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My Lai Massacre During Vietnam War Research Paper

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American soldiers of Company assaulted the hamlet of My Lai part of the village of Son My in Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam on 16 March 1968. The complete Son My area was a throttlehold of the Viet Cong and Americans taken recurring casualties with land mines, snipers, and booby traps, without any significant get in touch with the enemy. During a meeting prior to the assault, the US commander Capt. Ernest L. Medina had ordered his men to burn and tear down the hamlet of My Lai.

Contrary to prospect there was no enemy armed forces were encountered during the assault on My Lai. But Charlie Company sweeps throughout the hamlet and methodically killed all the inhabitants including women, children and old men. There were myriad rape killings and so many gang rapes. The number of Vietnamese civilians killed could not be determined over but assumed around 500.

The stories of a massacre brought the incident to the notice of the secretary of defense and other government officials. A commission of inquiry was appointed and suggested Criminal charges were preferred against sixteen of army officers. Court martial, but only one individual tried five, 1st Lt. William L. Calley was found guilty. In a court martial of over four months, Calley was convicted and was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor on 29, March 1971.

He was acquitted reasoning of the military judge’s defective orders on the issue of command responsibility. Altogether, the legal penalty of the My Lai incident left behind to desire. Some of the officials predicted it as a horrible thing, and find only one man finally convicted who set free after doing a relatively small part of his sentence.


It is not just troops who get killed. It is within that perception where the force of Bourke’s argument lies; one of the primary themes of her book is the My Lai Massacre. By passing the orientation and political ideology of the Vietnam War, Americans would like to show one of the most major violations of officer impunity in American military history. American Army unit, led by Lieutenant William Calley killed over 500 unarmed civilians on March, 1968.They were “old men, women, children, and babies” (160) and this macabre killing occurred in a village in northeast Vietnam.

For his involvement in gruesome massacre, Calley was convicted and suffered three and half years in imprisonment before being paroled in 1975 Richard Nixon awarded that. An outrageous perception of the My Lai scandal was the vast support for Calley on the American home front after his conviction: William Calley is now a notorious figure. He is not a household name (on a par with Custer or Sherman) speaks less about American culture’s ignorance of history and more about its resistance to certain historical strategies.1

Katherine Kinney’s Friendly Fire drew conclusion that the story of Vietnam War narrative is “friendly fire,” Americans killing Americans. Friendly fire, “the revealed secret at the heart of war” (112), it is both a literal and metaphoric icon of the Vietnam War. The friendly fire has a tragic side impact of combat and it represents the nation at war with itself. John Wayne’s biggest expression of that desire that, who was “the model by which young American men learn to accept duty and responsibility”


In South Vietnam on 16 March 1968, American soldiers of Company C of Task Force Barke assaulted the hamlet of My Lai (4), part of the village of Son My in Quang Ngai province. The whole Son My area was a fortress of the Viet Cong and American units there had taken repeated casualties from snipers, land mines, and booby traps, without making any significant contact with the enemy. Before the assault, the commander of Charlie Company, Capt. Ernest L. Medina, had ordered his men to burn and destroy the hamlet of My Lai.2

It was contradictory to expectations; no enemy forces were encountered during the assault on My Lai. The men of Charlie Company swept through the hamlet and systematically killed all the inhabitant especially old men, women, and children. There were several rape killings and at least one gang rape. The total number of Vietnamese civilians killed could not be determined: it was at least 175 and may have exceeded 400.

The crackdown at My Lai was successfully concealed within all command levels of the American Division for more than a year. A commission of inquiry, appointed by the secretary of the army and headed by Lt. Gen. W. R. Peers, eventually listed thirty individuals as implicated in various “commissions and omissions” related to the Son My operation.

