Today marks the 48th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre.
From a 1971 Economist report:
The long full trial proceedings in the case of Lieutenant William Calley left no room for doubt that he did in fact kill many unresisting Vietnamese villagers at My Lai 4, or Son My, or whatever the place is rightly called, when he was an infantry platoon commander three years ago. The number of victims could be, and was, disputed. The charge sheet had at least 102 men, women and children; the jury amended the figure to not less than 22. Mr Calley's defence never denied the killing, but maintained that it had been done under orders and in the belief that it was what his military duty required of him....From Wikipedia:
One thing that is totally impossible is that Mr Calley alone is guilty. But, leaving aside the brigade commander who is charged with failing to tell what happened, only two men besides Mr Calley are at present faced with charges of having had a part in the massacre. Mr Calley's company commander, Captain Medina, who denied having given him orders to kill off the population, is charged with murder. Another officer of the task force, Captain Kotouc, is charged with maiming and assault. A warrant officer and a sergeant were accused of murder and acquitted. Charges against six other soldiers in Captain Medina's company have been dropped. Others had left the service by the time the fact of the massacre became public and the legal problem of bringing any of them to justice has not been solved...
In the words of an American Air Force major, “in the mountains, just about anything that moves is considered to be Vietcong.” Son My is not in the mountains but it is in an old communist area and Lieutenant Calley's platoon, men of limited intellectual equipment in a state of nervous tension, entered it believing that every living thing was hostile. This does not justify what they did. They were, however, familiar with the practice by which villages and hamlets are routinely threatened with destruction with bombs or gunfire, as a penalty for having harboured the Vietcong, and with the doctrine of free fire or free strike zones, which orders the removal of the rural population from an area so that any persons remaining in it may, if sighted, be killed. Success in operations of this kind tends to be measured by the “body count,” a standard of military effectiveness...\
The Mỹ Lai Massacre was the Vietnam War mass killing of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968. It was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from the Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal ) Infantry Division.
Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest....
The incident prompted global outrage when it became public knowledge in November 1969. The My Lai massacre increased to some extent[domestic opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War when the scope of killing and cover-up attempts were exposed. Initially, three U.S. servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned, and even denounced as traitors by several U.S. Congressmen, including Mendel Rivers, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
According to the operational plan, the 1st Platoon led by Second Lieutenant (2LT) William Calley and the 2nd Platoon led by 2LT Stephen Brooks entered the hamlet of Tu Cung in line formation at 08:00, while the 3rd Platoon commanded by 2LT Jeffrey U. Lacross and Captain Medina's command post remained outside. On approach, both platoons fired at people they saw in the rice fields and in the brush.
The villagers, who were getting ready for a market day, at first did not panic or run away, and they were herded into the hamlet's commons. Harry Stanley, a machine gunner from the Charlie Company, said during the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division's (CID) inquiry that the killings started without warning. He first observed a member of the 1st Platoon strike a Vietnamese man with a bayonet. Then, the same trooper pushed another villager into a well and threw a grenade in the well. Further, he saw fifteen or twenty people, mainly women and children, kneeling around a temple with burning incense. They were praying and crying. They were all killed by shots in the head.
Most of the killings occurred in the southern part of Tu Cung, a sub-hamlet of Xom Lang, which was a home to 700 residents. Xom Lang was erroneously marked on the U.S. military operational maps of Quảng Ngãi Province as My Lai.
A large group of approximately 70–80 villagers was rounded up by the 1st Platoon in Xom Lang, and then led to an irrigation ditch to the east of the settlement. All detainees were pushed into the ditch and then killed after repeated orders issued by Lieutenant Calley, who was also shooting. Paul Meadlo, a Private First Class (PFC), testified that he expended several M16 magazines. He recollected that women were allegedly saying "No VC" and were trying to shield their children He remembered that he was shooting into women with babies in their hands since he was convinced at that time that they were all booby-trapped with grenades and were poised to attack.On another occasion during the security sweep of My Lai, Meadlo again fired into civilians side-by-side with Lieutenant Calley.
PFC Dennis Konti, a witness for the prosecution, told about one especially gruesome episode during the shooting, "A lot of women had thrown themselves on top of the children to protect them, and the children were alive at first. Then, the children who were old enough to walk got up and Calley began to shoot the children". Other 1st Platoon members testified that many of the deaths of individual Vietnamese men, women and children occurred inside My Lai during the security sweep. Livestock was shot as well.More:
Six months later, Tom Glen, a 21-year-old soldier of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, wrote a letter to General Creighton Abrams, the new overall commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. He described an ongoing and routine brutality against Vietnamese civilians on the part of American forces in Vietnam that he personally witnessed and then concluded,
It would indeed be terrible to find it necessary to believe that an American soldier that harbors such racial intolerance and disregard for justice and human feeling is a prototype of all American national character; yet the frequency of such soldiers lends credulity to such beliefs. ... What has been outlined here I have seen not only in my own unit, but also in others we have worked with, and I fear it is universal. If this is indeed the case, it is a problem which cannot be overlooked, but can through a more firm implementation of the codes of MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) and the Geneva Conventions, perhaps be eradicated.
The Colin Powell cover-up:
Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Army major, was charged with investigating the letter, which did not specifically refer to Mỹ Lai, as 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."