Forty-nine years ago today, in one of the most heinous and grisly acts against civilians during wartime, as many as 500 unarmed men, women, children, and the elderly — nearly the entire population of the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai — were slaughtered, raped, and brutally tortured by United States troops.
As the U.S. military continues to deploy boots on the ground in additional nations — and as specters of totalitarianism and even greater militarism materialize as if pulled from a century ago — the lessons of My Lai should not be relegated to history’s ignominious dust bin.
History, after all, doesn’t repeat itself — ill-fated actions are carried out like déjà vu, by those who refuse to examine past mistakes as if they are sleepwalking through life.
“The My Lai hamlet, part of the village of Son My, was located in Quang Ngai province, which was believed to be a stronghold of the National Liberation Front (NLF) or Viet Cong (VC) and was a frequent target of U.S. and South Vietnamese bombing attacks,” History.com explains. “In March 1968, Charlie Company [or, C Company] of the Americal Division’s 11th Infantry Brigade received word that VC guerrillas had taken control of Son My. Led by Lieutenant William L. Calley, the unit was sent to the village on a search-and-destroy mission on March 16.”
Officials told C Company villagers had been informed they must evacuate by 7:00 a.m. on March 16, meaning soldiers would assume anyone they encountered should be considered enemy Viet Cong or sympathizers.
After an air assault was completed, Charlie Company — fully expecting to clash with VC fighters — burst into the village, spraying gunfire indiscriminately. But it quickly became apparent no militants were present, and women and children the soldiers found insisted no enemy forces remained in My Lai.
But that didn’t stop the dejected troops of C Company — who had only recently been reduced in number to around 100 men — from carrying out one of the most abominable wartime massacres of civilians in modern times.
At Calley’s command, the troops rounded up the unarmed residents and proceeded to burn the village. Soldiers dragged the innocent into ditches and shot whole groups with machine guns, while others raped, pillaged, and brutalized the community.
“The three death sites were about 200 yards apart,” one survivor of the massacre said of the scene that day for a November 17, 1969, New York Times report. “When the houses had been cleared, the troops dynamited those made of brick and set fire to the wooden structures. They did not speak to the villagers and were not accompanied by an interpreter who could have explained their actions. Then the Vietnamese were gunned down where they stood. About 20 soldiers performed the executions at each of the three places, using their individual weapons, presumably M-16 rifles.”
According to Ameriforce Media, “Lieutenant Calley gave explicit orders to kill and participated in the execution of unarmed villagers standing in groups and lying in ditches. There were also accounts of soldiers mutilating bodies and raping young women. Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson watched the massacre from his helicopter. Realizing that civilians were being killed, he landed his helicopter near one of the ditches and rescued some survivors.”
Thompson later told a congressional panel he had only witnessed a single, armed, draft-age male — seen fleeing the village shortly after troops arrived — throughout the entire day, even though he flew repeated passes over the area once shooting began.
From his bird’s eye view, Thompson and his men began to realize the only bodies on the ground — and there were bodies everywhere — were infants, children, women, elderly villagers, and some men. But none of those men who had been slaughtered were of fighting age.
Hawaii Reporter recounted, “Around mid-morning Thompson and his crew watched in horror as an American Army officer walked up to an injured Vietnamese girl, flipped her over with his foot — and shot her dead.”
In a 1998 Associated Press interview, the pilot recalled seeing dead bodies piled in ditches, with soldiers approaching everywhere, and felt he could not sit idly by.
Read more at http://thefreethoughtproject.com/us-slaughtered-500-my-lai/#3LM5zzO3mKeijHuR.99