The charges were formed against sixteen of these. Court but only one individual tried five, 1st Lt. William L. Calley, was found guilty. The young lieutenant and his men, it was argued, had acted out of frustration and hatred of the Vietnamese who had killed and wounded their comrades. Calley’s supporters on the right wing of the American political spectrum were sometimes joined by those in the Vietnam antiwar movement who regarded My Lai as merely a particularly horrible example of everyday American military tactics. 3

Research Methodology

Feminist analysis offers a crucial diagnosis of the patriarchal/misogynist projects present in so many military narratives. Especially helpful to students of literature are feminist examinations of military fictions. What is absent in their works, however, is an adequate critique of the strictly delineated class system in the military, a feature I see as key to the efficacy of military discourse. And this is where I wish to enter the debate: to show how strongly the two-fold rank system plays a role in the mystifying power of military fictions. Jeffords, for example, says that the Vietnam War dissolved class and race barriers amongst soldiers.

However true that may have been, it was only within an enlisted rank context. The officer/enlisted distinction persisted in the Vietnam War, and was perhaps even more balkanizing and dangerous than in previous wars because it was fueled by so much nostalgia. Such nostalgia can be easily gauged in the 1968 film The Green Berets, where John Wayne’s Colonel Mike Kirby is a reformulation and reassertion of the iconic World War II officer hero.

Perhaps the crucial work exposing the vanity and dysfunction of the officer rank is A History of Militarism by Alfred Vagts, published originally in 1937, and then updated after World War II (in 1959). Prefiguring Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, it exposes certain fictions that culture entertains that wind up creating and supporting a narcissistic, militaristic State. Vagts makes a distinction between “the military way,” that is “a primary concentration of men and materials in winning specific objectives of power with the utmost efficiency,” and “militarism”:4

How to show and how strongly the two-fold rank system plays a role in the mystifying power of military fictions. Jeffords says that the Vietnam War abolished class and race barriers amongst soldiers. It was only within an enlisted rank context. The enlisted distinction persisted in the Vietnam War, and was more balkanizing and dangerous than in previous wars because it was fueled by so much nostalgia. This nostalgia can be easily gauged in the 1968 film Anderson’s Imagined Communities exposes certain fictions that culture entertains that wind up creating and supporting a narcissistic, militaristic State.

Vagts differentiates between “the military way,” that is “a primary concentration of men and materials in winning specific objectives of power with the utmost efficiency,” and “militarism”.


The winter soldier is a documentary chronicle conducted by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) during the winter of 1971. The veterans from all strata of the US military hierarchy came from across the country to depict the atrocities they had committed and witnessed while stationed in Vietnam. Having realized the historical importance of the investigation, a leading group of filmmakers came together to document the veterans’ testimonies. Calling themselves who represented every major combat unit that saw action in Vietnam, gave eyewitness testimony to war crimes and atrocities they either participated in or witnessed. Having heard in Detroit after thirty-five years, the veterans’ bravery in testifying and their desire to thwart further atrocities and regain their own humanity. 5

The veterans were asking America to listen to its own morality, and to begin to practice what it had spent two centuries preaching. At the same time, the veterans were cautious to indicate that the war crimes the Unites States was committing in Vietnam did not stem from the misconduct of individual soldiers. The government had tried to establish by scapegoating Calley and a handful of his fellow officers [on trail for the My Lai massacre. It resulted rather ‘from conscious military policies and designed by the military brass.

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War appeals to all over the country in 1970 to participate in the Winter Soldier Investigation. They hoped that they draw attention of media and could speak directly to the American public. This could help bring about an end to the war. Few people in the documentary film community of New York City recognized the importance of what was about to happen. The search began for donations of equipment and film stock.

Winter Soldier is a documentary narrative of the extraordinary Winter Soldier exploration carried out by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in Detroit for the period of the winter of 1971. Veterans commencing all twigs of the US military came from transversely the country to speak out about the violence they had dedicated and observed while stationed in Vietnam.

Over the path of four days and nights by means of contribute equipment and film stock, the Winterfilm members shot footage of more than 125 veterans. These men, who stand for every major combat part that saw accomplishment in Vietnam has given eyewitness evidence to war crimes and carnage they either partake in or witnessed. Members of the combined next spent eight months expurgation the raw footage from the hearings jointly with film clips and snapshots from Vietnam into the 95-minute attribute documentary Winter Soldier. Because the measures went close to unreported by the media, Winter Soldier is the only audiovisual record of this historic turning point in American history.6

Atrocities And Artless Innocence

The winter soldier is a feature-length terrifying testimony given by more than 200 ex-GIs at the 1971 Detroit Winter Soldier study regarding American atrocities in Vietnam and raise any disputes to the relative effectiveness of word as against image. The immensity of genocidal passion is recounted here in factual, chilling detail, resembling a criminal, any tiny part of which simultaneously contains within itself the totality of the gruesome.. An American officer prohibited his men not to count prisoners at the beginning of their removal in American planes only upon arrival. A woman is slit open from vagina to neck.

