International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

My Lai Massacre

I know this is not a topic we have discussed yet but I thought it was interesting to bring up after all this talk of genocides that occurred in other governments.  Although this is not considered genocide, the My Lai Massacre was a mass murder conducted by the U.S. Army (Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division) during the Vietnam War.  Basically, this group of soldiers was informed of a group of Vietcong fighters hiding out in this village in South Korea. As it turned out, the American soldiers killed over 500 innocent men, women, and children.  Although this event seems terrible, it was really just men who had been out in the Korean wilderness, seeing fellow soldiers die at the hands of the communist Viet Cong groups, given specific orders and not having the sense to realize that something had gone horribly wrong when the plan was actually executed.  The government tried to charge these soldiers with criminal offences of murder, but was it really their fault, or were they just following orders?  If they had refused to carry out the plan, they would have faced dishonorable discharge, so what choice did they really have?  This goes along with the “A Bit of Political Philosophy” post showing that the separate parts of an operation such as this often leaves the people that create the plan remorseless and the people that execute the plan confused and seemingly at fault.

The video is a little long but very interesting if you want to learn the whole story from execution to trials. (The link doesn’t work for some reason, just click watch full episode)

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.


3 responses to “My Lai Massacre

  1. Kevin Rutherford February 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I think that this incident is quite interesting to study. Although it seems like they were originally following orders, when you look into it, you would think a rationale person would have noticed that there was something wrong with the order. What likely seems to have happened is that people were under a whole lot of stress and when given the opportunity to kill a whole lot of people, they released their stress on innocent civilians. Unfortunately, they wiped out the village of Mai Lai in the process, but it also is a good study of the effects of stress and how it can distort not only the morals of a person, but how they process rational thoughts as well.

  2. marygrace22 February 16, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    In my Legal Studies lecture last semester, we watched a documentary on My Lai. The video was not only extremely graphic but very emotionally disturbing. I personally had never heard of My Lai and when the story was laid out in such a visual manner it was very striking.

    As an average middle-class American, I like to think that I would NEVER commit such an atrocity, but as Kevin reiterated, the effects of stress cannot be underestimated. Guerilla warfare is one of the most taxing forms of warfare on soldiers. The idea that one cannot distinguish civilians from enemies is extremely frightening and can easily skew one’s vision of right and wrong after enough time.

    Do I believe that those men should have been acquitted as they were? Absolutely not. But who I am to judge their state of mind? Who am I to say I would never do that?

  3. nchapin February 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Yes, war is hell. Yes, fighting in the bush for months, always fearing ambush, certainly has a taxing effect on the mental stability of soldiers. But this does not justify the deliberate brutality exercised against the civilians of My Lai. Shooting a civilian in a theater of war because he/she appeared to be brandishing a weapon can be a legitimate cause of stress in battle, but the intentional massacre of AN ENTIRE VILLAGE of unarmed non-combatants, men, women, and children, cannot be justified by this stress. “Just following orders” cannot be a viable excuse either. Anyone who would rather slaughter unarmed men women and children than fear reprisal from leadership and dishonorable discharge has moral issues. Low level Nazi soldiers were “just following orders” when they machine gunned dozens of noncombatants in trenches, and in my mind My Lai is not much different.

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