The My Lai Massacre Revisited
by Gary G. Kohls
by Gary G. Kohls
years ago, on March 16,1968, a company of US Army combat soldiers
from the Americal Division swept into the South Vietnamese hamlet
of My Lai, rounded up the 500+ unarmed residents, all women, children
and old men, and executed them in cold blood, Nazi-style. No weapons
were found in the village, and the whole operation only took 4 hours.
was a massive cover-up of this operation (which involved a young
up-and-coming US Army Major named Colin Powell), those who orchestrated
this "business-as-usual" war zone event did not deny the
details of the slaughter when the case came to trial several years
later. But the story did eventually filter back to the Western news
media, thanks to a couple of courageous witnesses and journalists
whose consciences were still intact. An Army court-marital trial
eventually convened against some of the soldiers, including Lt.
William Calley and Company C commanding officer, Ernest Medina.
many of the soldiers in Company C, Medina ordered the killing of
"every living thing in My Lai," including, obviously,
innocent noncombatants men, women, children and even farm animals.
Lt. Calley was charged in the murder of 109 civilians. In his defense
statement he stated that he had been taught to hate all Vietnamese,
even children, who, he was told, "were very good at planting
was documented by many of Medinaís soldiers and recorded by photographers,
but the Army still tried to cover it up. The cases were tried in
military courts with juries of Army officers, which eventually either
dropped the charges against all of the defendants (except Calley)
or acquitted those accused. Medina and all the others who were among
the killing soldiers that day went free, and only Calley was convicted
of the murders of "at least 20 civilians." He was sentenced
to life imprisonment for his crime, but, under pressure from patriotic
pro-war Americans, President Nixon pardoned him within weeks of
The trial stimulated
a lot of interest because it occurred during the rising outcry of
millions of Americans against the war that was acknowledged as an
"overwhelming atrocity." Many ethical Americans were sick
of the killing. However, 79% of those that were polled strenuously
objected to Calleyís conviction, veteranís groups even voicing the
opinion that instead of condemnation, he should have received medals
of honor for killing "Commie Gooks."
Just like the
Jewish Holocaust of World War II, the realities of My Lai deserve
to be revisited so that it will happen "never again."
The Vietnam War was an excruciating time for conscientious Americans
because of the numerous moral issues surrounding the mass slaughter
in a war that uselessly killed 58,000 American soldiers, caused
the spiritual deaths of millions more, killed 3 million Vietnamese
(mostly civilians) and psychologically traumatized countless others
on both sides of the conflict.
Of course the
Vietnam War was a thousand times worse for the innocent people of
that doomed land. They were victims of an army of brutal young men
from a foreign land who were taught that the Vietnamese people were
pitiful sub-humans and deserved to be killed with some GIs preferring
to inflict torture first. "Kill-or-be-killed" is an attitude
that is standard operating procedure for military combat units of
every nation and ideology.
tell me that there were scores, maybe hundreds, of "My Lai-type
massacres" to which the Pentagon refuses to admit. Execution-style
killings of "potential" Viet Cong sympathizers (i.e.,
anybody that wasnít an American at the time) were common. Many combat
units "took no prisoners" (a euphemism for murdering captives,
rather than having to follow the nuisance Geneva Conventions which
requires humane treatment for prisoners of war). The only unusual
thing about the My Lai Massacre was that it was eventually found
Very few soldiers
or their commanding officers were ever punished for the many war
crimes that occurred during that war because those in charge thought
that killing during war-time is simply the norm, usually labeled
"collateral damage." After all, as Donald Rumsfeld infamously
says, "stuff happens."
was enjoyable for some for a while. (Witness Abu Graib and
Guantanamo Bay today.) And wars are profitable for many and
still are. (Witness Halliburton et al. today.)
Those who plan
wars and/or participate in them, yet also profess to be Christians,
pay no attention to the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew
25:31-46, unless they are prepared to reject the words and ministry
of the namesake of their religion especially regarding the issue
of homicidal violence (for Jesus says, in so many words: "Violence
is forbidden for those who wish to follow me"). And what is
most hypocritical is the fact that these so-called Christians also
reject Jesusí Golden Rule command: "Do onto others as you would
have them do unto you."
of the Way of Jesus also includes his clear teachings on how his
followers are to treat the neighbor, the stranger, the hungry, the
naked, the captive, the enemy and all others in need of mercy. In
order to participate in the legal homicide that takes place in all
wars, the followers of Jesus must ethically reject the totality
of Jesusí teachings and then adopt the un-Christ-like, non-gospel
Just War Theory of Augustine (which first appeared 3 centuries
after Jesus). There is no ethical way for the follower of the nonviolent
Jesus to participate in or condone the mass slaughter of war. One
has to choose between two irreconcilable belief systems.
