MY LAI MASSACRE AS A RESULT OF OBEDIENCE TO AUTHORITY
The Vietnam controversy made many people feel at distress. It was never considered a "war," although that is exactly what it was. The My Lai Massacre in Vietnam was one of the many atrocities of that war. There is an unquestionable connection between Milgram's "Obedience to Authority" and the My Lai Massacre.
According to Kelman & Hamilton, "Unquestioning obedience has been the cause of such disasters as the My Lai massacre and the Holocaust. People need to resist the dangerous web of influence from strong personalities in fields such as politics, religion and the mass media who become the objects of their idolatry. To become less susceptible to the irrational persuasive power of such personalities, individuals should develop a sense of self-respect and practice critical thinking" (Kelman & Hamilton). In cases such as the My Lai Massacre, the soldiers were not just following the thoughts of a politician or religious figure. They followed their military leader, the same person they counted on for leadership and survival.
"Soldiers are trained to always follow orders, never question orders (When I say jump, u you say how high). But that belief is somewhat erroneous, the charge to the soldier is to obey any lawful order given (Schwalbe). "Absolute obedience, although not wholeheartedly embraced in official military pronouncements, is nevertheless unanimously praised in combat context (Peppers). Some military scholars call the modern version of military discipline "enlightened obedience." Enlightened obedience
springs from a belief on the part of the subordinate that his superior's orders are authoritative and valid (Peppers)."
A classic example of the power of authoritative factors is provided by Stanley Milgram's study on obedience to authority. College students from Yale University were asked to participate in an experiment to test the effects of punishment on learning. They were willing to continue administering what they thought were increasingly higher levels of shocks to another subject (actually an actor) simply because the experimenter (Milgram) said to do so. The results, in fact, were so unbelieveable that they made Milgram one of the most famous social psychologist. About 65 percent of the subjects continued to obey the experimenter to the end of the experiment even when they thought the victim was getting dangerous levels of electric shock, and even when he asked them to stop
So what exactly does the My Lai Massacre have to do with Milgram's experiment? The My Lai Massacre of 1968, in which a company of American soldiers poured automatic rifle fire into groups of unarmed villagers, killing perhaps 500 people, many of them women and children" (Hammer). Those soldiers were obeying orders from a superior officer.
"It passed without notice when it occurred in mid-March 1968. Yet the brief blood bath at My Lai, a hamlet in Viet Cong-infested territory 335 miles northeast of Saigon, may yet have an impact on the war. According to accounts that suddenly appeared on TV and in the world press last week, a company of 60 or 70 U.S. infantrymen had
entered My Lai early one morning and destroyed houses, livestock and all the inhabitants that they could find in a brutal operation that took less than 20 minutes. When it was over, the Vietnamese dead totaled at least 100 men, women and children, and perhaps many more, only 25 or so escaped, because they lay hidden under the fallen bodies of others. (Schawlbe) Military men said that stories of what happened at My Lai are correct. If so, the incident ranks as the most serious atrocity yet attributed to American troops" (Hammer).
Isard said, "I see men who obeyed the leaders of their country, then lost themselves". The My Lai Massacre was planned. "Planned, how could it have been planned? A recon patrol, perhaps, was planned, maybe even a search and destroy mission: Burn the villages;...
Cited: Kelman, Herbert C.; Hamilton, Lee V. Crimes of Obedience. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1989
Curriculum. 7th ed. By Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2000. 343-355
Objection." Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 2. (Winter, 1974),
Schwalbe, David. "The My Lai Massacre." American History. 1998 http://americanhistory.about.com/homework/americanhistory/library/weekly/aa031798.htm
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