The My Lai Massacre:
And It's Psychological Effects
The objective of the American military mission in March of 1968 was clear, search and destroy My Lai. Throughout human history, millions of people have been exterminated at the hands of their fellow man. It would be great to imagine that the perpetrators behind these crimes are crazy, sadistic, and terrible people, but to the contrary these people are usually normal men and women. The question we must then ask ourselves is, how can we, as a race, commit such vulgar crimes against our own kind? The story of the My Lai incident portrays the insanity and the psychological effects that a given situation had on once normal men.
It wasn't clear what to do with any civilians who might be encountered at My Lai, on March 16, 1968. On this day Captain Ernest Medina ordered Charlie Company, a unit of the US Eleventh Light Infantry Brigade, into combat. After Medina's orders 150 men led by Lt. William Calley raided the village and four hours later over 500 civilians were dead. These civilians consisted of elderly people, children, and women. Almost all of these people were unarmed, three weapons were confiscated in all. In addition, no enemy soldiers were found in the village. Only one U.S. soldier was a casualty in the incident, as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the foot. The scenes from this tragic event were unimaginable. Limbs were amputated, men were crying, people not fully dead were scattered all over, two little girls were shot in the face and Calley was screaming "kill nam, kill nam...".
What could actually make men behave this way? What kind of mentality were these men in? Not only did these men murder women and children and babies, but it was also thought that some were looking for women to rape. We can first look at the interesting and sometimes appalling consequences of obedience. The men making up Charlie Company performed the vile acts they did as a result of their duties and obligations to the military. There are several identifiable explanations as to why individuals are more often than not inclined to obey authority. First, when acts are authorized it normally relieves the perpetrator from feeling guilty for his offensive actions. By shoving the responsibility away and placing it on the authorizer of the command, a person does not feel as compelled to reject the command, and can therefor fulfill his or her orders. Second, the voice of command actually lessens and usually negates the need for individuals to make choices being told what to do takes much less effort than thinking of a plan independently. The men in My Lai were given orders and they obviously carried them out even to the point where they lost control of themselves.
Cases in which individuals refuse to obey a command are very few and far between, but they certainly occur on occasions. In such instances, individuals are able to differentiate between right and wrong and understand what they should and shouldn't do. The individual either steps down from his duties or acts against a superior commander, using his conscience and morals as a guide. In the case in My Lai this was no exception. People refused to fulfill the orders of their command because what they were being asked to do was, in their opinion, unreasonable. One extreme example of an audacious person is CWO Hugh Thompson. Up in the skies, flying a helicopter Thompson was aware of the unnecessary carnage taking place down below. In a ditch, many individuals lay dead, though some were still moving in the pile of corpses. Thompson took initiative and landed his helicopter on the ground to save those Vietnamese that were still alive. He then commanded his soldiers to fire upon any Americans that were firing at the Vietnamese. For his courageous efforts to save innocent victims, Thompson was awarded "the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism at My Lai". So it is possible to stop oneself from producing the...
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