In Vietnam, Calley's My Lai Apology Barely Registers

Ten days ago, the only man convicted for the My Lai massacre publicly expressed remorse for what happened there in March 1968. The publicity-shy William Calley told a Kiwanis club lunch there was "not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened. I am very sorry." After his apology, Voice of America expressed interest in having Calley apologize on the air in Vietnam, but few seem interested in hearing it.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

William Calley is the only man convicted in the Vietnam War's My Lai Massacre. As a young lieutenant in March 1968, he led the U.S. troops who killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, and Calley was convicted of 22 counts of murder.

Ten days ago at a Kiwanis Club lunch, he said he was sorry. Later, Voice of America expressed interest in having Calley apologize to the Vietnamese people on the air.

But, as NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Hanoi, few seem interested in hearing it.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: If you're talking about My Lai, Nguyen Thanh Cong is the guy to go to. His parents and his three sisters were killed that day - Cong survived - and is now the director of the museum there that attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year. He calls Calley's apology too little too late.

Mr. NGUYEN THANH CONG: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: We weren't expecting an apology and we don't need one, he says, and it won't help the victims. You may have developed a conscience, Cong says, but that's your affair, not ours. To us, you're still a criminal. Cong says if Calley wants to send a written apology, he'll put it on the wall at the museum for all to see, but he has no plans to listen for one on the radio.

But aside from Cong, it's hard to find many Vietnamese who know or care about what happened at My Lai. Even Vietnam state-run media gave Calley's apology only a brief mention last week, passing on the opportunity to use it to castigate the U.S. as they might have just a few years ago. In part, some grumble, that's because the government cares more about trade ties with the U.S. than it does about the past.

HUYEN: My name is Huyen. I'm 17 years old. I have just graduated from Hoang Dieu High School. They didn't teach me about that and I don't know anything.

SULLIVAN: She's not alone. My Lai isn't part of the curriculum these days in Vietnam, where even some of the teachers don't know what happened there, teachers who, like two-thirds of the population here, were born after the war ended. And many Vietnamese now see the U.S. not just as a trading partner, but a potential ally to balance the growing power of Vietnam's neighbor, China, with whom Vietnam has a long, complicated and often unpleasant history.

(Soundbite of bar)

SULLIVAN: At a neighborhood beer joint, of the dozen or so 20-somethings interviewed, only two knew about My Lai, and none of them said they really cared. Nguyen Trung, 27, summed things up nicely - even if he was a little blunt.

Mr. NGUYEN TRUNG: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: The dead can't hear an apology, he says, so what's the point? If you want to help, help the living, help those suffering now because of dioxin from Agent Orange. Give them something real, he says, not just words.

Another man, Nguyen Minh Huy, was less blunt but no less pragmatic.

Mr. NGUYEN MINH HUY: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: I don't know anything about My Lai, he says, but I do know that it's too late to be thinking about an apology. Things are better now between Vietnam and the U.S. and that was a long time ago, he says. For me, it's better to focus on the future. Neither man showed any interest in listening to an apology on the radio, even if William Calley decides to give one.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Hanoi.

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