On the early morning of March 16, 1968, American soldiers from three platoons of Charlie Company entered a group of hamlets located in the Son Tinh district of South Vietnam, located near the Demilitarized Zone and known as "Pinkville" because of the high level of Vietcong infiltration. The soldiers, many still teenagers who had been in the country for three months, were on a "search and destroy" mission. Three hours after the GIs entered the hamlets, more than 500 unarmed villagers lay dead, killed in cold blood. The atrocity took its name from one of the hamlets, known by the Americans as My Lai Four.
Military authorities attempted to suppress the news of My Lai until some who had been there, in particular a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson and a door gunner named Lawrence Colburn, spoke up about what they had seen. The official line was that the villagers had been killed by artillery and gunship fire rather than by small arms. That line soon began to fray. Lieutenant William Calley, one of the platoon leaders, admitted to shooting the villagers but insisted that he had acted upon orders. An exposé of the massacre and cover-up by journalist Seymour Hersh incited international outrage, and Congressional and US Army inquiries began.
"Jones succeeds on all counts in a book that, due to its subject matter, is not pleasant to read but is powerful and important." (Kirkus Reviews)
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- D. Littman
The more things change,the more they stay the same
Yes, absolutely. It's a painful period of American history which needs to be remembered.
But perhaps more importantly, not remembered as being unique in the history of military actions, American and otherwise. I remember, years ago, a family member of an older generation stating that we know about My Lai because America acknowledges its mistakes. I demurred at the time out of respect for my elders. But, no. No we don't.
One hundred and four years earlier, one can imagine it being Cheyenne and Arapaho massacred at Sand Creek. Twenty-five years later, the government conspires to change narratives of atrocities and high profile deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over four decades later, we still have unhinged leaders shrieking about fake news. It's a universal, eternal story, in the worst possible way.
It was a solid performance. Just enough measured emotion in the voice to convey the gravity of the situation, without slipping into the mawkish. A few questionable pronunciations, but nothing major.
Depression, anger, sadness at the incompetence/indifference of the military and civilian authorities, even today, at what constitutes honor, duty and just merely decent behavior.
While I can appreciate the author steering away from the over-arching question of why Americans were in Vietnam in the first place (outside of short passages in the court martial section and epilogue), it hung over the book like a dark cloud. The standard defense that women, children and the elderly were necessarily regarded as combatants (mostly debunked in this instance), still leaves the question of why they (the women, children and elderly) would do it. Might Americans defend their country in the same way if they felt invaded by a foreign army? Rationalizing a threat and dehumanizing the victims seemsto have made killing easy.
The story reinforces the notion that a uniform does not confer honor upon the person, but the person brings honor to the uniform. These men, (save for Thompson, Andreotta, and Colburn), did not.