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The Pinkville Massacre – My Lai, Vietnam. March 16, 1968

May 3, 2015
Vietnam - young victims of a US bombing raid

Vietnam – young victims of a US bombing raid

The rewriting of the War In Vietnam

Shortly after the war in Vietnam ended ignominiously for the United States on April 30, 1975, the efforts to rewrite the history of the war began here in the United States in large measure to sanitize what was a horrific genocidal blood bath of one people, the Vietnamese, by another, the United States. One of the key episodes in this re-scripting of history was the trial of Lieutenant  William Calley, the officer in charge of “Charlie Company” – the company that had committed the war crimes of killing an entire Vietnamese village, which the Americans referred to as “Pinkville” but the proper name of which was My Lai, this on March 16, 1968. U.S. intelligence – which these days has difficulty discerning an Afghan or Pakistani wedding party from a band of Al Qaeda or Taliban – had determined that My Lai was a village that supported the rebels, the “Viet Cong” as they were called here in the U.S. media.

This too proved to be “a mistake.” The village was neutral. And even if it wasn’t…

As the story of the massacre broke in the U.S. media, substantiated by a U.S. Army investigation, Lieutenant Calley was – of 45 military personnel implicated in having committed cold-blooded murder – the only one indicted or tried. Although found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, after serving three days in prison, Calley was pardoned by President Nixon and sentenced to house arrest. Three years later he was free on parole. Calley’s case made the country realize what the war was about, the outright slaughter of a people – some sources familiar with the war suggest as many as four million Vietnamese lost their lives from 1962 – 1975, the U.S. chapter in that war.

The goal in killing so many, destroying so much was to make the price of Vietnamese freedom too high, too painful to pay, to inflict untold suffering to bring the Vietnamese into line with American dictates, or failing to do that, to come close to destroying the country. To convict Calley of war crimes, really was to convict the whole of the United States – and most especially its ruling elite – the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Administrations. It was the kind of self-indictment which, the greatest world power of the time, simply could not endure. And so Calley was found guilty, slapped on the hands so to speak and let go.

A few years later, one Ronald Reagan, a Grade B actor whose main political skill, like that of George W. Bush, consisted of reading other people’s scripts, was elected president. Not only would Reagan set the U.S economy on a path of unabashed neo-liberal capitalist greed, the beginning of an unwinding of what had been 50 years of federal social spending, but Reagan also had another goal: to break the country of what was referred to as “the Vietnam Syndrome” – to downplay the idea that the United States had actually lost the war in order to provide the legitimacy for further U.S. military interventions, which would soon start-up again with the U.S. invasion of Grenada followed by Reagan’s wars against Nicaragua and El Salvador. Reagan did his utmost to help rewrite the Vietnam script. In a speech he gave early in his administration he argued:

It is time that we recognized that [the American War in Vietnam] was, in truth, a noble cause… We dishonor the memory of 50 thousand young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feelings of guilt as if we were doing something shameful.

Turning war crimes into “a noble cause” in one easy speech! I wonder who wrote it for him?

Yet it seemed to work, even if the U.S. had indeed engaged in “something shameful.” “Self glorifying delusions, author Peter Birkenhead calls it, a very American way to sweep the uglier chapters of our history under the rug…and keep them there. How was the U.S; military industrial complex to function bridled by a War Powers Act that limited a president’s ability to make war? Nor was this the first or the last time – that a government that had committed horrific war crimes, tried to either bury or soften the past! The French in Algeria, the Turks committing genocide against the Armenians, the descendants of slave owners in the South – to say nothing of the Nazis – all have done likewise. And it is true that forty years after the last member of the U.S. embassy staff was unceremoniously lifted off of the Saigon embassy roof that those generations of Americans who have come later, don’t necessarily know the details of the U.S. war in Vietnam. History jerks forward. Political memory is selective. Yet it has not been a simple case of forgetting. The U.S. government has systematically tried to neutralize the Vietnam years, to cover it up, distort it. Reagan’s obscene comment that the war was “a noble cause” is just a case in point.

