In March of 1968 Lieutenant William Calley entered an area termed "Pinkville" by army officials because "it was particularly troublesome and seemed to be infested with booby traps and enemy soldiers ". After penetrating the area, Calley commenced to round up every person he could see, civilian or not, and unload his machine gun on them. Then Calley ordered his platoon to do the same, no one was spared, women were raped and children were shot. Some men followed Calley's orders, others stood back watched, and one man even shot himself in the foot so he would have to be medivaced out of the area to avoid the situation altogether. Once the incidence was brought to the attention of Army officials, they ordered a "life or death court-martial for 1st Lieutenant William L. Calley Jr. on charges of murdering 109 South Vietnamese civilians ".
It is a fact of war that people will be killed in the crossfire, especially uniformed enemies, but it is the custom of the United States to spare the lives of the innocent. Calley did not adhere to this custom by going on a wild killing spree. As everyone knows, Vietnam was the most controversial war the United States has ever entered and people at home did not support the decision or the soldiers at war. The soldiers in Vietnam knew that they were being protested against at home and were filled with contempt because they were fighting for the United States and putting their lives at risk for people who did not appreciate them. Between the feelings of contempt for the people at home, the soldiers were also seeking revenge on the enemies who had killed so many of their friends. The My Lai massacre and the feelings of contempt and rage that these soldiers had could be directly correlated, because none of these soldiers would have done something of this atrocity in their right mind.
Breaking the story to the public was Seymour Hersh, a former Pentagon reporter for the Associated Press, who then began work for the Dispatch News Service-a news agency no one had heard of before. On November 11, six months after government officials knew about it, Hersh was tipped off by a Pentagon source. Once he found out, he flew to Fort Benning, Georgia and began his search for Lieutenant William Calley. Hours later he managed to find Calley and they proceeded to talk for the next four hours. Although that article (if it was ever published) was not found, there is another article from a GI that was under Lieutenant Calley's command.
On Tuesday, November 25, 1969, Hersh's second article came out about the massacre, "Ex-GI: I Killed Dozens at Pinkville ". This GI's name was Paul Meadlo and he gave the first direct eyewitness account of what happened on the search-and-destroy mission. Meadlo followed Calley's orders while the others who had been assigned to watch the civilians wouldn't do it. Feelings of rage overcame him as he started to mutilate these civilians, "[the shooting] did take a load off my conscience for the buddies we had lost. It was just revenge, that's all ". By the time of the Pinkville incident, the platoon had been there a little over a month without relief and feelings of hostility were running high since many of Calley's men had been lost due to the land mines. Meadlo and Calley continued on their rampage killing over one hundred civilians. Afterwards, Meadlo started feeling regret and wondered if he should have defied Calley's orders, "The kids and the women--they didn't have any right to die ".
Meadlo was advised by an officer to keep all information linked with Pinkville under wraps. Obviously, that did not happen. The very day after Meadlo gave his testimony to Hersh, James McCartney, a member of the Associated Press, unleashed the letter that began the search for answers about the massacre. Rob Ridenhour, an Army veteran (although he was not in Lieutenant Calley's platoon), wrote a letter to several members in Congress, telling them about Pinkville. In his letter he reported testimonies he had received from three of the soldiers that were under Calley's command that day. All three concurred with their stories, which reinforced Ridenhour's allegations.
Butch Gruver, Michael Terry, and William Doherty gave Ridenhour their individual stories, which was that Calley seemed to go mad when he began shooting. An interesting twist is that the orders to slaughter the inhabitants of the village had come from a commanding officer higher in the chain of command than Calley, possibly even higher in the chain of command. Gruver, Terry, and Doherty were approached and ordered to keep quiet about the events of the day. When asked why he and fellow soldiers kept silent until now, Jay Roberts, an army combat reporter on the scene, said, "Mostly all they wanted to do was forget Vietnam and everything that happened there ".
