By Jack Doxey
March 16th, 2016 marks the 48th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre that occurred in Vietnam. To say that it was a sad day in the history of our country is a gross understatement. Our United States military systematically slaughtered over 500 Vietnamese women, children, infants and old men in the tiny village of My Lai.
Our country’s attention span is short, and revisiting old wounds can be painful. The result is that this event has been shoved into the “dustbin” of history.
Never the less, I beseech our government and every American citizen to not forget but instead “learn” from the events that unfolded 48 years ago in the tiny village of My Lai.
For those who perhaps never heard of the My Lai Massacre here is the story:
It was March 16, 1968, and things seemed peaceful. The weather couldn’t be any more beautiful. Hugh Thompson, a 24-year-old Army helicopter pilot, serving in Vietnam, was thankful for the clear weather.
He and his two-man crew left their compound and headed for what they were told was a suspected North Vietnamese stronghold. As they arrived at the small village of My Lai, Thompson maneuvered his helicopter between two tree lines. His crew member, Larry Colburn said:
“You could smell the jungle and see the fog rising up. It was, by all accounts, a beautiful day We were flying low and could clearly see the villagers. As hard as we looked, we encountered not one Vietcong. The village was occupied by women, children and old men. It was Saturday morning and they were carrying empty containers and baskets. It was obvious that they were heading to the village market. It was an activity that was probably carried out, in the same fashion, by their ancestors for generations.”
Thompson decided to move out of the area and check another nearby village. Once again no enemy was encountered. They swung their helicopter around and headed back to the village of My Lai.
This time, they dropped below the tree line and were skimming across the jungle floor. They could clearly see the villagers but nobody was moving. They were all dead. Women, children, infants and old men were piled up like so much cordwood in a long irrigation ditch.
To the horror of Thompson and his two-man crew, they were witnessing an American army platoon, lead by Lt. Calley, in the process of systematically murdering over 500 innocent Vietnamese villagers.
Hugh Thompson landed his helicopter and placed his two men between the soldiers and the ditch. He instructed his two crew members to open fire on their American comrades if they attempted to kill one more villager. Hugh Thompson went about convincing ten terrified villagers to come out of a small earthen bunker. He also came upon a young child of approx 6 years of age in the ditch with the others. The child was alive and was clinging to his dead mother. Thompson called for additional helicopter support and they transported the few remaining villagers to the Quang Nhai Hospital which was run by Catholic nuns.
Paula Bock, a journalist for the Pacific Northwest Magazine, who was reporting on this tragedy said:
“When you are young, thousands of miles away from your home town, terrified and surrounded by all sort of craziness it is very easy to lose your moral compass.”
It is self-serving on the part of our government to single out these men as a “few bad apples” and encourage the American public to simply consider My Lai as an isolated incident. The actions of these American soldiers are not to be condoned however they are symptomatic of a deeper problem that exists in our country.
To some extent, the young soldiers were duped into believing that the people they were killing were some kind of subspecies and with that mindset it allowed them to carry out this terrible atrocity.
Another contributing factor is that our government, over the years, has developed a bias for violence and war. This bias for violence has been systemically institutionalized into the thinking of many American citizens. Our government’s “Might Makes Right” mantra is constantly communicated in the newspapers, TV and in the war games that we allow our children to play. The brutalization of innocent citizens has occurred in our recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and especially in Pakistan and Yemen with the indiscriminate use of drone warfare.
It should not surprise us when young soldiers or civilians do things similar to what was experienced in the tiny town of My Lai. They have been exposed to violence throughout their entire life. Our country inexplicably draws itself to violence and war, much like a moth draws itself to a lit candle.
Symptoms of this show up in some startling statistics. It is estimated that the United States currently has 1000 military bases throughout the world 250,000 US military deployed worldwide and our government would strongly argue that they are not empire building. We have a military budget of more than 500 billion dollars per year. This is more than the combined spending of all industrialized nations throughout the world.
If ever the citizens of the United States should be vigilant and question their government now is the time. Seeking the truth and speaking out when you believe your country is not taking the moral high ground is not an option it is a responsibility. Dissent, rather than being unpatriotic, is the highest form of patriotism.”
On the positive side, I see a hint of “blue sky” on the horizon. I believe that much of the world is embarking on a period of major transition brought on by witnessing sustained military violence and made even worse by a multitude of weather disasters brought on by our reckless human actions. It has jolted many of us into the reality that all people and all nations exist, at best, on a fragile planet Hopefully this introspection will cause us to view all people and all nations as family and work together rather than against each other.
I have a “Vision“:
The United States takes recent events as a wake-up call and as a nation, abolishes war as an instrument of national policy. Our nation takes the moral high ground and turns to hope and not despair. A transition from war into “Peace” becomes a reality in the United States. And finally, the world views us not as a threat to peace but rather as a beacon of light and leadership in finding peaceful solutions to violent conflicts throughout the world.
Yes, I know some will say naive, pie in the sky thinking but it is possible if we earnestly believe.