My Lai

Very good treatment here

Right seems to be right and wrong seems to be wrong to our clear eyes, but it’s not always that simple in hard conditions.

Some of the events described, outside the My Lai event, were deserving of severe punishment. Which just adds them to a few million other events by American and other Allied servicemen, mulitplied by a much greater number by Axis and Viet Cong and NVA and sundry others in various wars.

How many Viet Cong grunts let alone leaders were ever prosecuted for, or even disapproved of, by the Communist government after 1975 for going into a hamlet and cutting the **** off the headman’s son and stuffing it in his son’s mouth and then doing other vile things to the headman’s family to persuade the headman to persuade his village to support the Communists, which was part of a calculated program to convert them to the Viet Cong? As far as I’m aware, zero.

The world is full of injustice, and such things are just more examples of it.

Well its not injustice.

The ‘perpertrators’ of My Lai were subject to the laws of their military and their nation. They rightly were prosecuted under those standards.

Just because the enemy have a different set of moral codes, does not mean that the other side should ignore its own. Surely having a higher set of moral ethics allows one to maintain the moral high ground and thus allow you to, atleast in the publics view, fight a ‘just’ war against an unjust or immoral opponent?

You also have to look at the actions of some ARVN units too. They were as happy as the VC to inflict hardship upon their countrymen and committed many acts from corruption to murder. All sides, apart from the ‘Western’ sides seem to have regarded this simply as yet another means of controlling the population. Vietnam was a basket case… Cambodia was even worse. All you can do is try and keep up your own standards and not drop to the level of the enemy (or your allies on occasion).

Excellent post.
I saw what those bastards did 1st hand as a matter of policy.

We unfortunately, had a number of individuals who were unable to maintain standards.
Some were made to pay for their misconduct, many were not.

Aye… Thats for sure.

I think its amazing the US and Australian personnel behaved as well as they did when confronted we some of the things they saw… Children with pencils hammered into their heads in Hue City, villagers beheaded, prisoners mutilated… And also acts committed by those on your side as well.

Could not have been easy to remain aloof and not let it effect you. Though I dont believe either side was too keen on taking prisoners… Though captured VC certainly had an intel value for the US forces.

I know one US Hog pilot who fired on ARVN troops who were raiding a village and attacking the residents… He did four combat tours in Nam. Three in Higs and one in medvacs… Despite everything people saw, many seem to have really believed their actions could make a difference to that country. While the popular image is of the war as a folly, and Im not sure I agree with that, many service men and women felt a real desire to return and help South Vietnam. Funnily enough I have heard the same sort of comments and almost affection from those with multiple tours of Afghanistan. They believe what they are doing is right and will have a direct benefit on the lives of the normal person. They also seem to have developed a fondness for the people.

Two seriously messed up wars… But with good people caught in the mess.

I was using injustice in the sense of Calley & Co being prosecuted when almost all of the rest on all sides such as the VC I mentioned in my first post and some equally bad cases who managed to fly under the hypersensitive Western outrage radar such as the South Koreans on the Allied side committed many offences against civilians and enemy, but weren’t prosecuted. Or their crimes even given any publicity, unlike the justifiable torrent of publicity on My Lai.

The same thing happens to some degree in civilian life, but that is more due to a failure by police to be able identify offenders than an acceptance or concealment of offences by the officials who should be dealing with offences and offenders.

I’ve long had the unpopular and politically incorrect view that journalists’, politicians’, and politically correct opinions are, unconsciously, often exactly the opposite of the noble standards they espouse.

For example, why is it that there was so much well-intentioned Western attention devoted, rightly, to criticism of apartheid in white-ruled South Africa (and, alas, since then bugger all at the same level of critical analysis to the way the latest crew have ****ed up the country) but none in the same vein to the immensely worse in number and scale atrocities routinely perpetrated in other countries in the region, notably Angola where butchery reached levels beyond comprehension or the manifold injustices, violence and expropriations in Zimbabwe which are beyond the wildest dreams of the worst psychotic black-hating Boer in South Africa? And the answer in every case is that white or European people were held to higher standards than could be expected of the lesser blacks or whomever. Which merely perpetuates the myth that white or European peoples are superior to the rest, which was shown not to be the case by the Nazis 1933 – 1945 and in various other instances up to the 1990s in what was previously Yugoslavia.