There are many others,

So many special forces war films that in the movies have tried to rewrite the war in one way or another, that either suggest that we won, or that “the enemy” was evil incarnate. U.S. war crimes – My Lai was only one of many – are forgotten, or at best, quickly glossed over. In other cases, such as the 1995 French made “Dust of Life” by Algerian filmmaker, Rachid Bouchareb, it is not so much that history is rewritten, but that some aspects are amplified while the crimes committed by the U.S. military in Vietnam are downplayed. Yes it is an excellent movie that reflects the sad fate of abandoned Vietnamese kids whose father were in the U.S. military and mothers Vietnamese in the day after the U.S. defeat and withdrawal from Saigan, after May, 1975. Bouchareb makes powerful ones (Days of Glory)…and this one probably reflects the reality of post-US-invasion Vietnam and the situation of these kids very well. But it is a curious film all the same, a bit emotionally dishonest to be frank, as it seems to cut out what was thirty years of war from 1945 -1975 in which first the French and then the United States tried unsuccessfully to dominate the politics and economics of this SE Asian country. While the treatment of these kids at the hands of Vietnamese authorities in the name of “re-education,” is, frankly, unforgivable, how is that Bouchareb ignores the 4 million (that is the figure I have heard most recently) killed, and many more tortured and wounded by the U.S. military intervention? It is as if he magnifies what is, when all things are considered, a minor tragedy into a major one, and shrinks the major tragedy to naught. There isn’t even anything about the fathers who abandoned their mates and kids. So while I appreciated the film, in the end I found it disturbing and in a way, dishonest.

This tendency continues today as the fortieth anniversary of the war’s end has just passed – April 30, 2015. To mark this occasion there was a PBS special, a number of museums in different cities have had exhibits. They tend to play down or ignore the actual record. In one case – an exhibit at the Colorado History Museum, the U.S military is cast in the role of humanitarian interventionalists! In spite of the fact that the government in Washington ruled that the U.S. would not take  refugees from among its local Vietnamese allies – the military accepts them anyhow on U.S. transport ships off shore in Vietnam. Now that did happen and certainly if put in an overall context, it deserves historical attention, but to emphasize this at the same time failing to in any way explore the overall role of the U.S.military in Vietnam is to use a small fact in order to create what is historically a lie. It’s also known as gray propaganda – ie, one does not lie outright, but to embellish one aspect of reality while repressing or denying what one might call the main themes. Vilify one side, ignore the crimes of the other – done with a vengeance today in respect to Syria, Iran, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians just to name a few of the more obvious suspects.

At the same time, there has been some outstanding research on the war. I cite only one example, Nick Turse’s Kill Everything That Moves, the main theme of which was, amply documented, that My Lai was not the exception to an otherwise moral conduct of the war, but the cruel rule to how the war was fought. There were hundreds, if not thousands of My Lais in Vietnam. With this in mind, and with an eye on providing a more accurate history of the war in Vietnam, I provide below a seven part series on the My Lai Massacre; each part is only about nine minutes but the overall picture comes through rather vividly – and gives a quite different understanding about the war than is being spoon-fed to Americans through the mainstream (and predictably pablum-like) media.

Watch it all! “Enjoy” as they say. The quotes below the links are from the episode above.

A Vietnamese civilian with a gun pointed at the side of her head. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

A Vietnamese civilian with a gun pointed at the side of her head. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

My Lai – Part One

“It appears, on this the 40th anniversary of the historic DEFEAT (got it – the US lost – not won – the war in Vietnam) that in documentaries, museum exhibits and written articles, there is a considerable effort to rewrite the war in Vietnam, to either downplay the utter horrors of what the United States inflicted on that country, to “prettify” the bunch of thug rabble – drug dealing thugs who were the U.S. Vietnamese “allies”, to turn the U.S. military into do-gooders instead of the war criminals many of them became, to suggest that the My Lai massacre was the exception…rather than the rule (read Nick Turse) and to paint a picture that suggests – via idiot testosterone actors like Silvester Stallone and other low lifers that the United States won the war!!…and of course to marginalize what was one of the largest – if not THE LARGEST peace and anti-war movement in U.S. history.”

