February 22, 2013

My Lai

PBS American Experience

Fanaticism is the breeding ground of atrocity.
Atrocity is the breeding ground of fanaticism.


William Westmoreland (1914 – 2005) [General and Chief of Staff, US Army]:
The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner.
Life is plentiful.
Live is cheap in the Orient.
(Peter Davis, Hearts and Minds, 1974)

Dallas Morning News:
Supposedly the purpose of fortified villages is to keep the Vietcong out. …
Vietnamese farmers are forced at gunpoint into these virtual concentration camps.
Their homes, possessions and crops are burned.
[Seven villagers had their] stomachs slashed, their livers extracted and put on display.
These victims were woman and children.
In another village, expectant mothers [had their stomachs] ripped open and their unborn babies removed.
(1 January 1963)

Vietnamese Democratic Bulletin:
It is certainly an ironic way to protect the peasant masses from Communism. …
(September 1963)

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970):
The advantages of successful war are doubtful, but the disadvantages of unsuccessful war are certain.
(Creeds as Sources of Power, Power, 1938, p 103)

William Peers (1914 – 84)

General, US Army

  1. During the period 16-19 March 1968, US Army troops of [Task Force] Barker, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, massacred a large number of noncombatants in two hamlets [My Lai and My Khe] of Son My Village, Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam.
    The precise number of Vietnamese killed cannot be determined but was at least 175 and may exceed 400.
  2. The massacre occurred in conjunction with a combat operation which was intended
    • to neutralize Son My Village as a logistical support base and staging area, and
    • to destroy elements of an enemy battalion [mistakenly] thought to be located in the Son My area.
  3. The massacre resulted primarily from the nature of the orders issued to persons in the chain of command within TF Barker.
  4. The task force commander's order and the associated intelligence estimate issued prior to the operation were embellished [such that they] ultimately presented to the individual soldier a false and misleading picture of the Son My area as an armed enemy camp, largely devoid of civilian inhabitants.
  5. Prior to the incident, there had developed within certain elements of the 11th Brigade a permissive attitude toward the treatment and safeguarding of noncombatants which (contributed to the mistreatment of such persons during the Son Ply Operation).
  6. The permissive attitude in the treatment of Vietnamese was, on 16-19 March 1968, exemplified by an almost total disregard for the lives and property of the civilian population of Son My Village on the part of commanders and key staff officers of TF Barker.
  7. On 16 March, soldiers at the squad and platoon level, within some elements of TF Barker, murdered noncombatants while under the supervision and control of their immediate superiors.
  8. [Crimes] visited on the inhabitants of Son My Village included individual and group acts of murder, rape, sodomy, maiming, and assault on noncombatants and the mistreatment and killing of detainees. …
  9. Some attempts were made to stop the criminal acts …
    [But,] with few exceptions, such efforts were too feeble or too late.
  10. [There was] no evidence that any member [engaged in the] operation was under the influence of marijuana or other narcotics.

(Report of the Department of the Army Review of the Preliminary Investigations into the My Lai Incident, Department of Army, 1970)

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

… South Vietnam was part of French Cochin-China, but after a long process of civil war, the French were excluded from the whole region.
A conference was summoned to meet at Geneva in 1954.
The conclusions reached were sensible and, if they had been carried out, no trouble would have arisen.
Vietnam was to be independent and neutral, and was to have a parliamentary government established by a General Election.
The Americans did not like this.
They professed to suspect that [a unified] Vietnam would become part of the Communist bloc if left to itself… in spite of reiterated statements by the Government of North Vietnam that they wished to be neutral. …

There were in South Vietnam three parties:
  • the peasants [—] who constituted the large majority;
  • the Buddhists; and
  • a tiny minority of Christians [—] who had been supporters of the French.
The Americans [chose] to support [the Catholics.]
[Consequently, war] ensued between the American-supported minority and the Buddhists and peasants. …

It has been warfare of an incredibly brutal kind [—] brutal to a degree seldom equaled by any civilised power. …
It is generally admitted that there is no hope that the Americans can win this war. …

[8,000,000 South Vietnamese] have been put in barbed wire concentration camps involving forced labour.
The country — civilians, animals and crops, as well as warriors and jungle — has been sprayed with jelly gasoline and poison chemicals.
50,000 villages were burnt in 1962 alone. …

[The] anti-Communist Democratic Party of Vietnam told the International Control Commission that:
Decapitation, eviscerations and the public display of murdered women and children are common.
(The Labour Party's Foreign Policy, London School of Economics, 15 February, 1965)

John Kennedy (1917 – 63)

You can never defeat the Communist movement in Indochina until you get the support of natives …
[And] you won't get [that support,] until the French … pull out and give this country the right of self-determination and the right to govern themselves.

