaux, an artillery lieutenant who was with Captain Medina during the massacre, also took some photographs that day, including aerial views of Mỹ Lai from a helicopter and of the landing zone.

Media


In 1989, the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 television station
Television station
A television station is a business, organisation or other such as an amateur television operator that transmits content over terrestrial television. A television transmission can be by analog television signals or, more recently, by digital television. Broadcast television systems standards are...

 Yorkshire Television
Yorkshire Television
Yorkshire Television, now officially known as ITV Yorkshire and sometimes unofficially abbreviated to YTV, is a British television broadcaster and the contractor for the Yorkshire franchise area on the ITV network...

 broadcast the documentary Four Hours in My Lai as part of the ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 networked series First Tuesday
First Tuesday (documentary strand)
First Tuesday or This World was a monthly television documentary strand, shown in the United Kingdom on the ITV network. The subject matter was mainly social issues and current affairs stories from around the world. It ran from 5 April 1983 to 2 November 1993, with programme being shown on the...

. Using eyewitness statements from both Vietnamese and Americans, the programme revealed new evidence about the massacre.

On March 15, 2008, the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the documentary The My Lai Tapes on Radio 4, and subsequently on the BBC World Service
BBC World Service
The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays...

 in both English and Vietnamese that used never before heard audio recordings of testimony taken at The Pentagon
The Pentagon
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself.Designed by the American architect...

 during the 1969–1970 Peers Inquiry.

On April 26, 2010, the American Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

 (PBS) broadcasted a documentary as part of its The American Experience series entitled The American Experience: My Lai.

On December 10, 2010, Italian producer Gianni Paolucci released a movie entitled My Lay Four, directed by Paolo Bertola, starring American actor Beau Ballinger as Calley and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

-winning book by Seymour Hersh
Seymour Hersh
Seymour Myron Hersh is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and author based in Washington, D.C. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine on military and security matters...

.

See also


  • List of massacres in Vietnam
  • Russell Tribunal
    Russell Tribunal
    The Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal or Russell-Sartre Tribunal, was a public body organized by British philosopher Bertrand Russell and hosted by French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre...

  • Operation Wheeler/Wallowa
  • Human Rights Record of the United States
    Human Rights Record of the United States
    .The Human Rights Record of the United States is a publication on the annual human rights record in the United States of America, published by the Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China...

  • Massacre at Huế
  • Dak Son Massacre
    Dak Son Massacre
    The Đắk Sơn Massacre was a massacre committed by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. This VC massacre occurred in the village of Đắk Sơn, Dak Lak Province, South Vietnam....

  • Tay Vinh massacre
    Tay Vinh massacre
    The Tay Vinh massacre was a series of massacres conducted by the ROK Capital Division of the South Korean Army between February 12, 1966 and March 17, 1966 of 1,200 unarmed citizens in Tay Vinh village, Tay Son District of Binh Dinh Province in South Vietnam. During the operation, the Capital...

  • Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre
    Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre
    The Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre was a massacre conducted by the 2nd Marine Brigade of the South Korean Marines on 12 February 1968 of unarmed citizens in Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat village, Dien Ban District of Quang Nam Province in South Vietnam....

  • Binh Tai massacre
    Binh Tai massacre
    The Binh Tai massacre was a massacre conducted by the South Korean Forces on 9 October 1966 of 68 citizens in Binh Tai village, Phuoc Binh of Song Be Province in South Vietnam.-Investigation:...

  • Phoenix Program
    Phoenix Program
    The Phoenix Program |phoenix]]) was a controversial counterinsurgency program designed, coordinated, and executed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency , United States special operations forces, and the Republic of Vietnam's security apparatus during the Vietnam War that operated...

  • Operation Speedy Express
    Operation Speedy Express
    Operation Speedy Express was a controversial United States military operation of the Vietnam War conducted in the Mekong Delta provinces Kien Hoa and Vinh Binh...

  • Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Files
    Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Files
    The Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Files is a collection of documents compiled by Pentagon in the early 1970s during Army investigations into atrocities by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. They detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by United States Army investigators — not...

  • United States war crimes
  • Oradour-sur-Glane
    Oradour-sur-Glane
    Oradour-sur-Glane is a commune in the Haute-Vienne department in the Limousin region in west-central France.The original village was destroyed on 10 June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company...

  • Lidice
    Lidice
    Lidice is a village in the Czech Republic just northwest of Prague. It is built on the site of a previous village of the same name which, as part of the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, was on orders from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, completely destroyed by German forces in reprisal...


Further reading




External links


  • Hugh Thompson Foundation web site (501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Lawrence Colburn in honor of Hugh Thompson): http://www.hughthompson.org