• The My Lai Massacre Revisited

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    Thirty-eight
    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.

    Although there
    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.

    According to
    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
    mines."

    The massacre
    was documented by many of Medina's 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 verdict.

    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 Calley's conviction, veteran's 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.

    Vietnam veterans
    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 wasn't 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
    out.

    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."

    The torture
    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 Jesus' Golden Rule command: "Do onto others as you would
    have them do unto you."

    The rejection
    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 Jesus' 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 wouldn't
    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 East's oil reserves.

    Let's face
    it. The US military standing army system has been bankrupting America
    at $500+ billion year after year after year — 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 don't want that gravy train to stop.

    Things haven't
    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.

    Things haven't
    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 haven't 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 Jesus' clear teachings to the contrary, that some people
    are less than human, and, therefore, if necessary, can be justifiably
    killed "for Volk, Fhrer 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 America's 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.

    And America's
    turn as a recipient of retaliatory violence from those we have so
    heinously victimized in the past will surely come.

    March
    6, 2006

    Gary
    Kohls, MD [send him mail],
    an associate of Every Church a Peace
    Church
    , is a practicing physician in Duluth, MN.

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