[I believe] that no amount of military assistance in Indochina can conquer an enemy that is everywhere and at the same time nowhere — "an enemy of the people" which has the sympathy and covert support of the people.

(Chris Matthews, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, Simon & Schuster, 2011, Reader's Digest, 2013, pp 67 & 98)

(A Disrespectful Loyalty, Episode 9: May 1970 – March 1973)

Lyndon Johnson (1908 – 73):
The enemy has been defeated in battle after battle.
He continues to hope that America's will to persevere can be broken.
Well … he is wrong.
(Things Fall Apart, Episode 6: January – July 1968)

(John McNaughton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs,
Draft Memorandum to Robert McNamara — Plan of Action for South Vietnam, 24 March 1965)

Robert McNamara (1916 – 2009) [Secretary of Defense, 1961-68]:
There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go.
The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.
(Resolve, Episode 4: January 1966 – June 1967)

There was no reason to believe that the prolonged infliction of grievous causalities, or the heavy punishment of air bombardment, will suffice to break the will of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.
The continuation of our present course of action in South East Asia would be dangerous, costly in lives, and unsatisfactory for the American people.
(This Is What We Do, Episode 5: July – December 1967)

Ken Burns & Lynn Novick:
[In mid-1965] Undersecretary of State George Ball [told Johnson] the war could not be won.
The American people will grow weary of it.
Our troops will get bogged down in the jungles and rice paddies, he warned, while we slowly blow the country to pieces.
No one else agreed.

(The River Styx, Episode 3: January 1964 – December 1965)

(This Is What We Do, Episode 5: July – December 1967)

(Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, Déjà Vu, The Vietnam War, Episode 1: 1858 – 1961, PBS, 2017)

The Slide Into Barbarism

[Justice] is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.

Thrasymachus (c459 – c400 BCE).

[Right,] as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Thucydides (c460 – c400 BCE), The History of Peloponnesian War, Book V, 89.

[There] is a deep moral difference between democracy and Fascism, but if we go on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth we simply cause that difference to be forgotten.
Moreover, in the matter of ruthlessness we are unlikely to compete successfully with our enemies.

— George Orwell (1903 – 50), Unpublished Letter to The Times, 12 October 1942.

Graham Greene (1904 – 91):
The long, slow slide into barbarism of the Western World seems to have quickened.
[These] photographs are of torturers belonging to [the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam — an army] that could not exist without the American aid and counsel.
Does this mean that American authorities sanction torture as a means of interrogation?

Dick Cheney (1941) [Vice President for Torture, 2001-9]:
We’ll have to work sort of the dark side, if you will.
We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world.
A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies — if we are going to be successful.
That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
(pp 9-10)

Salvador Allende (1908 – 73) [30th President of Chile, 1970-73]:
We find ourselves opposed by forces that operate in the shadows without a flag, with powerful weapons, from positions of great influence.
(UN General Assembly, December 1972)

Colin Powell (1937) [Secretary of State, George W Bush Administration, 2001-5]:
[George W Bush] has these cowboy characteristics, and when you know where to rub him, you can really get him to do some dumb things.
You have to play on those swaggering bits of his self-image.
Cheney knew exactly how to push all his buttons.
(p 125, emphasis added)

John Yoo (1967) [Author of the Torture Memos, Office of Legal Counsel, US Justice Department]:
[Congress does not have the power to] tie the president’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique.
It’s the core of the commander in chief function.
They can’t prevent the president from ordering torture.
[The only way to block a president from torturing is to impeach him.]
(Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, Scribe, 2008, p 153)

George W Bush (1946) [43rd President of the United States]:
[The Supreme Court has ruled] that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.
And that Common Article 3 says that, you know, there will be no 'outrages upon human dignity'.
It's, like, very vague — what does that mean?

