Let sleeping dogs My Lai

There is a thread below asking about Colin Powell’s ostensible role in the My Lai massacre.

I will state at the outset that what was perpetrated by the American soldiers on the innocent victims of My Lai is horrific and forever unforgiveable. Calley and his accomplices should burn in Hell.

My concern is with many peoples’ near obsession with the My Lai massacre (see other thread) and the implicit (and seemingly never-ending) condemnation of the USA and its troops.

My Lai was an anomaly. Essentially unique. Even with the benefit of a free and unfettered press, and an obliging public, evidence of other massacres by Americans is not available. On the other hand, atrocities committed by the Viet Cong (and to some extent the NVA) were commonplace. Civilians and combatants routinely told (and still tell) of horrors engineered by the North.

I think that Americans should be proud that in an atmosphere of horror and brutality (i.e. the Viet Nam ‘battlefield’) their soldiers still behaved decently with a very, very few exceptions. They did not take permission from the many terrible acts they’d seen committed by the other side to do the same themselves.

So, can we not let My Lai alone? Or, at least, should we not also ask for an accounting of the scores of the Viet Cong’s “My Lai’s”

I am with you on this. I remember someone mentioned this to me in China (accusing the Americans of attrocities) and I had to laugh. I mean My Lai was clearly an unlawful incident by American standards and it was stopped by Americans. That China or other similar countries would want to compare is ludicrous. Gimme a break while you think of the millions upon millions who died victims of communism in China and elsewhere.

In China I also saw on TV a “documentary” about Macarthyism. While I could not follow the audio (in Chinese) it was quite clear what it was all about. I had to explain to my Chinese friend that, while mcCarthyism is nothing to be proud about, it ranks very very low in the scale of wrongs if you compare it with the Cultural Revolution and such. That does not make it right but gimme a break, how many people died as a result of McCarthy? The perfect is the enemy of the good.

In spite of all its shortcomings, American culture is still right up there with the best and it gets to me when people whine and moan and bitch and complain. You find a place and culture you like better? Go and live there! (Or shut up!)

The only military action in Vietnam I support would be fragging.

Karl, Sailor, Whoooooaaaa! Its deja vu all over again. Anybody who asks pointed questions isn’t supporting our boys. Go back to Moscow!

As to war crimes of our enemies, so what? Have we fallen so low we must favorably compare ourselves to brutal fanatics? I think not. The VC did have two points on us, one, they were fighting in Viet Nam and, two, they WERE Vietnamese.

As for Colin Powell, certainly no case has been convincingly presented. Nonetheless, he was in a position to know. If he didn’t, well, why not? If he did, what did he do about it? Entirely legitimate questions, those.

This has all the hallmarks of a Great Debate. I’ll move it there.

I think the point the OP was trying to make, which I would agree with, is that we as a nation should not measure ourselves by an incident that was committed by a handful of scum in a war where the enemy was doing far worse. If someone uses the Mai Lai incident as proof that our nation is evil, they are shamefully distorting the truth.

Mai Lai was the exception, not the rule. As a whole, our country, whether or not we should have been there, performed with as much honor as could be expected from any country. Mai Lai was a despicable act, and it is shameful that our President at the time saw fit to pardon the man responsible. It is not, however, at all accurate to generalize that incident to our country’s conduct throughout the war.

People who flog the issue of Mai Lai to disparage our country are scoundrels and are wrong. I have never heard of Colin Powell being in a position to know, so I really can’t comment about those allegations. From what I do know, he was not involved in any wrongdoing, and to bring the issue up now smacks of a cheap attempt to disparage him by connecting his name to the event.

Indeed. And nor should the rest of the World.

That comment is tacky, to say the least. My neighbour’s father died as a result of a “fragging” incident. The perpetrator was prosecuted for murder because that’s what fragging is. BTW, what other types of murder do you support?

Is exceptional brutality inherent in civil wars? I’m no historian, but it would seem so. Our own was a good example, and so are the ones going on right now.

Um, it’s a feature of all wars mangeorge. It’s just much harder to forget about with civil wars because both sides happened to you…

I’ve only really heard Mai Lai being used as a example of the horror of the Vietnam war . The way that men who were most likely normal Joe Smoe’s in the real world could be brought to such a level of inhumanity is scary to say the least .

Every nation has something in their history that it is not proud of . These things should not be sweep under the carpet just because they are uncomfortable to talk about . They should be brought out in the open and discussed rationally so we can understand how such things can happen and how we can make sure they never happen again .

Yes, but there is a monumental difference between discussion with an attempt to understand and vilification, wouldn’t you say? The atrocities committed in Mai Lai are horrific, make no mistake, but they hardly serve as any sort of measuring stick for the US as a whole.

Agreed , but events such as this can be used to show how a group of people put in conditions of extreme violence and stress can crack and do things that are abhorrent to society ( even in war time ).

No, what’s tacky is insisting that My Lai was an island of brutality in an otherwise well-conducted war.