“What interests me is the way that history gets distorted, rewritten, softened, indistinguishable from what happened. Not so unusual I guess, perhaps on some level needing to whitewash a war in which we hear repeatedly about the 55,000 Americans who died but less and less – if anything about the 4 million (figure given to me recently by a scholar – expert in Vietnamese history) Vietnamese killed….of the carpet bombing, agent orange, napalm, phosphorous bombs, tiger cages, Phoenix program, International War Tribunals where the U.S. was indicted for war crimes, etc…or all the Vietnam Veterans who committed suicide after they got back here – fighting with their nightmares.”

“Their average age (of those in Company Charlie) was 20. A typical cross-section of American youth assigned to most combat units.”

My Lai – Part Two

“Within weeks of arriving in the country (Vietnam) men from Charlie Company had begun systematically mistreating their prisoners. There were reports of random killings and rapes.”

“In February Lieutenant Calley, leader of the first platoon, threw an old man down a well and shot him. No disciplinary action was taken”

“No one in the (Charlie Company) chain of command has ever accepted responsibility for what happened, but Charlie Company had little doubt about what they had to do.”

“The understanding of the order that was given was to kill everybody in the village. Someone asked if that meant the women and children..and the order was EVERYONE in the village…it was quite clear that no one was to be spared in that village”

“”The attack on My Lai started just after 7 o’clock in the morning. It was a Saturday. According to intelligence reports all civilians would have gone to market. Anyone still in the village would be Vietcong. But intelligence was wrong. As the troops embarked, 12 minutes away, many villagers were still finishing breakfast. The first helicopters appeared over My Lai at 7:35 am – there was no hostile fire”

” I was getting ready to work in the fields when the helicopters flew in and started firing. People didn’t know where to hide. They shot some people and rounded up the others. They told us to sit down, so we sat down. Stand up so we stood up. We thought they would let us go but they pushed us into the ditch and shot everybody dead. My children and I were in with the dead people. Their dead bodies weighed down on me. “

“You knew when you went into the village that if you found women, old men children – anything that was living – you knew that you were going to kill them that day.” – “Women and children to dogs and cats – yes.”

kent_state_shooting_AWBMy Lai – Part Three

“That day of my life, I was personally responsible for killing between 20 and 25 people, from shooting them, to cutting their throats, to scalping them, to cutting off their hands and cutting out their tongues. I did that…My mind just went; I wasn’t the only one that did it; a lot of other people did it” – Charlie Company participant at My Lai.”

My Lai – Part Four

from a U.S. helicopter pilot involved in the mission: “During the mission as it was going on, we kept just `reconning’ around . We started seeing a lot of bodies, It didn’t add up you know,, how all these people were getting killed and wounded and we weren’t receiving any fire, just it didn’t make sense. There was too many casualties there. ..and the locations they were in, you know, artillery couldn’t do this.There were bodies in places that artillery didn’t hit, trying to get out of the village. ”

“The first time the Americans came, the children followed them. They gave them sweets to eat, then they smiled and left. We don’t know their language., they smiled and said O.K. so we learned the word O.K. The second time they came we poured them water to drink; they didn’t say anything. The third time they killed everyone, killed everybody, destroyed everything. Nothing was left.”

“The people were chased into the ditch like ducks. They fell head first. They were crying, ‘O God! Have Pity!’ – ‘Please let me up’ ‘We’re Innocent! Have Pity!’ They shot all the people dead….Then silence…Tiny children crawling along the edge of the ditch; it broke your heart.”