George Washington (1732 – 99):
[We must treat war prisoners] with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of us copying the brutal manner of the British Army …
While we are contending for our own liberty we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only in this case, are they answerable.

Jane Mayer (1955):
[During] the Revolutionary War, George Washington and the Continental Army were regarded by the British as treasonous, “illegal combatants” undeserving of the protections of legitimate soldiers, the same category into which the Bush Administration was casting terror suspects.
As a result, the British freely brutalized and killed American prisoners of war …
[By] contrast, Washington ordered American troops to take a higher road, in keeping with the ideals of the new republic. …
[Such] superior treatment of enemy captives by American soldiers bolstered their morale and fomented desertion among the British and Hessian soldiers.
(p 84)

[When George W Bush] decided to nullify the Geneva Conventions on January 8, 2002 … America became the first nation ever to [sanction] violations of the Geneva Conventions.
(pp 9 & 123)

[In September 2002 military interrogators] held a series of brainstorming meetings in Guantánamo about how to crack through the resistance of detainees …
One source of ideas was the popular television show 24.
The fictional drama was written by a Hollywood conservative who had no military or intelligence expertise whatsoever.
But on Guantánamo, as everywhere else in America, its macho hero, Jack Bauer, who tortured his enemies until they talked, was followed with admiration.
On 24, torture always worked.
It saved America on a weekly basis. …
The other source of wisdom was the military’s [Survive, Evade, Resist and Escape] program …
(p 196)

[According to former FBI agent Daniel Coleman, the CIA essentially tortured Abu Zubayda] into telling them what they wanted to hear. …
[He] reportedly confessed to dozens of half-hatched or entirely imaginary plots to blow up American banks, supermarkets, malls, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and nuclear power plants.
Federal law-enforcement officials were dispatched to unlikely locations across the country in an effort to follow these false leads.
(The Dark Side, Scribe, 2008, p 178-9)

Peter Finn & Julie Tate:
President George W Bush described Abu Zubaida in 2002 as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations."
Intelligence, military and law enforcement sources told The Washington Post this year that officials later concluded he was a Pakistan-based "fixer" for radical Islamist ideologues, but not a formal member of al-Qaeda, much less one of its leaders.
(CIA Says It Misjudged Role of High-Value Detainee Abu Zubaida, Transcript Shows, The Washington Post, 16 June 2009)

Jim Haynes [General Counsel, Department of Defence]:
We can’t have acquittals!
We’ve got to have convictions!
If we’ve been holding these guys [in Guantanamo] for so long, how can we explain letting them get off?
(p 332)

Alberto Mora (1951) [Former General Counsel of the Navy]:
If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government.
It destroys the whole notion of individual rights.
(p 219)

Cruelty disfigures our national character.
It is incompatible with our constitutional order, with our laws, and with our most prized values. …
Where cruelty exists, law does not.
(p 236)

Jane Mayer (1955):
[In] the Middle Ages, when it was called tormentum insomniae, professional torturers eschewed sleep deprivation, recognizing that the illusions and delusions it caused were more apt to produce false confessions than real ones.
[By contrast,] it was the [torture of choice for] witch hunters, who believed it accurately revealed evidence of pacts with the devil.
For decades, it was defined in the United States as an illegal form of torture. …
But it became American policy in 2001, and continues to be.
(The Dark Side, Scribe, 2008, p 170)

Cofer Black (1950) [Coordinator, Counter Terrorism Center, Central Intelligence Agency]:
I have discussed this with the President, and he is in full agreement.
Your mission is to find Osama Bin Laden and his senior lieutenants, and kill them. …
I don’t want Bin Laden and his thugs captured.
I want them dead.
Alive and in prison here in the United States and they’ll become a symbol, a rallying point for other terrorists. …
They must be killed.
I want to see photos of their heads on pikes.
I want Bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice.
I want to be able to show Bin Laden’s head to the President.
I promised him I would do that.
(Gary Schroen, First In, Presdio paperback, 2005, p 40)