A tiny child is stoned to death for rebuking the Americans. The impacts of the testimonials is enhanced by intercutting of color slides and live footage of tortures, killings, burnings, bombings. They show awful, frightened, totally disoriented human beings, humiliated, and murdered by massive. The crying mother displaying a maimed child, the aged grandparents herded off, the civilians crouching in unbelievable fear in brushes, ineffectively hiding from helicopters in which one of the monsters actually films their plight

On the morning of 16 March 1968, American Division, US Army, entered the village of Son My, on the coast of Central Vietnam. Captain Ernest Medina led the company. The company encountered no enemy forces, no opposing fire of any kind. Its only casualty was self-inflicted. There are over 400 villagers lay dead. Those who were killed almost exclusively women, old men or small children. Most of the women were raped.7

Other victims had been tortured and mutilated. Many of the killings had occurred in the collection of hamlets known by the Americans as My Lai and had been conducted by1st Platoon.

The 11th Brigade up to divisional headquarters, senior military officers were aware that a large number of civilians had been killed at My Lai. It is contradictory to the army norms, the divisional command allowed the 11th Brigade to investigate it. It was visualized in the subsequent report, to the extent that civilian casualties were acknowledged. They were asserted to have been small-scale and accidental, primarily the result of long-range artillery fire.

After the portray of comprehensive accounts of the massacre at My Lai: Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, Four Hours at My Lai (London: Penguin, 1992); Joseph Goldstein, Burke Marshall and Jack Schwartz, The My Lai Massacre and Its Cover-up: Beyond the Reach of Law? The Peers Commission Report with a Supplement and Introductory Essay on the Limits of Law (New York: The Free Press, 1976); Richard Hammer, One Morning in the War: The Tragedy at Son My (New York: Coward-McCann, Inc, 1970); Seymour Hersh, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath (New York: Random House, 1970).8

The official record remained silent on the subject of My Lai. In April 1969. Ronald Ridenhour, a young GI who had served in the 11th Brigade, wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the President and Senators describing what had happened at My Lai and requesting an investigation. Ridenhour himself had not been present at the massacre, but his account was compiled from detailed conversations with soldiers who had witnessed and participated in the killing.

William Calley was accused with six specifications of murder, including the deliberate shooting of 109 Vietnamese civilians in early September. The brief details of the accusation Against Calley were released to the press. It was only in November, following the appearance of a news story by Seymour Hersh, that the massacre at My Lai began to attract serious media and public attention. It was promulgated in the same month that Calley would be court-martialled. Therefore, four officers and nine enlisted men were accused with major crimes relating to the gruesome massacre.. Many of these accusations were subsequently dismissed.

The handful of cases that went to court-martial all but that of Calley was acquitted. The Conviction for killing twenty-two villagers at My Lai, Calley was sentenced in March 1971 to life long imprisonment with hard labor. That sentence was commuted swiftly after ten years. Calley became eligible for parole and left military custody in November 1974.

Platoon (1986) directed by Oliver Stone and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) directed by Oliver Stone to the immediate aftermath of Calley’s court- martial in the spring of 1971. The killings at My Lai were one of the most prominent items of American national discourse. The reporting of witness and participant descriptions resolved the doubts of most observers about whether the gruesome massacre had actually occurred. The questions raised by the awesome massacre were addressed in the pages of national papers of record and current affairs magazines in the filmic sub-genre of ‘‘Vietnam westerns, ’’ in poetry and even in popular song.9

