The Massacre at My Lai, South Vietnam

50 yearsMy-Lai-Massacre

Friday, March 16, was the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre. It was the worst atrocity committed by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam (there were others).

A total of 504 unarmed Vietnamese, including 173 children, 56 infants, 82 women (17 of them pregnant), and 60 elderly men were systematically murdered over a period of four hours. Many women and young girls were gang raped.  The soldiers took a lunch break after the killings.

Two villages were involved: My Lai and My Khe, located a mile away on the South China Sea.

This war crime was quickly covered up by U.S. military leadership (retired four-star general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell  denied allegations of similar Vietnam brutalities).

The massacre was only revealed to the public over a year later through the efforts of independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Only one soldier was ultimately convicted: Lieutenant William Calley. He was sentenced to prison at Fort Leavenworth, but a day later President Richard Nixon ordered him released and transferred to house arrest at Fort Benning, pending appeal. He served only three and a half years of house arrest, then was released.

The atrocities at My Lai and My Khe were one tragedy.  Here’s an article in The Atlantic about the behavior of many Americans afterwards, and the lesson the U.S. should have learned, but hasn’t:

(Header photo San Francisco Bay View)


9 thoughts on “The Massacre at My Lai, South Vietnam

  1. I read your article (and thank you, also, for posting). Yes, I knew about Thompson from a PBS documentary from a few years ago. My Lai was definitely not an aberration. The torching of huts in Cam Ne in ’65 was considered horrible at the time. Then 3 years later, My Lai, with smaller “Pinkvilles” all over, as the war progressed. Where I work, I’m surrounded by 20-something guys fresh out of the military, and who weren’t conscripted. They’re good fellows, and I’m not disparaging them, but I doubt they know what a sin the Vietnam War was, or how our military/government has since conducted business.

    • Thanks Tad. Yeah, I was 9 when it happened, then 11 when it went public. I didn’t know the details, just the controversial name “Calley” and some somber images of him in uniform.

  2. Sure, no problem. As I said to someone else, I’m glad I missed the draft by a few years. I know how I’d behave now, but back then I was a different person… a child.

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