(Alex Gibney, Taxi to the Dark Side, 2007)

Waleed Aly (1978):
[Resorting to torture and repression] is an erosion of the moral foundations … of Western civilisation. …
It is also [doomed to fail].
[It] proclaims to all a humiliating desperation and the intensity of Western fears.
[It is an admission by those] who reach for [it] that they have exhausted their ideas [and abandoned their values.]
[No] further deterrent [is] available.
[No] further philosophical triumph [is] to be sought.
They have spent their last resort …
These are not the responses of an assured people, upright and certain of victory. …

Revolutionary movements [rely] on the repressive action of those they seek to overthrow.
They cannot be fought on terrain bereft of ethics.
This merely … serves as potent recruitment propaganda [and] provides a steady stream of martyrs to inspire continued revolution.
(People Like Us, 2007, pp 205-6)

Faith Based Intelligence

Georg Hegel (1770 – 1831):
The state has … to make up its own mind concerning what is to be considered as objective truth.
(Philosophy of Right, 1821)

Karl Rove (1950):
[Those in the] reality-based community … believe that solutions emerge from [the] judicious study of discernible reality. …
That's not the way the world really works anymore.
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. …
(Ron Suskind, Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W Bush, The New York Times Magazine, 17 October 2004)

Greg Thielmann [Proliferation Expert, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, US State Department]:
This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude:
We know the answers …
[Give] us the intelligence to support those answers.
[This] kind of attitude [quashes] the spirit of intellectual inquiry and integrity.
(The President of Good and Evil, 2004, p 119)

Glenn Carle [Former CIA Interrogator]:
I entered this Kafkaesque universe and the following thing would happen …
I asked questions, x, y and z as instructed, and his answers are, and my assessment … correct.
And there are certain questions he cannot answer.
Headquarters would send back its response to me … and they said:
The fact that he is not responding proves that he is withholding information.
And therefore, you will pressure him more.
And I responded:
Well no, it doesn't necessarily follow, that's not logically sensible at all, he's not answering because, in my assessment, he doesn't know.
And they said:
The fact that he's not answering proves that he's guilty, and you will pressure him more. …
I thought, I am dealing with an imbecile at headquarters.
[But] I was wrong [he was just] following his orders. …

It's literally no different to what my ancestors did, 300 years ago, with witches.
[If] you dunk someone in the water, and the person drowns, well she's innocent, she's not a witch.
[If] she survives, that proves she is guilty, and you therefore have to hang her.
(The Interrogator, Big Ideas, ABC Radio National, 21 May 2012)

However much you torture someone, they can't tell you what they don't know.

Jane Mayer (1955)

[After Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in March 2003, the head of the Al Qaeda unit at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center in Langley, Virginia,] was so excited she flew at government expense to the black site where Mohammed was held so that she could personally watch him being waterboarded. …
Coworkers said she had no legitimate reason to be present during Mohammed’s interrogation. …
“She thought it would be cool to be in the room,” a former colleague said.
[Ironically,] her presence during Mohammed’s ordeal … seemed to anger and strengthen his resolve, helping him to hold out longer against the harsh tactics used against him.
Afterward, [when] word leaked out about her jaunt and superiors at the CIA scolded her for treating the painful interrogation as a show.
(Chapter 11)

[In December 2003 Khaled el-Masri, a German car salesman of Lebanese descent,] was stopped and separated from fellow passengers on a tourist bus by border guards at the Tabanovce border crossing between Serbia and Macedonia.
Apparently, his name was similar to that of a wanted Al Qaeda leader. …
He and his wife had been arguing, and in a huff he had taken off on his own for a cheap round-trip package holiday in Macedonia. …
His brand new German passport, however, was confiscated by the border guards.
Unfamiliar with a redesigned version just issued by Germany, they believed it to be a forgery. …

Back in Langley, the head of the Al Qaeda Unit … agitated for the CIA to take custody of Masri.
She had no proof, but she argued that he was probably a terrorist.
Having been in the Bin Laden Unit that failed to connect the dots before September 11, she was doubly determined to let no terrorist slip through the cracks again.
(p 282)