Kendrick Oliver

The popular indignation greeted Caller’s conviction in March 1971. It was encouraging President Nixon to release the lieutenant from the stockade pending an appeal. However, the significance of the gruesome massacre seemed to decline to the point that a number of recent commentators have attested to its near-complete absence from contemporary public memories of the war. This type of pathologies, which characterized the awesome crackdown at My Lai, has never entirely disappeared from cultural representations of the Vietnam experience. The American soldiers brutalise Vietnamese civilians have been a feature of many of the most significant films about the conflict, including Apocalypse

Now (1979), Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Casualties of War (1989). In Platoon, the gruesome crackdown on the scale of My Lai is averted only at the final moment to depict the published oral history testimonies and reminiscent of American veterans. It is to engage with a world in which civilians were routinely killed, tortured and mutilated for no reason of military logic; the rape of women and everyday occurrences; atrocity was a banal and unremarkable fact of life in the field. In the last decade, the massacre at My Lai has been a central drama in novels by Tim O’Brien and Norris Church Mailer.

The atrocities at My Lai once again indicated a referent in public discourse after the Associated Press revealed that when former US Senator Bob Kerrey admitted involvement in the killing of at least thirteen unarmed women and children during a raid on Thang Phong, a Vietnamese hamlet, in February 1969.8 These are incidental instances of remembrance. It hardly suggests that the crimes committed at My Lai have a secure and permanent place in the nation’s historical consciousness.

The stories of which they form a part are almost exclusively stories about America rarely dwelling for very long upon the toll of lives, limbs, health, families, communities, resources and history experienced by the massacre’s actual victims. Its hold on national memory may be fragile, intermittent and partial; the massacre at My Lai has not been entirely forgotten.10

The military law experts indicate that the death toll would make No. Gun Ri one of two known cases of large-scale killings of noncombatants by U.S. ground troops in this century’s major wars. The other was Vietnam’s My Lai massacre, in 1968, in which more than 500 Vietnamese may have died. ’’ See also Charles J. Hanley, Sang-Hue Choe and Martha Mendoza, The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War (New York: Henry Holt, 2001), 224–26. Robert J. McMahon has recently confuted that the rhetoric of American political leaders in the post-Vietnam era has evaded questions of US accountability for the sufferings of the Vietnamese people.

Effects and analysis

The objective of this article is to unearth one of the principal ways in which the occurrences in My Lai came to be accommodated within the American national awareness. In the perception of many observers at the time, the macabre crackdown had caused a serious breakdown in the narratives that Americans liked to tell about themselves. As testimony amasses in November 1969, a New York Times editorial highlighted that the atrocities ‘‘may turn out to have been one of this nation’s most ignoble hours.’’11

The crackdown indicated ‘‘the most compelling argument yet advanced for America to end its involvement in Vietnam, not alone because of what the war is doing to the Vietnamese or to our reputation abroad, but because of what it is doing to us. ‘‘ The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr asserted after Calley had convicted that objective of this article is to discover one of the principal mechanism in which incidence in My Lai came to be amasses within the American national consciousness.

In the perception of many observers at the time, the gruesome crackdown had caused a serious breach in the narratives that Americans liked to tell about themselves. As testify amassed in November 1969, a New York Times editorial indicated that the atrocities ‘‘may turn out to have been one of this nation’s most ignoble hours.’’

The participants in the debate by the onslaught massacre revelations agreed that My Lai raised awkward questions about American national identity. : ‘‘ Calley is not a scapegoat, nor a poor lieutenant singled out to bear the entire burden of a difficult war. His act stands alone in infamy among known atrocities by U.S. Forces in the war.’’ It is evaluated that the massacre could not be clarified without reference to the wide culture of American war making in Vietnam. If the soldiers of Charlie Company had slaughtered civilians at will.12

They asserted, it was only because they had evaluated their conduct consistent with the attitudes and practices of their GI peers in the policies of the military command, and with the conscience of the political nation at home. Responding to the verdict against Calley, Ohio Governor John J. Gilligan stated: ‘‘The guilt assigned by the court must be shared – by his superiors, by members of Congress, by the Administration and, in truth, by all of us who have tolerated the continuation of this awful war.’’13

The contemporary of My Lai with atrocities has committed in other conflicts by other countries. The ambient cultural and counter-cultural ideas about the coexistence of good and evil within the human soul and the primitive impulses which persisted beneath the civilized facade of modern man. The psychological propositions which cast the experience of war and atrocity for individuals and nations alike as an existential rite of passage into the condition of self-knowledge and maturity. The causes of massacre to the plane of human nature, this third interpretation offered both the perpetrators of the killings and those who had granted them license, from the military command in Vietnam to the quiescent masses at home.

