This massacre was a big turning point in the American people's experience of the Vietnam War. In "My Lai marks 40th massacre anniversary". Ben Stocking of the AP tells us about it:
To the villagers who survived the My Lai massacre and many of the Americans who fought in the Vietnam War, all the anniversaries of the atrocity are important.
But Sunday's anniversary — the 40th — seems especially urgent to some of the Americans who have come to commemorate it.
In My Lai, members of the Charlie Company slaughtered as many as 504 villagers, including unarmed women, children and elderly.
Frustrated U.S. troops came to My Lai on a "search and destroy" mission, looking for elusive Vietcong guerrillas. Although there were no reports of enemy fire, the U.S. troops began mowing down villagers and setting fire to their homes.
The incident shocked Americans and undermined support for the war.
Those of us who lived during that sad time will never forget what we learned. Some choose to remember and repeat, but they will never forget. One who seems to fit that category is Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Army Major. Come look below the fold and learn more about his involvement.
This is Stocking's article:My Lai marks 40th massacre anniversary
The massacre reminds Lawrence Colburn and war veteran Mike Boehm of the 2005 images of torture that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"We're supposed to learn from the mistakes of history, but we keep making the same mistakes," said Colburn, whose helicopter landed in My Lai in the midst of the massacre. "That's what makes My Lai more important today then ever before
This is from the Wikipedia account of the massacre:
Cover-up and investigations
The first reports claimed that "128 Vietcong and 22 civilians" were killed in the village during a "fierce fire fight". General William C. Westmoreland, MACV commander, congratulated the unit on the "outstanding job". As related at the time by the Army's Stars and Stripes magazine, "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle."
Initial investigations of the My 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 22 civilians were inadvertently killed during the operation. The army at this time was still describing the events at My Lai 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, the new overall commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, accusing the Americal Division (and other entire units of the U.S. military) of routine and pervasive brutality against Vietnamese civilians. The letter was detailed and its contents echoed complaints received from other soldiers.
Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Army Major, was charged with investigating the letter, which did not specifically reference My 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 American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." Powell's handling of the assignment was later characterized by some observers as "whitewashing" the atrocities of My Lai. In May 2004, Powell, then United States Secretary of State, told CNN's Larry King, "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."
The carnage at My Lai might have gone unknown to history if not for another soldier, Ron Ridenhour, a former member of Charlie Company, who, independently of Glen, sent a letter detailing the events at My Lai to President Richard M. Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and numerous members of Congress. The copies of this letter were sent in March 1969, a full year after the event. Most recipients of Ridenhour's letter ignored it, with the notable exception of Congressman Morris Udall (D-Arizona). Ridenhour learned about the events at My Lai secondhand, by talking to members of Charlie Company while he was still enlisted.
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.
So the business of being an apologist for evil was not new to Powell when Iraq was the issue.
One should not try to understand Mai lai without reading Scott Peck's chapter on it in his book People of the Lie . The entire book is worth the read, but this chapter is especially meaningful. Peck relates the relationship of Mai Lai to a very large number of other events that went unreported until the investigations were pushed very hard. Peck's role in the investigations was that of a professional, since he was a psychiatrist. The book is devoted to an attempt to understand human evil and Peck got more than he bargained for with this investigation. Once the Mai Lai story was spilled, a cascade of related events were revealed. The extent of the cover up was overwhelming. It caused Peck to wonder about how so many Americans could collude in such a mess. His conclusion was devistating to me when I read it. The finger was pointed at all of us. He could not condemn the young Americans who participated in the attrocities and their subsequent cover up. He saw them as caught up in a situation they could not handle and understood their inability to behave honorably in it. Peck then fixed the responsibility on the American people for putting these young people in that impossible situation. Since then my anti-war fervor has been even higher than it was before. In spite of all we learned we are doing it again.
I'm going to end on a note that may anger some. If Barack Obama's pastor said some harsh words about this country, he is neither the first or the last to ask us to look at our sins. Among the worst of them were the original plunges into genocide about which I wrote here:
A sad day in American history: Wounded Knee Will it ever stop?
UPDATE: Last word on poll title is "war". Sorry!
UPDATE II: See Henry David's diary right after this one
My Lai March 16, 1968