The whole issue
of the justification of war, with its inherent atrocities, is rarely
examined in an atmosphere of openness and historical honesty. Full
understanding of the realities of war and its spiritual, psychological
and economic consequences for the victims is rarely attempted, especially
for American "Christians." If we who are non-soldiers
ever truly experienced the horrors of combat, the effort to abolish
war would suddenly be a top priority (perhaps even the current crop
of "Chicken Hawk" warmongers in the Bush Administration).
If we actually
knew the gruesome realities of war (or even understood the immorality
of spending trillions of dollars on war preparation while hundreds
of millions of people are homeless and starving) we would refuse
to cooperate with the things that make for war. But that wouldnít
be good for the war profiteers who profit from war. So those businesses
must hide the gruesome truths and try instead to make it look like
something patriotic, with, for example, sloganeering like "Be
All That You Can Be." Or they might try to convince the soon-to-be-childless
mothers of doomed, dead or dying soldiers that their child had died
fighting for God, Country and Honor instead of for domination of
the Middle Eastís oil reserves.
it. The US military standing army system has been bankrupting America
at $500+ billion year after year after year Ė even in times of so-called
"peace." The warmongering legacy of the Pentagon is still
with us, particularly among those who wanted to "nuke the gooks"
in Vietnam. Policy-makers of that ilk are still in charge of US
war-making today, and they have been solidifying their power to
do so with the huge profits made off the deaths, screams, blood,
guts and permanent disabilities of our hood-winked soldiers who
were told that they were "saving the world for democracy"
when in fact they were making the world fit for ruthless and exploitive
global capitalism and the obscene profits of the few. And the politicians
and businessmen of war donít want that gravy train to stop.
changed much even from the World War II mentality that conveniently
overlooked the monstrous evil that was perpetrated at Nagasaki on
August 9, 1945, a war crime so heinous that the psychological consequences,
immune deficiency disorders and cancers from that nuclear holocaust
are still being experienced in unimaginable suffering 60 years later.
really changed. The military mentality that allowed the 500,000
deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians in the aftermath of the first
Gulf War is still dominant.
So it appears
that our military and political leaders havenít learned anything
since My Lai. Is it still true of the churches? The person sitting
next to you in the church pew is, like most Americans, almost totally
ignorant of the hellish realities of the war-zone, or he may choose
to be blindly patriotic or prefer to be indifferent to the plight
of the "other" who suffers so much in war. He may think,
contrary to Jesusí clear teachings to the contrary, that some people
are less than human, and, therefore, if necessary, can be justifiably
killed "for Volk, FŁhrer und Vaterland."
As long as
America continues to glorify war and militarism and denigrate peacemakers,
and as long as we endorse the current spirit of American nationalism
and exploitative, corrupt global capitalism, and as long as the
church leadership remains silent (and therefore acquiescing) we
will not be able to effect a change away from the influence of conscienceless
war-mongers and war profiteers. The prophets and peacemakers are
never valued in militarized nations; indeed, they are always
marginalized, demeaned, imprisoned and even killed. And the reason
is that there are no obscene profits to be made in the prevention
of war, whereas there are trillions to be made on the biggest business
going: war and the killing of other humans and their habitat.
As long as
we continue to be led by unapologetic war-makers, their wealthy
business cronies and the bribery from large political campaign contributors,
there is no chance we will ever obtain a meaningful peace.
And as long
as Americaís leaders, particularly its pseudo-Christian political
and religious leaders, do not reject the mass slaughter that is
modern war and then repent of their silence about the My Lai-like
torture of captives and other atrocities, the suffering world
will be condemned to experience others.
turn as a recipient of retaliatory violence from those we have so
heinously victimized in the past will surely come.
Kohls, MD [send him mail],
an associate of Every Church a Peace
Church, is a practicing physician in Duluth, MN.
© 2006 Gary G. Kohls, MD