Sunday, March 16, 2008

War Reflection #1: The My Lai Massacre

On 16 March 1968 U.S. forces killed between 300 and 500 Vietnamese civilians in what came to be known as the My Lai (My Son) massacre. The military covered up the atrocity and President Richard Nixon and the Pentagon ignored it at first. Lieutenant William Calley who led the slaughter was eventually charged and convicted of murder but served only a few months in prison.

It was only weeks after the politically disastrous Tet Offensive and seven years before the Vietnam conflict ended. It was 30 years before helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and two other soldiers were honoured for stopping the killing.

There are hundreds of thousands of websites that mention My Lai. I would recommend another source for some understanding of the dark side of humanity that perpetrates such barbarity: Tim O’Brien’s 1994 novel In the Lake of the Woods. He served 'in country' as a draftee in 1969-70 with the same division as Calley.

It is not an easy read. Its structure is very complex and it uses multiple voices. It is anything but a straightforward narrative. It is a mixture of many elements: war story, political intrigue, murder mystery and a tale of psychological magic.

O’Brien has written other novels based on his Vietnam experiences, such as If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried, which are well worth reading.

In October 2003 O’Brien spoke of similarities of Vietnam with the Iraq war. Even then he remarked, “Just the doubletalk of it all reminds me of Vietnam, “lights a glow at the end of tunnels,…” We can only hope that recent progress is not illusory.

Stay tuned for "Peace with Honor".

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