Wake up. The US was in Viet Nam to crush the rebellion of an anti-colonialist and self-styled Communist organization. Since the NLF had the support of the general population both North and South, and since the US didn’t give a damn about finding out who was NLF and who wasn’t, the war was against the entire population of Viet Nam. My Lai wasn’t an aberration in the conduct of the military in Viet Nam. It was a logical outcome.

Fragging was just one manifestation of the anger and resentment felt by the mass of enlisted men towards both the war and the officers who were determined to prosecute it no matter the cost. Perhaps you’ve forgotten about the mutinies as well? Whole divisions sat down and refused to fight.

Fragging wasn’t some sort of random violence, either - it was directed at particularly virulent and nasty officers who didn’t care what their enlisted men thought or felt, and showed it. I’ve read of some incidents where the targeted officers were warned - a grenade on their bed one day, a pin the next - and removed themselves from danger and lost the price on their heads by backing off.

Viet Nam should never have been fought. Had I been 15 years older at the time, I would have argued that the best way to support the troops there would be to bring them home.

I’m not a supporter of the actions or even the goals of the U.S. on several levels in Vietnam. On the other hand, this gross oversimplification is merely empty rhetoric.

It was a civil war and there were Vietnamese who supported both sides. (All the post-war “re-education” centers weren’t built to teach their inhabitants new farming skills.) It is also not true that fragging was only carried out against “bad” unit commanders. There are enough marginally socialized people in any group, that once fragging became a “known” event, any number of malcontents used it simply because they thought they could get away with it.

Therefore, I find you endorsing murder in support of empty rhetoric.

I can oppose the Vietnam policies without deciding to rationalize all evil on the grounds that it is purported to be for a good cause.

Viet Nam was by no stretch of the imagination a civil war. The example of the Tet Offensive is quite illustrative on this point:

-International Socialist Review, Fall 1999, p.43

(quoted from Christian G. Appy, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam [Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1993), p.18, and J.W. Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam [Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986], pp. 214-215)

Had there been that kind of lack of support for the Confederacy in the American Civil War, neither Richmond nor Atlanta would have burned. It is also a good indicator that it is neither a gross oversimplification, nor empty rhetoric, to say the U.S. saw its role in Vietnam increasingly, especially after Tet in 1968, as a war against the Vietnamese population in general.

ISR, p.41

(quoted from Gibson, pp. 101-115; Cincinnatus, *Self-Destruction, The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army during the Vietnam Era [New York: W.W. Norton, 1981], pp. 84-85, 155; and Appy, pp. 155-56.)

Of course the Vietnamese weren’t going to take all this quietly, and as it continued their fightback grew more intense. U.S. soldiers weren’t too keen on continuing a war that didn’t seem to be going anywhere but cost them their lives, and that frustration was compounded by their officers (a full 15% of the armend forces in Viet Nam - the largest ratio ever) pushing them to fight harder. Hence soldiers’ rebellions and fragging. Much like the indiscriminate slaughter people like KarlGauss and sailor would like to forget American soldiers committed, these things were a logical outcome of U.S. policy in Viet Nam. These attempts to whitewash the war in Asia by saying the soldiers wanted to be there and were models of military conduct while they were there is as disgusting to me as my stand on fragging appears to you.

Now there’s a reliable source!

I’d really like to know what realistic sources you have that will support your rhetoric, here. The U.S. Civil War was fought between regions of the country. While Northerners and Southerners did travel to the opposite side to enlist, they did so rather rarely and are subject to note when they did.

By contrast, the Vietnamese Civil War was one of ideology and neighbors could easily be on opposite sides. While there is no question that the U.S. was driven by the Domino Theory and the Halt of Communism in sadly invalid ways, it is also true that many people who silently watched as the U.S. and the ARVN were attacked did so in fear for their lives, not out of actual support for the NLF.

If there was such unanimity of feeling for the NLF, why did nearly a million people flee the country when the North conquered. (And it is hardly likely that every dissident–or even a majority of them–fled.)

You have also provided no support for your last sentence that I have quoted. You do your arguments harm by stridently insisting on an insupportable extreme view.

Actually? Yes. They have to be acurate. Being a magazine of the far left, they have to be espicially sure of the facts. People will call them on things they would never think of challenging the NYTIMES on or CNN. Never mind that ISR is much more reliable than CNN.

The bottom line was the Vietnam was a bad war. I don’t think anyone regardless of their political beliefs can argue that anything of value was accomplished by the conflict. Despite the best attmepts of the soldiers in the field, Vietnam was unified under a Communist regime. In retrospect, it would have been better for everyone to have just allowed this to happen in the 1950’s when the French pulled out.

I think incidents like fragging and My Lai (an uncommon atrocity but almost certainly not a unique one) were the results of a bad military situation. Combat is always stressful. But to endure the dangers of war for a prolonged period when it’s evident that no purpose is being served must present an overwhelming burden on soldiers. It’s not surprising that some of them broke under this burden and performed crimes like murder and rape against targets which were probably chosen more for their availability than any other cause.