THE MY LAI MASSACRE
In the fall of 1969, war-weary America received a new shock from the distant battlefields of Vietnam. On November 13, newspapers across the country printed accounts of a gruesome massacre that had occurred some 19 months earlier at a small Vietnamese hamlet known as My Lai 4.
On March 16, 1968, U.S. soldiers of the 23rd Infantry Battalion had entered the hamlet, rounded up old men, women, and children and killed them. The newspaper stories described how the soldiers beat and raped women before shooting them, and how they had murdered babies with pistol shots to the head. When the rampage was over, some 567 Vietnamese civilians were dead. The soldiers had not been fired on, nor was there any apparent danger from the people of the hamlet.
The scenes of slaughter stunned the nation and ultimately became a symbol of its Vietnam War trauma. "I sent them a good boy, and they made him a murderer," cried the mother of one of the soldiers at My Lai.
For the next two years, the country would be tormented by the issue of American war crimes in Vietnam and consumed by a rare and profound soul-searching. Who was responsible for My Lai? The soldiers who pulled the triggers, or the generals and politicians who gave the orders to kill? Was My Lai an isolated act? Or was it the logical outcome of a brutal war that killed civilians as a matter of course? These were only some of the questions that tore at the American conscience - and led many Americans to withdraw their support for the war.
More than 100...