Forty years ago today, an atrocious event changed the course of the Vietnam War. The My Lai Massacre shocked Americans and marked a turning point in how the public perceived the conflict.
NPR's senior analyst Daniel Schorr wonders about the similarities between My Lai and Iraq.
DANIEL SCHORR: It's a melancholy anniversary. Anybody out there remember March 16, 1968? A bad year anyway, with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and on that day, the men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, was sent out on a search-and-destroy mission to an area where Viet Cong were believed to be dug in. They attacked the village and killed some 500 inhabitants, some of them children, all of them unarmed.
My friend Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the massacre that officers tried to cover up. Lieutenant William Calley, who helped to round up villagers and shoot them, testified at his court marshal that he acted under orders from above. He was sentenced to life in prison, was released in 1974 and went into the insurance business.
Just think, My Lai was 40 years ago, and the Marines fighting in Haditha in Iraq weren't even born yet. I wonder whether Lieutenant Calley would regard Haditha as today's My Lai. Three years ago in Haditha, after a Marine was killed by a roadside bomb, Marines stormed into the nearby houses and killed 24 civilians.
As with My Lai, the military command didn't disclose the massacre; it was exposed by Time magazine. Eight Marines were charged with murder, but those charges were later dropped. Four still face trial on lesser charges.
I asked Seymour Hersh what Haditha had in common with My Lai. He said that both are examples of what can happen when American soldiers are surrounded by a culture they don't understand. They come to see everything and everyone around them as threatening.
This is Daniel Schorr.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.