Black People : The Impossible Victory: Vietnam excerpted from a People's History of the United State


Mar 8, 2006
The Impossible Victory: Vietnam
excerpted from a
People's History of the United States
by Howard Zinn

On March 16, 1968, a company of American soldiers went into the hamlet of My Lai 4, in Quang Ngai province. They rounded up the inhabitants, including old people and women with infants in their arms. These people were ordered into a ditch, where they were methodically shot to death by American soldiers. The testimony of James Dursi, a rifleman, at the later trial of Lieutenant William Calley, was reported in the New York Times:
Lieutenant Calley and a weeping rifleman named Paul D. Meadlo the same soldier who had fed candy to the children before shooting them-pushed the prisoners into the ditch...
"There was an order to shoot by Lieutenant Calley, I can't remember the exact words-it was something like 'Start firing.' "Meadlo turned to me and said: 'Shoot, why don't you shoot?'
"He was crying. "I said, 'I can't. I won't.'
"Then Lieutenant Calley and Meadlo pointed their rifles into the ditch and fired.
"People were diving on top of each other; mothers were trying to protect their children...."
Journalist Seymour Hersh, in his book My Lai 4, writes:
"When Army investigators reached the barren area in November, 1969, in connection with the My Lai probe in the United States, they found mass graves at three sites, as well as a ditch full of bodies. It was estimated that between 450 and 500 people-most of them women, children and old men- had been slain and buried there."
The army tried to cover up what happened. But a letter began circulating from a GI named Ron Ridenhour, who had heard about the massacre. There were photos taken of the killing by an army photographer, Ronald Haeberle. Seymour Hersh, then working for an antiwar news agency in Southeast Asia called Dispatch News Service, wrote about it. The story of the massacre had appeared in May 1968 in two French publications, one called Sud Vietnam en Lutte, and another published by the North Vietnamese delegation to the peace talks in Paris-but the American press did not pay any attention.
Several of the officers in the My Lai massacre were put on trial, but only Lieutenant William Calley was found guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but his sentence was reduced twice; he served three years-Nixon ordered that he be under house arrest rather than a regular prison-and then was paroled. Thousands of Americans came to his defense. Part of it was in patriotic justification of his action as necessary against the "Communists." Part of it seems to have been a feeling that he was unjustly singled out in a war with many similar atrocities. Colonel Oran Henderson, who had been charged with covering up the My Lai killings, told reporters in early 1971: "Every unit of brigade size has its My Lai hidden someplace."
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