The Ditch at My Lai where 170 civilians were shot on March 16 1968
first glance it looks like any other ditch, until you get closer and see the
gravestone marking the site where 107 people were shot dead on 13 March 1968.
The hamlet of My Lai was devastated that day, when a total of 504 innocent
civilians were killed as Charlie Company of Task Force Barker led by Lt William
Calley swooped down on Son My sub-district.
military brass tried to cover the incident up and it was not reported until
over a year and a half later. Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize for his
account of what happened at My Lai, and David Haeberle's photographs vividly
caught the horror of what occurred that day.
Lai is a very pastoral and scenic hamlet located fourteen kilometers from the
town of Quang Nai in central Vietnam. When you wander through it today, little
children come scurrying up to you and scream "ling so" (Soviet) or
"where do you come from?"
do not encounter the animosity that you would expect to find in a place which
has borne so much suffering. Most of the inhabitants of My Lai were born after
the war with America was over. They greet you with smiles and laughter, not
glares and insults.
is a museum at the site which recounts the massacre in Vietnamese. There are
even a few letters from some of the Americans who took part in the massacre,
expressing sorrow and remorse at their actions. There is also a Guernica
type mural on the wall near the ditch which vividly recreates the massacre. The
most stunning sight at My Lai, however, is a huge monument which captures the
villagers' suffering moments before their death.
one fired on the Americans that day. They were not in danger. They were in
total control. They didn't have to commit the atrocities they did. They herded
many innocent men, women and children into ditches and shot them to death with
smiles on their faces.
did they do it? Some say the soldiers were just fed up. A number of Americans
had been killed in the area preceding the attack and it was a known Viet
Cong stronghold. They were sick of fighting an enemy; they couldn't see and
couldn't catch so they took it out on their enemy's loved ones.
Philip Caputo's book A Rumor of War, one soldier is quoted as
saying "one of the most brutal things in the world is your average
nineteen year old American boy." My Lai would seem to bear that out.
is hell. It always has been and it always will be. It's hard to be nice to
people when they are trying to kill you, especially when you think you are supposed
to be helping them.
is clear, however, that the American soldiers crossed a fine line that rueful
day in March of '68. When many veterans returned home, they complained that
they were treated poorly and called murderers and baby burners. Visions of
atrocities like My Lai did a lot to alienate the American public from their
soldiers in Vietnam.
it, understand it, or loathe it, My Lai will always serve as a reminder of
American's tragic involvement in Vietnam.