March 23, 2016

My Lai

My Lai. The most painful chapter in the book of sorrows that was Vietnam. Five hundred men, women, and children killed by American soldiers. The allied bombing raid on Dresden killed many more, but that was death from on high with the push of a button. My Lai was more the hands-on brutality of Katyn Forest: men shooting into ditches, killing without mercy.

After seeing a post on Facebook about My Lai, I realized I had never looked it in the eye, so I read several articles and watched interviews of GI’s who were there. (I met one stateside after I got back from Vietnam. A young black kid, he smoked a lot of dope and kept his mouth shut.) From what I can tell, most aimed high or looked the other way. About thirteen to twenty were active shooters, this by Hugh Thompson’s reckoning. He was the helicopter pilot who intervened to put a stop to the killing, the one person that day to take and hold the moral high ground.

Lieutenant Calley took the fall, but other officers were clearly involved. Some threatened to shoot reluctant soldiers if they didn’t get with the program. I ask myself what would I have done? I’d like to think I wouldn’t have killed women and children. I’m pretty solid on that. I for sure would have had no problem telling an officer to go to hell if I decided to exercise my right and my duty as an American soldier to refuse an unlawful order. But would I have stood up or would I have stood by and looked the other way? At My Lai, there is a circle of hell for everyone, even if you weren’t there.

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