The My Lai Massacre

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On March 16, 1968, over 300 unarmed civilians were killed in South Vietnam during an indiscriminate, mass murder event known as the My Lai Massacre. Conducted by a unit of the United States Army, the My Lai Massacre ranked one of most appalling atrocities carried out by US forces in an already savage and violent war. All victims involved were unarmed civilians, many of which were women, children, and the elderly. Victims were raped, tortured and beaten, even mutilated before being killed. The massacre was forever seared into the hearts and minds of the American people as the day “the American spirit died.”

Since the initiation of the Tet Offensive, the 48th Battalion of the National Front of the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF – Vietcong) carried out frequent attacks against US forces. According to intelligence reports, the 48th NLF Battalion was believed to be sheltered in the Son My village. The hamlets within Son My village were designated My Lai one through four. These hamlets were suspected of harboring Vietcong fighters. As such, US forces prepared for a major operation against Son My village. Colonel Oran K. Henderson of the US 20th Infantry Regiment ordered his subordinate offices to hit the village hard and wipe out the 48th Battalion. His second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Barker further ordered the men to burn down houses, destroy food stores and livestock.

Charlie Company of the US 1st Battalion, under the direct command of Captain Ernest Medina, landed after US artillery bombardment of the helicopter landing zone (LZ). Although no enemy contact was made, American forces suspected that Vietcong fighters were hiding underground in the My Lai hamlets. As the prior mission briefing given by C...

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...-control and morality, as “baby killers.” Making matters worse, these murders were carried out in indiscriminate fashion. Furthermore, the mutilation of bodies and inhumanity demonstrated during the My Lai Massacre rivals the atrocities conducted by the Nazis and Japanese during World War II. The main, and probably the most significant, distinction between the two was the fact that convicted, guilty Nazi and Japanese parties were either executed or severely punished (i.e. life imprisonment), whereas the worst punishment given to US personnel was four years of house arrest. The absence of morality in the guilty parties distorts the public perception of the military’s moral compass as a whole. As such, cover-ups that follow suit depict the lack of integrity the Department of Defense routinely displays when atrocities associated to US forces are brought to light.

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