The Massacre At My Lai
Starting in 1964, the war at Vietnam seemed necessary and useful, in the minds of the public. After years of combat, the American opinion slowly worsened, and by 1967, the war was highly questionable. The public support was completely lost after the information of the gruesome massacre at My Lai was leaked. During all of this, the American public was trying to figure out how the Americans who partook in this event became so evil. While secondary sources provide information about the United States soldiers, the details of the My Lai Massacre, and the trial of Lieutenant Calley, oral history grants the historian a wider perspective by showing the soldiers’ motives for revenge and the emotions of those involved.
The United States soldiers in Vietnam experienced a war unlike any other in America’s history. One of the main reasons that this war was so different was that the conditions of the soldiers were so terrible. One soldier described what it was actually like living in Vietnam. “We lived out in the jungle and patrolled three villages. We moved from one village to another all the time. You didn't want to stay in one spot for too long. The enemy would try to find out where we were and try to ambush us. So, usually at about 2 a.m. we started to move around from one village to another” (Alex Ditinno). This man shows how terrible their living conditions are. After having a constant fear of being ambushed, having to sleep in dirty and uncomfortable environments for days, and having to wake up in the middle of the night to leave villages, the soldier’s minds are going to be effected. The average age of a soldier in the war was nineteen years old. Before their brains are even fully developed they experience such atrocities that they grow an enormous hatred inside. The only people that they can bring out that hatred on were the Vietnamese. The enemies were known to the Americans as the Viet Cong. They were different than in previous enemies in that an American soldier could never tell if they were the enemy, or not. They would blend into society so well that everybody would just see them as civilians, until or course, when they came out at night as Viet Cong ready to kill any American in sight. They were known as “Rice farmers by day, guerillas by night” (Al Doyle). In not knowing who the enemy was, there were often misunderstandings, leading to mass murder of civilians. In an attempt the not kill civilians, many soldiers tried to be lenient in their killing, and only kill when absolutely sure it was the enemy, which didn’t happen too often (Vietnam War: Oral Histories). One soldier had an unbelievably remarkable experience with this. “We found this young woman--in her early 20s at most-- lying on the road as we swept it for mines… She had been shot at point blank range sometime during the night. It was alleged that she was a Viet Cong sympathizer… It was hard to believe someone as young and innocent looking as she could be the enemy but we soon learned that we could never be sure who to trust. She was the first dead person I ever saw in my life, but there would be many more” (Steven Curtis).
This man had just entered war and the effects of it had just started. Supposedly this woman was an enemy, but he never could have known that. Of all of the people in his village, she was one of the least suspicious, though one could never tell with the Viet Cong (The Enemy). The Viet Cong, although only at night, were fierce, and sneaky fighters. The Viet Cong mainly used methods of booby traps and rocket firing. Since they were so sneaky, they would rarely go up and shoot somebody with a gun, and risk the loss of their own death. One man experienced a terrible form of this. “We received shelling (rocket fire) constantly every day. We had to live underground in trenches. We had to live with the rats” (Tom Hall). This man withstood...