The Vietnam My Lai Massacre and the American People’s Attitudes Towards their Government

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The Vietnam War (1954-75) occurred during the Cold War, a period of tense rivalry between the USA and the Soviet Union. As the war progressed, American involvement in Vietnam grew with the Communist forces. The American troops were seen as overly aggressive, with soldiers trained to only perceive the Vietcong as ‘the enemy’, and to employ “search and destroy” tactics (Sanders 5). This resulted in numerous deaths on both sides and many exhausted soldiers suffering from low morale both physically and emotionally, seen foremost in Americans (Sanders).
Although atrocities were committed by both sides, the My Lai Massacre was perhaps the most brutal. On March 16th, 1968, the US Army ‘Charlie Company’ division entered the Son My village led by Captain Medina and the 1st Platoon leader, Lieutenant Calley (Oliver). According to the soldiers, Medina ordered “the killing of every living thing in My Lai”. As a result, more than 300 unresisting and unarmed civilians were assembled and killed violently (Oliver 37). These civilians believed to be supporters of the Vietcong included men and women of all ages who were beaten, sexually assaulted, and shot, their bodies mutilated. Although a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson attempted to shield the civilians, the majority were killed mercilessly (Digital History).
The 11th Brigade covered up the massacre by reporting that 128 Vietcong were killed, seen as an impressive number exterminated in 24 hours (Digital History). When Thompson claimed that civilians were killed, Medina stated that 20-28 civilians died unintentionally in My Lai, which was confirmed by Colonel Henderson (Herring). This event was exposed a year later when a helicopter gunner wrote letters to the US Congress detailing the mas...

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Oliver, Kendrick. “Atrocity, Authenticity, and American Exceptionalism: (Ir)rationalizing the Massacre at My Lai.” Journal of American Studies. 37 (2003): 247-268. Print.
Oliver, Kendrick. “Coming to Terms with the Past: My Lai.” History Today 56.2 (2006): 37-39. Print.
Sanders, Vivienne. The USA and Vietnam 1945-75. London: Hodder Education, 2007. Print.
“My Lai photographer Ron Haeberle exposed a Vietnam massacre 40 years ago today in The Plain Dealer.” n.p. 20 Nov. 2009. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

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