The My Lai Massacre

By: Marissa Mendoza
To show that soldiers should not follow
orders from Lieutenants if they are
unjust or inhumane.
The My Lai Massacre happened on March 16th, 1968, when
Lieutenant William Calley commanded his platoon to attack the
hamlet, My Lai. Located in the Son Tinh district of Quang Ngai
Province in South Vietnam, Calley suspected about 250 Vietcong
men would be there. This Charlie Company found only women,
their children, and men, in the process of cooking breakfast. As
the hamlet citizens ran around trying to dodge the American
Army, the platoon shot innocent men, women, and children,
executing survivors afterwards (Campell).
Many villagers tried to surrender instead of being killed. Any
Vietnamese who tried to surrender were still shot or knifed.
Women were gang-raped, innocent babies were shot, some
people were forced to lay in ditches while they got shot with
automatic weapons. Even more horrible, remainders of some
Vietnamese had “C Company” carved into them.
When one of the American soldiers
refused to kill an innocent villager,
The Lieutenant took out his
weapon and instantly shot a large
group of Vietnamese
There were three different platoons that were planning on
attacking the hamlet, one by one. But while flying into My Lai,
one of the helicopter pilots for the second platoon “noticed dead
and dying civilians all over the village. Thompson repeatedly
saw young boys and girls being shot at point-blank
range. Thompson, furious at what he saw, reported the killings
to brigade headquarters”(Linder).
Soldiers knew that a cover-up for the event had to rise to the
surface quicker than they took down the village. The army
reports stated that 128 of the enemy were dead, with one
American casualty. One American soldier shot himself in the foot,
so the US casualty was real. But after the Helicopter pilot,
Thompson, filed the report of many war crimes such as
murdering civilians, Captain Medina returned to My Lai to do a
full body count. His answer to the question, “How many civilians
had been killed?”, was 20 to 28(Linder).
After the My Lai Massacre, the “Peers report produced a list of 30
people, mostly officers (including the division commander), who
knew of the atrocities; however, only 14 were charged with
crimes. All eventually had their charges dismissed or were
acquitted by courts-martial, except Calley”(Campell).
After the event, Lieutenant Calley was sent to trial. He stated that
it was not his fault for the attack on the innocent hamlet; he
claimed that it was an order from Captain Ernest Media. Calley
said that he was ordered to kill everyone in the hamlet. The court
ruled against Lieutenant Calley because of evidence of the
murders through pictures and videos. Even though Calley was
sentenced to prison for life, he was released 4 years later in 1974.
(American Experience; Vietnam Online)
Lieutenant Calley on right,
with his attorney, Robert Kay.
During the trial, members from the squad were questioned by the
“— Tim O'Brien Testimony
Q: "Did you obey your orders?"
A: "Yes sir."
Q: "What were your orders?"
A: "Kill anything that breathed.“”
(La Martina)
The My Lai Massacre shocked a lot of people back in the United
States. Actually, a short ”two weeks after the Calley verdict was
announced, the Harris Poll reported for the first time that a
majority of Americans opposed the war in Vietnam”(Linder).
I believe that the soldiers that all took part in the My Lai
Massacre should only have been punished to an extent. They
should have been punished for murdering innocent civilians, but
at the same time, they followed all of their orders that were
given to them.
This event can be compared to a friend telling you to go punch
an innocent person, someone you have no affiliation with.
Would you do it?
Then why did the soldiers kill all of the innocent civilians in My
Lai? Fear?
In my opinion, the soldiers may have been desperate to get out
of Vietnam by this point in the war. They also may have been
scared, they didn’t know in advanced that the Hamlet was filled
with nothing but innocent civilians. Soldiers are told “Don’t think,
just do.” When they saw all of the innocent civilians, most of
them didn’t think, they just shot.
Not only was Lieutenant Calley guilty for his commands, but the
soldiers from the three platoons should be guilty for their actions.
The My Lai Massacre is just an example of a time when soldiers
should have used common sense, and should have done the right
After the massacre, many people back home had suddenly
became doves. They believed the soldiers needed to come home
then. This event scared some people back home because it truly
showed what the soldiers were truly capable of.
44 years later, the few survivors still share their heart breaking
story about how the massacre took their whole family, and
ruined their childhood. These innocent children had done
nothing, and then their lives were extremely affected in 1 four
hour event. If the soldiers had known not to follow the
inhumane order from Lieutenant Calley, these children would not
have been damaged for life.
Buchholz, Brad. "Novelist Tim O'Brien wants us to remember My Lai." States Man. Sun Jun, 29 05
2010. Web. 08 Jun 2012. < >.
Linder, Doug. "An Introduction to the My Lai Courts-Martial ." law2.umkc. N.p., Web. 09 Jun 2012.
Linder, Doug. "The My Lai Massacre Trial." Jurist. © JURIST Legal News and Research Services, -- 03
2000. Web. 10 Jun 2012. < >.
Szczepanski, Kallie. "My lai- What was the My Lai Massacre?." The New York Times
Company, -- -- 2012. Web. 9 Jun 2012.
Stocking, Ben. "Survivors Reflect 40 years After My Lai."USA Today. USA Today, 16 03 2008. Web. 10
Jun 2012. < >.
"Vietnam Online." American Experience. pbs, 29 03 2005. Web. 10 Jun 2012.<
Woods, Jeff. "My Lai Massacre." In Campell, Ballard C., Ph.D., gen. ed. Disasters, Accidents, and Crises
in American History. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. American History Online. Facts
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