Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lest We Forget - 16 March 1968 - My Lai

I have just been listening to The Archive Hour - The My Lai Tapes on BBC Radio 4. It tells the story of the infamous My Lai massacre in Vietnam, the ensuing cover-up and the eventual Pentagon enquiry. This last enquiry (under General Peers) was subsequently suppressed, but the tapes of its deliberations have now been made available. They make grim listening. The total destruction of two villages, the murder of between 300 and 500 unarmed civilians, the rape and gang-rape of women as young as twelve years old. Many of the My Lai vilagers were herded into a ditch and machine-gunned in a heap.

Q: What were the children in the ditch doing?
A: I don't know.
Q: Were the babies in their mother's arms?
A: I guess so.
Q: And the babies moved to attack?
A: I expected at any moment they were about to make a counterbalance.
Q: Had they made any move to attack?
A: No.

To try to adduce a moral from this episode would be glib. It would be too easy to assume that the My Lai massacre was typical of the US Army, or that the army in Iraq continues to behave in general in that way. Neither would be true. No massacres on such a scale have been uncovered since, and one of those interviewed in the BBC's program points out that the US Army's lawyers have become sensitised by My Lai and its aftermath to issue of what is and is not permissible, which is why in many cases they are at the forefront of opposition to the White House over such matters as the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Mad magazine at the time (like many of my schoolmates I was a big fan) ran a cover based on Lt Calley, the only soldier ever convicted in connection with the massacre. I found my sympathy for him as a scapegoat evaporating, however, as I listened to his tearful description of having his men killed by an enemy he couldn't see. Evidence from other participants in the events makes it very clear that there was no incoming fire whatsoever, and Calley was simply lying through his teeth to garner sympathy. The commanding officer who ordered the massacre and orchestrated its cover-up was court-martialled for obstruction of investigations - and acquitted.

The best thing we can do is to remember those who died at My Lai, as well as those who were brave enough to testify about what happened there.

Now go and listen to the radio programme, which will be available until next Saturday.


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