The Vietnam War was not short of its share of controversies and opposition; However, March 16, 1968 marked a particularly dark moment for both Vietnam and the U.S. military. The barbaric torture, rape, and murder of around 400 unarmed civilians by Charlie Company in ‘Pinkville’, though initially covered up, left an extensive paper trail gathered at length and compiled by James S. Olson and Randy Roberts in My Lai: A Brief History with Documents. Olson and Roberts include testimonies from the tardy investigation of key participants as well as survivors to paint an accurate image of the events leading up to, during, and after the massacre, and attempts to objectively examine the question of culpability. Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim do not veil their contempt for the atrocities committed at My Lai in their book Four Hours in My Lai. Drawing from interviews held with both American and Vietnamese survivors, they delve deeper into the psychology and reasoning behind the soldiers’ actions and how their actions have affected them so many years later. Similarly, in a two-part special radio series for BBC titled “The My Lai Tapes”, journalist Robert Hodierne reconstructs the unfortunate events of that day. The voices of those interviewed effectively bring a somber realism to it that evokes more emotion and empathy than pure text. Claude Cookman, a professor of the history of photography, centralizes on the vital nature of the few journalistic photographs taken at My Lai by Ron Haeberle. In his article published in The Journal of American History titled “The My Lai Massacre Concretized in a Victim’s Face”, Cookman examines how these vivid visual accounts brought necessary attention to the massacre and also to the myth of American innocence.
To summarize the events that transpired, Charlie Company, on March 16, 1968 in the village of Son My, utterly destroyed all livestock, residences, massacred and tortured its citizens – from children to old men and pregnant women. After four hours, the village of Son My was burning and everyone and thing was dead. The merciless and senseless massacre was subsequently covered up, despite initial efforts to lodge formal complaints. Nearly two years later after hearing from multiple primary sources about the incident, Ronald Ridenhour, a veteran of aviation during the war, wrote his local democratic congressman a letter detailing the events of that day. His letter spurred a long-awaited investigation headed by Lieutenant General William Peers and eventually identified 224 serious violations of the military code. The investigation and its findings triggered national controversy throughout the United States, and the results of the trials were equally, if not more, controversial. Of all those involved, only William Calley was found guilty, convicted of the premeditated murder of 22 civilians and sentenced to life in prison in 1971. Ultimately, however, Calley was released on parole in 1974 having served only three and a half years. All other officers either merely had their rank in the army reduced, were acquitted or had all charges dropped. If there were a legitimate hero that day, the authors concede, Hugh Thompson Jr., the helicopter pilot that landed his chopper between Lieutenant Calley and a group of Vietnamese civilians to prevent more slaughter, was the one.
James S. Olson and Randy Roberts confront the difficult question of who was ultimately to blame for the complete destruction of the villages of Son My. The military named the village of Son My containing My Lai, My Khe, and Co Luy ‘Pinkville’ in reference to the color designated to the region by combat maps. Pinkville resided in the Quang Ngai province; an area known to the military to be largely occupied with Viet Cong and Viet Cong sympathizers. U.S. military and civilian leaders were beginning “to view the war in terms of territorial conquests, not the attainment of the villagers’ support”. Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 20th...
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