Viet Nam

death and destruction

Xin Chào from Mỹ Lai,

Occasionally, we all need a sobering history lesson.

We are in Mỹ Lai, Central Việt Nam: the site of the infamous, eponymous massacre which – when finally exposed 12 months after the event – shocked the waverers and galvanised opposition to the American War.

Nobody needs to visit the site to be horrified by the egregious brutality but a first-hand look at the silent remembrance is a sad reminder that war can be a wholly dehumanising experience.

On 16/3/’68, when Platoon 1 of C Company descended into the village of Sòn My, they weren’t merely passing through. They weren’t provoked into a spontaneous frenzy of self-defence. And this was not ‘collateral damage’. This was a planned attack. Acting on faulty intelligence (this explanation tending to the charitable rather than the accurate), Charlie Company arrived when the unarmed villagers were having breakfast.

The GIs ordered the frightened villagers out of their homes, herded most of them into an irrigation ditch (still extant today for us to reflect on the barbarity of it all) and shot them. 504 innocent people – including babies – were murdered at Mỹ Lai that day. Members of Charlie Company had committed rape, murder and arson. They were later photographed pinning medals on each other. The only American casualty was Herbert Carter who shot himself in the foot in order to avoid having to obey unconscionable orders.

After the wanton carnage, there were a handful of bewildered survivors. One woman asked, incredulously, “Why would they do that?”. It’s the most important question; one which almost defies an answer.

“particularly interested in killing”

Herbert Carter – testifying 18 months later during the court martial – said, “some GIs were particularly interested in killing people”. It tells us something about the war.

Give an uneducated, racist young man a lethal weapon, tell them their mission is to spread fear among the populace, leave him without humane leadership, what else can we expect? Many of the soldiers clearly believed that they were at liberty to substitute their own judgement for the provisions of the Geneva Convention. (Incidentally, only one GI ever faced a court martial. This was William Calley, who spent three days in prison. Three days?!?!) 

How many other instances?

   Linda wonders aloud: “How many other villages were torched like this?”. Việtnamese sources knew all along that – although the scale and depravity of Mỹ Lai was unprecedented – there had been plenty of other instances of widespread civilian murder.

Another documented massacre occurred in the hamlet of Truong Le, also in Central Việt Nam. This morning we trudged respectfully through another nearby village where 97 had been killed on the same day as Mỹ Lai. The photo attached is of a gravesite from that village: mother; father; four children.

It’s been sobering, alright. Everybody should visit Mỹ Lai.

Hẹn gặp lại from Mỹ Lai,


Other photos from hereabouts

in the district
as many orchids as will fit
towing the fruit tree
in the same village (Sòn My)

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