She wanted Masri rendered to one of the CIA’s black site prisons in Afghanistan for interrogation.
Doubters in the Agency suggested they should wait for German officials to establish first whether his passport was in fact a forgery. …
[However,] the Al Qaeda Unit’s chief was skeptical about the Germans’ trustworthiness because she regarded them all as soft on terrorism …
[So, after the Macedonians handed him over, the CIA] flew him to Afghanistan without evidence or charges, and without word to his family or anyone else outside, [and imprisoned him] for the next 149 days. …

[Almost from the start, some] Agency officials suspected that Masri was innocent.
Yet for months they subjected him to unsparing abuse anyway.
The CIA has maintained that its secret program was “careful,” “legal,” and “professional.”
But without any procedure for independent judicial review, or any accountability for imprisoning an innocent victim, once a mistake was made there was [no mechanism] to correct it.

[The] rendition team had a strange feeling about Masri.
He wasn’t acting like a terrorist.
By the time their flight reached Afghanistan, the head of the rendition team sent word to the CIA station chief in Kabul that he thought something wasn’t right.
The Kabul station chief was incensed and sent a cable to the CTC accusing Langley of having sent him an innocent person.
But the CTC officials sent back word that the head of the Al Qaeda Unit wanted Masri held and interrogated.
(p 283)

She thought he seemed suspicious. …

As Masri wasted away [in the so-called 'Salt Pit',] being fed rotten chicken bones and suffering from chronic diarrhea, the chief of station in Kabul was saying, “I want this guy out” — but in Washington, the head of the Al Qaeda Unit kept insisting she had “a gut feeling he’s bad”.
“She can’t admit a mistake,” a former colleague said.

[Meanwhile the “Techs”] in Germany had, after several weeks, thoroughly analyzed Masri’s passport. …
There was nothing wrong with it.
It was legitimate. …
[Nevertheless, she] still wanted Masri held.
She just looked in her crystal ball and it said that he was bad,
said another former colleague at the CIA in disgust.
(p 284)

She argued … that:
[Masri] had phone calls to people who were bad.
Or to people who knew people who were bad. …

By late March [2004,] the Al Qaeda Unit chief agreed to release him, but only if the German intelligence services would promise to follow him once he was free.
“They were still claiming he was bad,” a CIA source recalled.
She was told that if Masri wasn’t a terrorist, they couldn’t put him on a watch list.
He was a German citizen.
There were no charges against him.
They couldn’t just tap his phone for no reason and follow him around.
The Al Qaeda Unit head again was reluctant to let him out.
(p 285)

[Ultimately,] two officers in the European Division drew up a plan to release Masri in what they called a “reverse rendition.”
The idea was to drive him around in circles for a few hours and then let him go.
But the Al Qaeda Unit chief was still arguing that he was a terrorist. …

One notion they discussed was giving Masri a large quantity of cash.
(p 286)

[Eventually, in May 2004, Masri was flown to Tirana, Albania, and dropped near] the border with Serbia and Macedonia, where he was told to start walking and not look back.
At the end of a path, three waiting men handed him a picnic lunch and drove him to the Tirana Airport from [where] he flew home.
He had lost so much weight, and looked so haunted and aged, the airport authorities accused him of using someone else’s passport.
When he arrived at his apartment, it was deserted and ransacked.
His wife and [four] sons … had assumed themselves abandoned and moved in with his in-laws in Lebanon. …

A former top Agency official … said in defense of the aggressive head of the Al Qaeda Unit, whose hunch had driven the mistaken rendition,
General Patton wasn’t popular either, but sometimes it takes a tough person to win a war.
(p 287)

The CIA [has since] investigated seven or more allegedly mistaken renditions of innocent victims, and sent several homicide cases resulting from prisoner abuse to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, but not a single officer was charged.
Instead, President Bush gave George Tenet, who presided over the creation of the CIA’s interrogation and detention program, the Medal of Freedom.
The female officer who pushed to keep Khaled El-Masri imprisoned in Afghanistan after his mistaken rendition was promoted to a top post handling sensitive matters in the Middle East.
Masri, meanwhile, was denied the opportunity to bring a civil suit against the US government for his false imprisonment because the Bush Administration succeeded in arguing that simply addressing the subject of rendition in a US court would violate national security.
Back in Germany, he was reportedly beset by emotional problems.
(p 334)