This is a moment of truth when we realize that we are not a virtuous nation. ’’ Time magazine commented: ‘‘ the crisis of confidence caused by the Calley affair is a graver phenomenon than the horror following the assassination of President Kennedy. Historically, it is far more crucial. ’’14

However, though most participants in the debate precipitated by the massacre revelations agreed that My Lai raised awkward questions about American national identity, the conclusions that they reached often diverged markedly, primarily because no consensus could be forged concerning the locus of culpability. In the opinion of some, the massacre revealed little about the United States as a whole; they argued robustly that the killings were an aberration, the only meaningful explanation for which lay in the specific criminality of Charlie Company, with the actions of Ernest Medina, William Calley and the men they led into My Lai that day.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the wake of the revelations, Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor asserted that the massacre was ‘‘wholly unrepresentative of the manner in which our forces conduct military operations in Vietnam.’’14 Calley’s conviction, indeed, was assured by the failure of his defense to weave the events of 16 March 1968 into a wider canvas and to erase the impression left upon the court by a succession of prosecution witnesses who testified to the lieutenant’s personal enthusiasm for the grim.15

As a sequel of the war in Vietnam, these two mechanisms of doctrine were exposed to unprecedented critical scrutiny. The empirical evidence of military defeat by an ostensibly weaker foe disrupted the narrative of aggregated national power. The enormity such as the massive crackdown at My Lai did not simply cast into doubt the ability of Americans to live up to the ethical standards that they had ascribed to themselves. The onslaught at My Lai might have been more easily categorized as an exceptional, aberrant event. It is less easily attributed to historical human impulses had the conflict in which it occurred not itself become ever more irreconcilable with the calculus of a just war. The offensive launched by Vietcong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars on cities and towns throughout South Vietnam in 1968. 16


War cinema has the unique luxury of not containing to mask its politics. Since mainstream cinema in common encodes its traditional project, the war film in exact can assert its politics explicitly. Renunciation is built into the arrangement of any mainstream film. But the war film maybe benefits most from that occurrence. Spectators see the war movie in literally the same space as the so-called entertainment film, so they are inclined to thinking the screen soldiers’ dwell in a similar ideological space as the singers and dancers. War films, to be specific, protect certain real interests, that is, those in the business of making war. Herman and Chomsky declare that art forms within capitalism. Those interests advantage from film’s strategy of cover up, an understanding that film is all too often willing to make easy.17

The magnitude of Vietnamese suffering was being communicated to the home front more forcefully in late 1969 than had been the case in previous years. As Time magazine noted in December, the revelations about My Lai had ‘‘ started a flood of other horror stories. Dozens of journalists, soldiers and visitors to Viet Nam have begun to recall other incidents of U.S. brutality. Individual acts of senseless – sometimes gleeful – killing of civilians apparently happened often enough to be deeply disturbing. ’’.

In the context of the Calley court-martial verdict, 81 per cent of respondents to a Harris poll believed that ‘‘ there were other incidents like My Lai involving U.S. troops that have been hidden,’’ whilst 50 per cent of those questioned by Gallup took the view that ‘‘ the incident for which Lt. Calley was tried ’’ was a ‘‘common’’ occurrence during the war. Many Americans had become difficult to differentiate between the massacre at My Lai and the ethical content of the wider conflict.18

The crackdown at My Lai cast into ambiguity not just the ethical reputation of the American military in Vietnam, but also the nation’s martial tradition as a whole. It functioned to undermine context that the armed services of the United States, uniquely amongst the national agents of war in the modern era that had been a force for good in the world, an instrument of liberation and the advance of social progress. The bloody deeds perpetrated in My Lai had ethical analogues not just in many other aspects of the US military effort in Vietnam, but also in earlier national campaigns in the history of warfare in general. 19

Judge Robert Elliott stated: ‘‘war is war and it’s not unusual for innocent civilians such as the My Lai victims to be killed. It has been so throughout recorded history. ’’ According to such judgments, then, the cause of atrocities like those at My Lai lay in the inevitable strains imposed upon soldiers by the conditions of war. The sociology of armed conflict was responsible, not the individuals who had done the actual killing, nor the military tacticians who had generated an institutional culture of indifference to non-combatant fatalities.