On Wednesday, December 3, 1969, Washington could no longer hide the massacre, "The U.S. Court of Military Appeals in Washington unanimously refused Tuesday to ban further interviews with witnesses or the publication of photographs of events in the alleged massacre at My Lai ". One month later The Washington Post did a survey about how Americans felt about what had happened in Pinkville. Surprisingly, most Americans sympathized with the My Lai GI's and the majority also voted that the soldiers involved in the massacre should be let off a court-martial if they were just following orders. Although the public was skeptical to choose a side because the full story had not emerged yet and they believed that individual soldiers "should not be made scapegoats ".
Contrary to the answers given in the survey is an anonymous letter written to the editor of The Washington Post, "Demands in Congress for a full investigation of the alleged atrocity are proper. . .For the honor of the nation as well as the military service the Songmy story must come out. If it is true, as alleged, the guilty must be punished in the name of justice, a cause which this nation has always defended ". On December 13, 1969, the Secretary of Defense stated that any person involved with the My Lai killings will be prosecuted. Calley was convicted of murdering twenty-two Vietnamese civilians and sentenced to life in prison, which was then reduced to twenty years, then down to ten years, and finally reviewed by District Court, where he was released on bond after serving only three and a half years. The decisions made at these trials are proof of the various responses America had to the massacre. One judge sentenced Calley to life in prison, while the judge of the District Court released him on bond; these judges are the perfect example of the different sentiments people were having about these men who were caught between authority and their consciences.
With the survey, there is the feeling of sympathy for these soldiers who were torn between following orders or defying commands. The letter, on the other hand, does not seem to fully comprehend what these men were going through. Not only were the soldiers torn in two, it is obvious the country was also ambiguous in their thoughts of what happened that day in Pinkville.
The My Lai massacre provides a small-scale model of how Americans felt about the Vietnam War as a whole. No one could agree what punishment, if any, should be given to the men involved and no one could agree on the United State's stance with Vietnam. People at home were protesting and rioting against the war, and many soldiers in Vietnam were unsettled about their specific duties as a member of the United States Army because of the disputes over the war at home. It is reasonable to conclude that the severity of the massacre could have been lessened or possibly even avoided if these men had a strong, unified support group. The soldiers in Calley's platoon, through many testimonies, all had differing emotions about Pinkville and what happened there. There is one man who felt a sense of relief about maiming the civilians because it gave him a sense of power over the entire situation, whereas, some of the other soldiers could not force themselves to take part. These were the emotions of the country as a whole, many asked themselves the question, "What would I have done?" and what should have been asked was "How can I support the men in Vietnam fighting for democracy?". With support from home and appreciation for the troops in Vietnam, the soldiers involved in the My Lai massacre might not have felt so isolated. Officials in government during the time of the war made it seem that things were good in Vietnam, the soldiers were taken care of and only enemies were being killed in the name of democracy, but when the My Lai massacre was unveiled it shed a whole new light on Vietnam. Every American involved in the war or not was already unsettled about why the United States was at war, and the massacre only heightened the feelings of ambivalence among the people.
"Officer Is Held In Army Inquiry," The New York Times 13 November 1969 "For War Crimes, Punishment," Editorial. The Miami Herald 22 November 1969 Hersh, Seymour. "Ex-GI: I Killed Dozens at Pinkville," The Miami Herald 25 November 1969 "Army Orders Court-Martial in Massacre'," The Miami Herald 25 November 1969 McCartney, James. "Letter That Sparked Massacre' Probe," The Miami Herald 26 November 1969 Laine, Peter. "Massacre Story's Byline: DNS," The Miami Herald 27 November 1969 Ohnson, Stanley. "Military Appeals Court Okays My Lai Publicity," The Times-Picayune 3 December 1969 "2 More GI's Charged in My Lai Case," The Washington Post 9 January 1970 Harris, Louis. "Most Sympathize With My Lai GI's," The Washington Post 9 January 1970