‘Our Boys’: 50 Years After the My Lai Massacre, by Christian Appy

Eventually there was too much evidence for people to pretend that My Lai was anything but a slaughter of innocents. So those inclined to pretend just tried to forget. Fifty years later, it’s worthwhile to remember, question, and analyze. From Christian Appy at antiwar.com:

Excerpted from American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

Americans, including GIs, were losing their once reflexive faith that the U.S. military, with all its skill and firepower, would prevail in Vietnam as it had so often throughout history. Also shattered was the faith that America’s fighting forces were inherently more virtuous than their enemies. The unraveling of that conviction began in earnest in 1969 with the revelation that American soldiers had murdered hundreds of unarmed and unresisting women, children, babies, and old men in the village of My Lai.

For many people, the shocking news came first in the form of several horrifying photographs. One shows almost two dozen dead Vietnamese bodies on a dirt road. Many have fallen in a twisted pile; some are partially naked. Another photograph shows a woman lying in a field with her legs drawn up under her body. Her conical straw hat has flipped off her head. If you look closely you can notice that a large portion of her brain lies exposed beneath the hat.

A third photograph shows a group of six Vietnamese women and children huddled together. At the center an old woman stands, stooped over, with a look of unspeakable terror on her face. Behind her a young woman clutches her around the waist with her head buried in the older woman’s shoulder. A young girl stands wide-eyed and openmouthed, with disheveled bangs. She is pressing into a balding woman, barely visible, who is lifting an arm over the head of the young girl, perhaps to embrace her. On the other side of the photograph, a young woman holding a small boy in one arm uses her free hand to button the bottom of her blouse. In some magazines and newspapers a caption tells readers that American soldiers are about to kill the people in the photograph. We are looking at the final seconds of their lives.

Some of the My Lai photographs were published first in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A few weeks later a larger selection was published in Life (December 5, 1969). Then they appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world. They were taken by Ronald Haeberle, an army draftee who was sent to Vietnam as a military combat photographer. He had taken the pictures some twenty months earlier on March 16, 1968, while accompanying an infantry company from the Americal Division.

To continue reading: ‘Our Boys’: 50 Years After the My Lai Massacre

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