The modern American fighting man in Vietnam supplied no such satisfactions, due to the uncertain allegiance of those he was supposed to be protecting20. The elusiveness of his enemy, the reliance of his peers upon technology-intensive forms of war-fighting, the ultimate failure of the enterprise and his knowledge of the atrocities committed in its name.

The vicissitudes of the Vietnam War could yield to the men who fought it, especially those most intimate with the mortal waste that it caused. This kind of unique personal insight into the human soul had been an emergent theme in national discourse in the months preceding the revelations about the massacre at My Lai. The military service could be ascribed value and participation in a successful endeavor, the preservation of democracy and freedom.

It was evident especially in visual representations of the US soldier. In June 1969, Life magazine published photographs of all but 25 of the 242 Americans who had died in the war during the week 28 May to 3 June, noting: ‘‘More than we must know how many, we must know who. ’’ 21 Many of the images depicted young men posing happily in civilian clothes or earnestly in full military dress. Printed on the cover of the issue.

With the significance for the cultural conceptualization of atrocity, it was another photo-story in Life, published just before the allegations of massacre at My Lai were disclosed to the American public. The journal published on the case of Robert Rheault, a colonel in the Green Berets, who had been accused of shooting in cold blood a Vietnamese man My Lai clogged short of according a special status to its perpetrators.

It is ascribing to them any profound new understanding of the human condition. Following his conviction, many Americans were certainly prepared to describe William Calley as a hero, but this sentiment derived, it seems, from either a belief in his innocence or an attribution of his deeds to the honest naivety of a young patriot. The mainstream media had received too comprehensive an education in the damning details of Calley’s conduct in My Lai to afford any space to a romanticized assessment.

Despite extreme pressure for a high enemy casualty toll, most U.S. soldiers in Vietnam did not intentionally shoot unarmed villagers. Undoubtedly, some U.S. soldiers tried to stop the slaughter at My Lai, notably the helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson. The My Lai crackdown was not a typical occurrence. The openness of the fighting in Vietnam to journalistic coverage, which the My Lai affair gave to other service people to come, forward with reports of atrocities made it quite unlikely that any other massacre could escape attention. The villagers were regularly killed in combat assaults on defended hamlets and shooting of civilians was an unusual event, and the men involved in the massacre at My Lai knew it.22

The Army training is a contributory cause of the My Lai massacre. Since then, this aspect of training has been thoroughly revised. The people are instructed that acting under superior orders is no defense to a charge of murder or other war crimes. New channels have been set up for the reporting of violations of the laws of war. It is to be hoped that these changes will prevent a recurrence of a dark chapter in the history of the U.S. Army.


The explosive message of the crackdown fueled the outrage of the American peace movement, which demanded the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. It led more potential to file for conscientious objector status. Those who had argued against the war felt vindicated; those on the periphery of the movement became more vocal. The more pivotal shift was in the attitude of the general public toward the war. People who had not been interested in the war debates began to analyze the issue more closely. The awful stories of other soldiers began to be taken more seriously, and other abuses came to light.

The military observers concluded that My Lai showed the need for more and better volunteers to provide stronger leadership among the troops. As the Vietnam combat dragged on, the number of well-educated soldiers on the front lines dropped sharply as casualties and combat rotation took their toll23. These observers claimed the absence of the many bright young men who did not participate in the draft due to college attendance caused the talent pool for new officers to become very shallow They indicated to Calley, a young, unemployed college dropout, as an example of the raw and inexperienced being rushed through officer training.


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