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My Lai massacre: Over 500 innocent villagers, including women and children, were slaughtered by US troops on March 16, 1968

Being well aware that the massacre at My Lai wound ring international alarms amidst the ongoing war, the US troops started tuning a different narrative to cover up their deeds. Initial reports of the incident including the one featured by the Stars and Stripes magazine said, "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle."

War is in the news, again. Amid all the discussions over wars and conflicts that have shaped geopolitical scenarios in the last few decades, the Vietnam war is one of the most significant. In the March of 1968, amidst the continuing US-Vietnam War between 195s and the 70s. The massacre perpetrated by US troops on the villagers of My Lai and My Khe of southern Vietnam goes down as the darkest episode in the history of the War.

The Vietnam War

My Lai, a village in Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam was a stronghold of the National Liberation Front (VC) a communist group that advocated for the reunification of North and South Vietnam. In the twenty-year-long Vietnam War, the US supported the independent government of South Vietnam, which had been loyal to the Western bloc in the Cold War. Its Quang Ngai province which saw many communist rebellions was always a frequent target of the US. In March 1968, a part of the American Division’s Infantry brigade called ‘Charlie Company’ took the village of ‘Son My’ under its control.

Owing to Charlie Company’s quick success, it was sent on a search-and-destroy mission in the Son My area. Upon the onset of the Tet Offensive the very last month, The Charlie company had faced big blows from the communists while losing 28 of their commanders in the defence. With now over a close battalion of 100 men, US army commanders shared a wrong correspondence of active Vietnamese Liberation Front (VC) sympathizers present in the nearby villages of Son My with the Company.

North Vietnam (Pink) and South Vietnam (White)

The My Lai Massacre

The Charlie Company battalion led by Captain Ernest Medina entered the nearby village of My Lai on the morning of March 16, 1968, and found a quaint village with women, children and old people sitting outside their homes, some cooking breakfast in their outdoor yards. To the surprise of the soldiers, they could find no VC sympathisers in the village but only common people after individual homesteads were inspected by the US army in the hamlet. However, according to some reports, Medina was quoted saying, “They are all VCs, now go and get them.”

Alarmed by the sudden firing by US troops, the villagers started running to and fro finding shelter in the fields from the interior. The killings had already started without warning. Lt. commander William Calley started shooting men, then women and children were also not spared. Innocent children running barefoot were kidnapped and were tied to trees alongside their mothers. The entire village was set on fire including the homes. The ones who tried to escape were gunned down.

Bodies of women and children at My Lei

Machine guns were pointed en masse with sparing no one. All of this was based on speculation that VC sympathisers are hidden within the village. The US troops spared none – including the old people, unarmed women and children. Apart from this, the raping of countless women by the troops was also reported. Lt. Calley is supposed to have executed the harshest crime of dragging dozens of young children into a ditch at My Lai and then executing them with a machine gun. A few Old men were thrown into a well and a grenade was dropped into it to destroy them.

More than 500 people were killed, raped, slaughtered or gunned viciously by the American army. In all, 182 women – 17 of them pregnant, 173 children of which 56 were infants, and a total of 504 people were counted to be dead.

The Ccover-up of the brutal massacre

Being well aware that the massacre at My Lai wound ring international alarms amidst the ongoing war, the US troops started tuning a different narrative to cover up their deeds. Initial reports of the incident including the one featured by the Stars and Stripes magazine said, “U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle.” The US Army was successful in covering up its war crime by hailing it as a military victory against its opponents in South Vietnam.

Six months later, a young soldier, Tom Glen wrote to US Military General Creighton William Abrahams describing the American brutality on Vietnamese civilians which he personally witnessed. He wrote, “It would indeed be terrible to find it necessary to believe that an American soldier that harbours such racial intolerance and disregard for justice and human feeling is a prototype of all American national character, yet the frequency of such soldiers lends credulity to such beliefs.” He added that this is a problem that cannot be overlooked.

However, it was only when Ron Ridenhour, a soldier in the 11th brigade began to bring the details of the massacre with its documented reports. After writing several letters to President Nixon, the Pentagon and several State Department Chiefs, he finally gave an interview to Journalist Seymor Hersh who broke the horrors committed by America before the world in 1969. After the revelation, the US Army started its private investigation with a motive to cover up the war crimes.

The enquiry which concluded charged 28 officers for their involvement in the war crimes. Later, 14 names were dropped while Ernest Medina and Col. Henderson were acquitted. William Calley was initially sentenced for his life for being found guilty of carrying out unintended shootings. Later his punishment was reduced and commuted by Nixon and he just served 3 years under house arrest. The investigations which found the light of the day later, found that My Lai was not an isolated incident in the history of the Vietnam War. The massacres at My Khe village, in the Mekong delta, were to be revealed soon before the world.

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