(The Dark Side, Scribe, 2008)

[In December] 2012, the Grand Chamber for the European Court of Human Rights … awarded El-Masri €60,000 in compensation.
(2 September 2017)

Searching for Monsters

[America does not go] abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. …
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in [wars that] usurp the standard of freedom. …
Her glory is not dominion, but liberty.

John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848), Independence Day Address, 4 July 1821.

YOU are in the cross-hairs of a bomb-sight an enemy is centering on you.
YOU are a citizen of the Free World; a citizen of the United States of America.
YOU are the target!
(Oliver Stone, Johnson, Nixon & Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune, Chapter 7, The Untold History of the United States, 2012)

In December 2014, Stone made statements supporting the Russian government's narrative on Ukraine, portraying the 2014 Ukrainian revolution as a CIA plot and former Ukrainian president (who was ousted as a result of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution) Viktor Yanukovych, whose responsibility for the killing of protesters is claimed by the new Ukrainian government, as a legitimate president forced to leave Ukraine by "well-armed, neo-Nazi radicals."
(2 July 2017)

What happened in Iran [with Stuxet] could be as serious … what happened in 1945 at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
It was the beginning of a new age.
(The Putin Interviews, Episode 4, 2017)

Oliver Stone (1946)

In the early 21st century there would be almost 300 million guns in American homes.
We are the most heavily armed nation in the world.
But when any nation goes to an extreme degree to protect itself, it's inevitable that that protection will never seem, psychologically, to be enough.
It is also often true that the image of the enemy will grow proportionate to the size of the defence, resulting in an overreaction and accelerated spending of energies in a futile attempt to liquidate that fear which never seems to erode.

Fear and uncertainty are two inescapable elements of human life since the beginning of time.
They are to be accepted as one accepts birth and death. …
[Indeed, it is by] containing our fear and uncertainty [that] we become naturally stronger. …

Clearly, in hindsight, American leaders had exaggerated the threat from an enemy they felt they needed.
Wanting to frame the world as an existential clash between two antagonistic social systems. …

[By 1950,] the United States had forged the foundation of a new mindset.
It had developed into a full fledged, if unique, kind of empire.
Economically supreme and massively armed, policing the world while professing liberty and democracy.
For a policeman, it's necessary to locate and arrest enemies of its social system. …

[At the end of World War II, Ho Chi Minh,] who had received US assistance when he had led the resistance to the Japanese … asked President Truman for help in setting up an independent Vietnamese state.
He received no response.
In 1950, he found out why: Truman was backing the other side.

By April of 1954, Ho Chi Minh's peasant army [was laying] seige to an encircled French army at Dien Bien Phu. …
Incredibly, the United States was paying for 80% of the French war costs. …
On May 7th, after 57 grueling days, the French garrison fell and France's days of colonial [glory] in Asia were over. …

Despite the fact that his forces controlled most of the country, Ho gave in to pressure from the Soviets and Chinese who feared US intervention.
[At the Geneva peace conference he] accepted a proposal to temporarily divide Vietnam at the 17th Parallel …
A national election was scheduled for 1956 to unify the country.
The US promised not to interfere — but it did. …
Dwight Eisenhower(1890 – 1969):
[As] of the time of the fighting, possibly 80% of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh. …
[Within] a few short years, the French war would become the American. …

(The 50s — Eisenhower, the Bomb & the Third World, The Untold History of the United States, 10 December 2012)

[Lyndon Johnson] was a man, a potential giant, who, in denying his compassion, suffered from a truly American obsession.
Fear of weakness. …

[According to the Vietnamese,] the US threatened to use nuclear weapons on thirteen different occasions.
But that had not changed their policies.

