Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 16, 2010

     I wonder if they still mention My Lai in history classes in American schools. Maybe not.  It was a low point in our war in Vietnam, but wars are full of low points and this one may now be forgotten.      Anyway, what happened was that on this date in 1968, 2nd. Lt. William Calley led a platoon of C Company, 20th Infantry Regiment, into a village named My Lai and ordered them to shoot and kill a large number--probably a hundred or more, witnesses disagreed--of unarmed civilians.  Some of his soldiers refused to fire; most obeyed the order.      The story got out because an Army photographer named Ronald Haeberle was there and took some pictures.   I can still remember Mike Wallace on CBS's "60 Minutes" asking Paul Meadlo, one of Calley's men,  "And women?" 'Yes, sir.'  And children?  'Yes, sir.'  And babies?  'Yes.'"      Calley was court-martialed. (I covered the trial). His defense was, first, that he was simply obeying orders.  His company commander, Ernest Medina, denied giving any such order and was acquitted later in a separate court martial.  Calley's second defense was, hey, this is war. Unarmed civilians?  "They were all the enemy, sir. They were all to be destroyed."      Calley was convicted.  Five of the six officers on the jury that convicted him had served in Vietnam.  Among those outraged by the verdict:  then Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, who asked Georgians to drive for a week with their headlights on in protest.  Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor but in fact served only three and a half years of house arrest at Ft. Benning.      He worked after his release at his wife's father's jewelry store in Columbus, Georgia.  They separated a few years ago.  He lives in retirement now in Atlanta.     The philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  William Calley's story is from an old war, from our past.  Any lessons, do you think, for the ones we are in today?
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