“From the helicopter pilot who saved some Vietnamese lives – and risked his own to stop the slaughter. “During flying around we came across a ditch; it had bodies in it, a lot of ’em – women, kids, old men. I remember a thought going through my mind – `how did these people get in the ditch?’ – and I finally thought about the …a… Nazis, I guess, and …marching everybody down to the ditch and blowing ’em away. Here we are supposed to be the good guys in the white hats. It upset me.”

My Lai – Part Five

Concerned helicopter pilot “It still hurts to think about us doing things like that.”

“I looked out of my house and saw my sister, Mui, She was fourteen that year. An American was pressing on top of her. She had no clothing on her. At the time I didn’t understand what that meant. My sister was trying to resist him. Afterwards the American got up, up on his clothes and then he shot her….and then I decided to leave my hiding place. I saw my house was burnt completely and in the yard …my loved ones were burnt to death – my mother and little brother still in my mother’s arms – my seven-year old brother whose body was half burned. I didn’t know anything anymore. I stood by my mother’s body and cried”

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

My Lai – Part Six

Ron Ridenhour – U.S. soldier who broke the story of My Lai by sending letters to Congress “…that it became impossible for me to disbelieve that something rather dark and bloody did indeed occur sometime in March, 1968 in a village called Pinkville (My Lai) in the Republic of Vietnam”

“Did you hear what we did at Pinkville?” – “I said no, what did you do at Pinkville?” “He said `We went in there and we killed everybody.” “Waddaya mean?” “He said, `We just lined ’em up and shot ’em down, three, four, five hundred people, I don’t know how many.”

Ron Ridenhour: “the only way not to be a part of this horrible crime is to discover the truth and to pursue it…and let the chips fall wherever they land…and that’s what I set out to do.”

“Lieutenant William Calley – originally charged with 109 murders – Calley came to embody the issues at the heart of the case. His defense that he was only following orders evoked disturbing comparisons with the Nazis at Nuremberg.”

“Of the 46 men investigated for crimes at My Lai, William Calley was the only one ever convicted. Today Calley runs a jewelry shop in Columbus, Georgia, William Calley spent only three days in jail before being released by President Nixon into house arrest, pending appeal. Three years after his original life sentence, he was released on parole, a free man,”

“But here we were killed in the middle of a meal, just chewing food and we were killed. Rapists who could cut open a vagina inspired an unfading hatred…those Americans so strong and valiant, yet they raped, killed and destroyed everything…”

My Lai – Part Seven

“How can you forgive? I can’t forgive myself for the things I did, even though I know it was something that I did and something that I was told to do. But how can I forget that or forgive (myself)? I can’t. I live with it every day.”

“When I’m very sad, I often think of starting a new life somewhere else. But it would be just the same anywhere in my country. Here is where I belong. The grave of my mother and loved ones is my consolation. That is why I could never leave.”

“Yes, I’m ashamed, I’m sorry, I’m guilty…but I did it. What else can I tell you? You’re looking at someone who did it. It can happen to anyone. If you go to war those are the type of things that will happen and can happen to anyone. After they train you, they program you, it can happen. It happens. That’s reality. That’s what war is. War is not something – I shoot at you – you shoot at me and then we take time out. I live with it every day. War is war – it’s killing all the time. And that’s why we don’t need another war.”


Links (provided by Jim H)

The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront The Truth About U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam

Biography of F.Lee Bailey – attorney for Ernest Medina.

Behind Colin Powell’s Legend: My Lai

Nixon’s Role in the My Lai Cover Up

Obama and Congressman Mike Rogers Caught in Syria War Crimes Cover Up

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2015 10:53 am

    this from Jim H., received in an email: reprinted with permission)

    “Ironic, I was watching on the history channel a piece on Viet NAM, today. The Gulf of TONKIN resolution was based on a total fabrication.(it was not even substantially debated in Congress)

    George McGovern was ultimately right, all the others were sheep, who seemed to care less–and were DEAD WRONG.(all be McGovern first voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, he later noted he regretted it); Even Mitt Romney’s Father had admitted he had been duped by the Generals, but he was ridiculed when he used the term “brain washed”.