Although they would pay a terrible price for their independence, the Vietnamese understood a basic truth that America's leaders never grasped.
The Vietnamese foreign minister later said:
We knew they could not stay in Vietnam forever; but, Vietnam must stay in Vietnam forever.
The Vietnam war was about independence and time.
Not territory and body counts.

It has here in Vietnam that the US ran into its ultimate monster.
An enemy that could not be defeated; because, they were fighting to protect their homeland against foreign invaders. …

[In 1995, Robert McNamara conceded that] 3.4 to 3.8 million Vietnamese had perished.
In comparison, 58,000 Americans died in the fighting and 200,000 were wounded.

{The US dropped three times as many bombs on tiny Vietnam as it did in all of World War II.}
… 9,000 of South Vietnam's 15,000 hamlets [were destroyed.]
In the North, all six industrial cities, 28 of 30 provincial towns and 96 of 116 district towns.
Unexploded ordinance still blankets the countryside.

19 million gallons of herbicide had poisoned the environment. …
The effects of chemical warfare alone lasted for generations. …
Surviving children born with horrid birth defects and deformities and cancer rates much higher than in the North.

[And yet,] the chief issue in the United states was, for many years, the hunt for 1,300 soldiers missing in action.
A few hundred of them presumed taken as captives by the North Vietnamese …

The outcome [of the war] has been shrouded in sanitized lies. …
The Vietnam veterans' memorial in Washington … contains the names of 58,282 dead or missing Americans.
The message is clear: the tragedy is the death of those Americans.
But imagine if the names of 3.8 million Vietnamese and millions of Cambodians and Laotians were also included. …

Johnson, convinced that communists were behind the anti-war movement, ordered the CIA to uncover proof …
[The] CIA's illegal domestic operations lasted almost seven years [but] failed to prove communist involvement. …

In 1965, with CIA support, General Suharto led the army in crushing [President] Sukarno's supporters.
In the following months Suharto's militias and civilian mobs went from house to house killing a half million to a million suspected communists and their families.
US, British and Australian intelligence provided thousands of names of suspected communists to the army. …
In 1968, the CIA acknowledged that the Indonesian massacre ranked as one of the worst mass murders in the 20th century. …

(Johnson, Nixon & Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune, The Untold History of the United States, 2012)

PBS American Experience

  • Surviving The My Lai Massacre, Witness, BBC Radio Four, 13 March 2018.
  • Barack Goodman, My Lai, WGBH, 2010.

    Lawrence La Croix [Squad Leader]:
    [We started] throwing grenades into the bunkers [and] hearing the screaming from inside.

    Pham Thanh Cong [Villager]:
    [Three] American soldiers came to my house.
    They pushed six of us down into the shelter and threw a hand grenade in behind us.
    [Then] they used their machine guns to shoot us down.
    My entire family was blown into pieces. …
    (p 13)

    Ronald Haeberle [Army Photographer]:
    I was the photographer on the operation that day. …
    I was coming up to a group of people who were huddled and they had some [American GIs] surrounding them.
    One soldier spoke up and said …
    Here’s a person with a camera!
    [Sure] enough, the soldiers backed off and I moved up and I took a photograph of these people.

    You can see the fear in the faces on there especially the small children, and the older woman trying to protect the daughter.
    Then, [in] the next instant, automatic fire.
    They were all shot [and] I saw them drop to the ground.

    Dan Millians [Attack Helicopter Pilot]:
    [I was] tagging along behind the OH-23 flown by Hugh Thompson [who died in 2006.]

    (Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, The History of the World, The Vietnam War,
    Episode 8: April 1969 – May 1970, PBS, 2017)

    [We] started seeing bodies accumulate in the village.
    Women, kids — I’d never seen anything like that. …
    (p 14)

    Lawrence Colburn [Observation Helicopter Gunner]:
    We lingered by one of the bodies that we marked, it was a young female with a chest wound, but she was still alive.
    [Hugh] Thompson decided he’d move back, stay at a hover and watch, and we saw a captain approach the woman, look down at her, kick her with his foot, step back and just blew her away, right in front of us.
    Later on we found that it was [the Company Commander, Captain] Ernest Medina …

    (p 15)

