It Never Happened and Besides They Deserved It Anyway

 

The massacre of the rural population of Vietnam was not an accidental by-product of the war, but an intentional outcome of proposed and executed military strategy. This “deliberate destruction of a part of a national group” conforms to the definition of genocide as explained by the Geneva Convention.

In March 1968, under the command of Lieutenant William Calley, the agitated GIs of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, embarked on a search and destroy mission in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai, a heavily mined area of Quang Ngai province that was deeply infiltrated by Viet Cong. In the preceding weeks, numerous members of Charlie Company had been killed and maimed by VC forces, leaving the troops, who were known for their particularly violent tactics, particularly incensed and resentful on March 16, 1968. The search and destroy mission quickly degenerated into the slaughter of more than 500 unarmed civilians, primarily women, children, and elderly.

Eyewitness accounts, including footage filmed by an accompanying army photographer, Ron Haeberle, betray particularly egregious atrocities committed against the unarmed villagers: American forces shot praying women and children, including babies, in the back of the head, girls were raped and then killed, and Lieutenant Calley herded an unarmed group of villagers into a ditch and sprayed them with machine gun fire. Orders were also given to raze the village. The carnage only stopped when an American Huey helicopter came to the rescue of the villagers – an army pilot, Hugh Thompson, landed his helicopter between the remaining villagers and the rampaging soldiers and subsequently ordered his gunner to open fire on any U.S. soldier who continued to attack the ravaged Vietnamese.

Unfortunately, these instances of slaughter perpetrated by American G.I.s are no longer unique to Vietnam. Once again, we’re witnessing US-perpetrated bloodbaths in which as many as fifty Iraqi civilians receive fatal injuries by overzealous American soldiers. Such was the involvement of the 82nd Airborne in the al-Fallujah slaughter on April 28, 2003 and April 30, 2003. Not unlike Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne were still reeling from the multiple casualties they had suffered earlier in the day when they received orders to provide crowd-control and law enforcement in al-Fallujah, a Sunni stronghold that was not sympathetic to the American occupation. Sunni resentment towards the uninvited Americans culminated in a peaceful demonstration, when, according to Second Lt. Wesley Davidson, US soldiers, attempting to disperse the crowd, threw a smoke canister at the protesters. Moments later, US troops open fire on the crowds of people. Witnesses reported being unable to reach the blood-soaked incapacitated civilians laying in the street. Ambulance driver Jum`a `Abid Muthin recalls shouting, “We’re an ambulance!” and [the U.S. soldiers] said ’Go away!’ They shot in the air.”

While the intentions of the U.S. soldiers in denying passage to the ambulances is unclear, this should be part of the investigation. Under international humanitarian law U.S. soldiers had an obligation to allow the wounded access to medical care as soon as practicable.

In spite of repeated claims by the US military that the 82nd Airborne Division came under heavy fire that day, Human Rights Watch could find no evidence to support this claim – the recovered machine gun rounds, coupled with the absence of ballistic evidence that could support the United States’ official version of events, suggest that American troops opened fire on unarmed Iraqis when the crowd became confrontational – investigators found extensive physical evidence that suggests the Iraqis had thrown rocks at the US soldiers, which more than likely precipitated the gunfire.

Two days following the al-Fallujah bloodbath, Sunni protesters gathered to protest the American occupation – particularly the occupation of their town – when a six-vehicle US military convoy en-route to al-Ramadi was “struck with a rock, hitting a soldier in the head. Another soldier lost a tooth. The lead vehicle shot a warning shot into the air,” at which time the trail vehicle opened fire on the crowds of people, killing three and wounding at least sixteen.

An unidentified American soldier justifies his use of deadly force. “We’ve been sitting here taking fire for three days. It was enough to get your nerves wracked. When they [protesters] marched down the road and started shooting at the compound there was nothing for us to do but defend ourselves.”

In a since-declassified document, military command expresses serious concerns about the inherent nature of the dual-role that the “average soldier” must adopt:

“The soldiers have been asked to go from killing the enemy to protecting and interacting, and back to killing again. The constant shift in mental posture greatly complicates things for the average soldier. The soldiers are blurred and confused about the rules of engagement, which continues to raise questions, and issues about force protection while at checkpoints and conducting patrols.

“How does the soldier know exactly what the rule of engagement is? Soldiers who have just conducted combat against dark skinned personnel wearing civilian clothes have difficulty trusting dark skinned personnel wearing civilian clothes.”

US soldiers can be equally arrogant and abusive in Iraq: Iraqis and foreign troops frequently witness US soldiers’ “highly insulting” behavior towards Iraqi civilians, which ranges from putting their feet on the heads of Iraqi detainees to searching, groping, and sexually assaulting female Iraqis, all culturally unacceptable [and highly offensive] acts.

Vietnam veterans identified with Calley’s blatant hostility towards the villagers. Former marine Tim O’Brian recalls, “After all the frustrations that we had been through, I understood the frustrations that were felt by Calley. This isn’t to excuse his behavior. I thought it was wrong and I still do…but at the same time, here was a guy who had watched friends die. We didn’t kill people in My Lai, our element did.”

After repeated cover-ups, the army ultimately scapegoated Calley, who was charged with 109 counts of murder and convicted in a court martial. Vietnam GIs expressed particular contempt for the verdict against Calley: former Marine master sergeant Stanley Gertner explained, “If this man is guilty, he is guilty for the same thing we did. We shot up villages under orders and killed countless civilians.” The responsibility for My Lai, in fact, went straight up the chain of command: Captain Ernest Medina, Lieutenant Calley’s immediate superior, issued Calley direct orders to “waste the village.”

Perhaps the most sinister ramification of the My Lai massacre was the shift in America’s public consciousness; suddenly Americans willingly entertained the possibility that the My Lai massacre was not an aberration or anomaly but rather (acceptable) standard operating procedure.

A U.S. Special Forces soldier recalls:

“I knew a couple of cases where it was suggested by Special Forces that Viet Cong prisoners be killed. The way the transmissions went with the base camp you knew what they wanted you to do – get rid of them. I wouldn’t do that…and a major told me, “You know, we almost told you right over the phone to do them in.”

“I said that I was glad he didn’t, because it would have been embarrassing to refuse to do it…The major said, ”Oh, you wouldn’t have had to do it; all you had to do was turn them over to the [North] Vietnamese.”

“Of course, this is supposed to absolve you of any responsibility. This is the general attitude. It’s really a left-handed morality. Very few of the Special Forces guys had any qualms about this. Damn few.”

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~ by K. Danconia on 10.30.