    When I was young I had no clue what was going on. VERY CLUELESS, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, because American was kept in the dark as to matters in a far off land, as its citizens in the USA were lied to.

    Maybe the people who went to Canada were braver than some who went into the military.
    Then, there came, the I-net, browsers, googles.(DIGITAL ERA, how to sort it all out). Those in power have the means to lie, the most; THE BIG LIE

    Then there is apathy(in America, only 1 % of the U S youth go into the front lines military, today, the fodder, and only a small percent of 1 % of those see front line combat, the military is mainly BILLION $$$ mega contracts with BIG Corporations, like GE, BOEING , Halliburton, and the Arms Merchants, who run the ARMS racket, and then we see the MARCOS incident, and FOLLIES.( and the B S that Marcos is so marvelous). Over $ 4 billion has been recovered due to his raping the National coffers of the Philippines,(which intermixed U S monies), as the DOJ dropped the ball in criminally prosecuting the Marcos junta. Civil fraud actions are different than a criminal indictment, but CNN was used to spin more lies, to mislead America.

    Now, CNN gets massive money, to run ads for autobod politicians, as some can tap into the circle of dark money so flooding shady conduits to evade some laws, even from foreign sources. Even the FEC Chairwoman recently came out(May 2015) with warnings on this alarming new trend in AMERICA. The FEC Chairwoman noted that Congress setup the FEC for gridlock so it can’t enforce the U S law, as if Congress has contempt for Democracy, and the American citizens.

    All as if the Supreme Court deems real citizens( persons not with equal footing) as corporations are deemed super human persons. Real citizens are the targets of some elite political class to steals the attributes of their citizenship, as the political class panders with interests in areas of dark money from shay conduits.

    While an individual citizen are bound by other laws, the corporate citizens use conduits so there is no equal protection of the law in America to human being real citizens. Thus, this new trend denigrates citizens(their citizenship) in America, their equal protection, as they are exposed to diluted citizenship, a new serf class, as Congress makes a mockery of real Democracy in AMERICA

    All this trying to sort it out can be annoying(to some). Some rather not confront what you just brought up on VIET Nam. I applaud you for reminding America, of who those in power in the USA are.(their DUPLICITY, their craven COWARDLINESS), and captured servants of the ARMS INDUSTRY, who now kick back untold dark PAC or other moneys. See the warning of President Eisenhower on the military industrial complex, his dire warning to America.

    What was the average age of the people on the WALL/ D C: 22. They paid the ultimate price, I honor them, we should never forget them, but people like Dicky Cheney(the professional political elite) have no sense of history, even today.

    It was the best, and the brightest(IVY USA), and the MILITARY Brass who tortured both the people of Viet Nam,(a poor Ag nation) and the young people of America. So, ironic, I was just watching the history channel today on Viet NAM.”

    (note: James Hagood served in the U S Army Corps of Engineers(USACE) from 1970-1987, He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming Law school, and received a prestigious Water Resource Fellowship from George Washington University Law School, & got a LL’M, advanced law degree.His service with the USACE was in Alaska, and Calif. He was the only person in his law school class of 1970, to do long term public service.)

  2. Charles Watson permalink
    March 16, 2017 3:09 am

    Speaking of ‘rewriting’ history, that was NOT an American airstrike; A Cessna A37 Dragonfly, flown by South Vietnamese pilot(s), dropped cans of napalm on Trang Bang on June 8, 1972… more than FOUR years after My Lai.

    • March 16, 2017 6:36 am

      Charles Watson: How can you separate the actions of South Vietnamese from those of the U.S. military? They were bought and paid for – and run – by Washington; the napalm they dropped was “made in USA.”

  3. Luân permalink
    September 17, 2017 10:42 am

    rất nhiều con người Việt Nam đã nằm xuống


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