    Michael Bilton [Writer]:
    [Charlie company] gathered together about 170 old men, elderly women, mothers with small children, and pushing them, herding them, across to the eastern side of the village near to where a big drainage ditch was situated. …
    Calley gave the order to start firing and [he and private Meadlo turned] their M16 rifles on this group and began shooting.
    Mothers started diving with their children into the ditch.
    One mother described it later as like ducks, going into the water. …
    (p 16)

    Thomas Turner [Team Leader]:
    [Lieutenant] Calley yelled at me to come help him and I just kept walking …
    I didn’t even turn around and answer him. …
    I thought at the time,
    [That’s] disobeying an order …
    [He] can do anything he wants to me …
    [But] I didn’t care.
    I wasn’t gonna help him kill people in a ditch.
    To this day, I [ask] myself
    [What] could I have done to stop [it?]
    (p 17)

    Trent Angers [Writer]:
    [The observation helicopter pilot, Hugh] Thompson, now sees a small group of Vietnamese people … running for their lives, heading for a bunker [pursued by] men from Charlie Company.

    Lawrence Colburn:
    Mr Thompson calculated they had less then thirty seconds to live.
    Hugh Thompson:
    I’m going over to the bunker and get these people out myself.
    And if these American soldiers fire on these people or me, when I’m getting them out of the bunker, shoot ‘em. …
    Thomas Turner [Team Leader]:
    I was … less than 50 yards from this helicopter …
    I remember the door gunners … pointing their machine guns directly at me and thinking,
    Oh my god what are they gonna do? …
    Dan Millians:
    Hugh and his crew had a group of people gathered up to be taken out.
    … I landed the helicopter, put 'em on, and we left with them.
    A gunship just never landed out in the boonies like that to pick up somebody.
    It was just not done.
    I don't know why we did it, other than … that those people needed to be out of there.
    (p 18)

    Walter Cronkite (1916 – 2009) [CBS News Anchor]:
    At Fort Benning, Georgia, today the prosecution opens its case against 1st Lieutenant William Calley, Jr charged with the murder of more than 100 South Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. …

    Aubrey Daniel [Army Prosecutor]:
    He was not charged with the massacre.
    He was charged with what he did.
    [He] was responsible for more [of the] killing than anybody else there by a long shot. …
    (p 28)

    Walter Cronkite (1916 – 2009) [CBS News Anchor]:
    [Under political pressure] President Nixon has ordered Lieutenant William Calley released from the stockade and confined to his quarters pending review of his conviction life sentence for the My Lai massacre.
    (p 30)

    Michael Bilton [Writer]:
    Ultimately, he had to serve … about four months …

    Jerome Walsh [Investigator, Peers Commission]:
    … Nixon's intervention passed the word that:
    Nobody is going to get punished for what happens here …
    [The] result of this was to completely undermine any further prosecutions of other officers.
    Calley got away with it — and all the other people who were involved got away with it also. …
    (p 31)

    Michael Bilton:
    If you take the total number of people who died at My Lai, which was 507, and put that along side the 2 million civilians who died, it doesn't seem very much.
    But it in terms of impact on America and on the rest of the world, about how they conducted that war, clearly it changed people's opinions towards the war.
    It was too big a price to pay …
    [If] you were going to have to win this war by this kind of conduct, then it wasn't a price worth paying. …
    (p 32)

    William Calley (1943):
    There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai …
    I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families.
    I am very sorry.
    (Kiwanis Club, Columbus, Georgia, 19 August 2009)

    Three US servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and protect the wounded were initially denounced by several US Congressmen as traitors.
    They received hate mail and death threats and found mutilated animals on their doorsteps.
    The three were later widely praised and decorated by the Army for their heroic actions. …

    [Calley eventually served] three and one-half years under house arrest at Fort Benning.

    … Captain Medina denied giving the orders that led to the massacre, and was acquitted of all charges …
    Several months [later he] admitted that he had suppressed evidence and had lied … about the number of civilian deaths.
    (16 February 2013)

    Would you like to know more?


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. The nature of war can change a clear minded soldier into a murderer or even worse. Excellent perspectives were stated in this article. I wish there was more perspectives and comments from Lt Calley.

    Helped a me alot. Thank you