“Some people think that the Japanese committed atrocities, that the Germans committed atrocities, that the Russians committed atrocities, but that the Americans don’t commit atrocities. Well, this just isn’t so. American troops are capable as any other of committing atrocities.” - Robert Rheault, 1970, former commander of U.S. special forces, Vietnam.
On the morning of March 16th, 1968 Charlie Company changed the way people looked at the Vietnam forever. After experiencing terrible attacks from Vietnamese guerrilla fighters Charlie Company were ordered to take on a search and destroy mission of My Lai, a small village in what was known as “Pinkville”. In the subsequent attack 347 were reported to have been killed in the search and destroy mission in My Lai. However, these weren’t communist fighters, which the army expected; they were innocent men, women old and young, children and babies. Not a single shot was fired at the soldiers of Charlie Company.
Historians have asked whether Nazis were evil or just acting under orders from their superiors. On a smaller scale, is the My Lai massacre any different to the atrocities committed by the Nazis in WW2? If Lt. Calley was only following orders does it make him evil for massacring so many innocent people? If it was true that Calley was just following orders did it ever come to his mind that it was illegal? When standing on trial Calley spoke of an “enemy I couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel and I couldn’t touch...... when it became between me and the enemy, I had to value the lives of my troops and I feel that is the only crime I have committed” this shows the paranoia and how mentally unprepared soldiers were when they entered the jungle war zone. It has been suggested that this may be due to soldiers taking hallucinogenic drugs to nullify the atrocities they were committing or how the American Government hadn’t trained them to expect the worse.
People have asked if any heroes came from the American war in Vietnam. Hugh Thompson is the only name which comes to mind with links to My Lai. Hugh Thompson was a pilot who helped drop of Charlie Company on their search and destroy mission in My Lai. When he was flying over head he kept on seeing piles of bodies appearing. This was unusual because they were all children and old men and women. He and the other pilots stopped and started to help injured and other helpless Vietnamese civilians court up in the massacre. This strikes me of an act of courage and heroics because Hugh even threatened to turn his guns on his own troops if it made them stop killing innocent men, women, boys and girls. This is significant because in all the midst of atrocities there is a glimpse of how real soldiers should act. This represents true emotion and courage which a soldier should carry. Hugh Thompson represents true significant within a massacre which could have been avoided. When Americans look back on this atrocity most would like to forget they can take some pride because one man chose to do the right thing and not tolerate such ambiguity and mass murder.
Ronald L. Haeberle a military photographer assigned to follow Charlie Company on the search and destroy mission in my lai played a significant role in the uncovering remembrance of the my lai massacre.
Historian Claude Cookman wrote in his journal of American History: the My Lai massacre concretized in a victim’s face. When American forces liberated the Nazi death camps in World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander, ordered ordinary Germans to walk through the concentration camps to see the bodies. He wanted them to witness what their government had done, and he wanted proof against denials the Holocaust had occurred. Germany lost the war and was forced by the Allied victors to apologize for its atrocities. America lost the Vietnam War but was not conquered. “Nobody will force us to apologize for My Lai. Nobody will force us to look…