Forty years ago this day, American troops entered a Vietnamese village named My Lai and killed many unarmed civilians. No one knows how many. If you go there, the survivors--old women as I remember-- will tell you it was several hundred. Ron Haberle, an Army photographer who was there, remembered, "Some of the people were trying to get up and run. They couldn't and fell down. This one woman, I remember, she stood up and tried to make it--tried to run--with a small child in her arms. But she didn't make it."
The platoon commander who ordered the shooting, William Calley, was court martialed. He was a little guy--five feet four, the clippings say--and undistinguished, but his company had been taking casualties and he just snapped--fired himself, told his men to fire on the unarmed villagers. There was no resistance. Calley was convicted in 1971 of the premeditated murder of twenty-two civilians and sentenced to life imprisonment. But President Richard Nixon freed him pending an appeal. In the end he served a relatively short sentence under house arrest (his girl friend could visit him) and then went home to run a jewelry business in Columbus, Georgia.
The story sickened many Americans. It helped turn some of the troops against the war and they came to Washington in 1971 and demonstrated against the war. They went to Arlington "to see our friends." And on the last day they threw their medals (well, John Kerry, the most prominent of them, threw somebody else's) over the chickenwire fence Congress had put up on the Capitol steps to protect itself, I guess, from the vets.
It was a ling time ago. Why bring it up now? Because this weekend another group--called, like the first one, Winter Soldier--met in Silver Spring, Maryland, a Washington suburb, to protest what they had been ordered to do in the Iraq war. The Washington Post reported a former Marine, Joe Turner, saying, "I'm sorry for the hate and destruction I've inflicted upon innocent people." Or Cliff Hicks, a former soldier, describing a helicopter gunship attack on an apartment building in Baghdad: "It was the most destructive thing I've ever seen, before or since."
The more things change, a wise man once said, the more they stay the same.