But many others should also have been prosecuted including, as you rightly say, many ARVN who used field beatings and torture against POWs, as well as prosecuting the South Koreans I mentioned above.

The problem there is that many ARVN weren’t observing the same standards in the same war that their Western allies were. Was it acceptable for the Western allies to ignore the, by Western standards, lesser moral standards (or perhaps more accurately standards of conduct in war) of the army of the nation with which they were allied? Why wasn’t it necessary for the Western allies to require their ARVN hosts to rise to the same standards of conduct?

It certainly did in Vietnam, until what was done in the Phoenix Program became known, including assassinations which at heart even if in detail weren’t all that much different to the VC assassination exercises as both were designed to eliminate leaders opposed to the assassin.

The concept of a just war has been the subject of profound philosophical debate, with some taking the view that war is so immoral that there can never be a just war. I doubt that Vietnam could ever qualify, even on the most liberal versions, as a just war.

As for the enemy being unjust or immoral, couldn’t it be that from the NVN / VC side the Phoenix Program demonstrated that the Western Allies, predominantly America in that case, were unjust and immoral? Or at least as unjust and immoral as their enemy?

Which wasn’t what happened in Vietnam with, among other things, the Phoenix Program. Or, in case some pedant wants to pick me up, Operation Phoenix.

Mightn’t it be the case that maintaining high moral standards (or standards of conduct in war) which are going to get you defeated is a bad idea?

Mightn’t it be the case that meeting fire with fire is a good idea?

After all, that’s what happened in WWII to a fair extent in what was a ‘total war’.

It didn’t require the Allies to engage in pointless atrocities of the type beloved of the Japanese just about everywhere and the Germans primarily in the East, but it allowed the Allies to do what was necessary to pound their enemies into submission. For example, the British regarded the early German air raids on Britain (and previously on Rotterdam etc) as outrageous, but it didn’t stop them responding in time with vastly more sustained and damaging air raids on Germany.

‘The end justifies the means’ usually triumphs over moral niceties when national survival, or just national interests, are at stake.

And the majority of people in the victor’s nation rarely have a problem with that.

As they probably wouldn’t if America and its allies had engaged in total war in Vietnam instead of fighting with one hand, perhaps both hands, tied behind their back and won, as they would have won the war if they had waged total war and got it over with in a few years instead of the inconclusive, dragged-out event which actually happened.

Take that back to the hundreds of thousands of boat people fleeing Vietnam into the 1980s. The former supporters of North Vietnam from Jane Fonda down to the slacker lefties I knew were in serious denial of the politcal, social, and economic pressures expelling those people from their homeland. When a family of them settled in my home city circa 1983 one of the lefties I knew insisted they were of the 1975 group who fled South Vietnam in the collapse that winter. He flatly called the fact that they had left Vietnam for Hongkong in 1981 a “lie”.

He must have been spectacularly uninformed about the mass emigration from Vietnam and the various problems encountered by the post-1975 refugees at the hands of pirates and in refugee camps, unless it wasn’t covered as well by his local press as it was here.

Much (most?) of what you gentlemen write goes well over my “simple soldiers” head. All I can say is I was Regular Army (US) and at the time, right or wrong, good or bad, it was the only war we had.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard the saying that (paraphrasing) that “we went into Korea with a bad Army and came out with a good one, and we went into Vietnam with a good Army and came out with a bad one” oft repeated…

The My Lai massacre became a turning point in Vietnam war. Morale of the remaining American troops in Vietnam after the “Vietnamization” strategy had taken placed, was low. Many of them were annoyed, frustrated and addicted to drugs as a result. The murder also stands as one of the darkest days in American’s military history, questioning the American way of war from military leadership, training to morale of soldiers in Vietnam.

Where is the evidence that:

  1. Many American troops were addicted to drugs?
  2. This was the result of the Vietnamization policy?

It follows that many American infantrymen were addicted to drugs as a result of the Vietnamization policy.

I’d be surprised if many drug addicted infantrymen could function properly on operations, and if their mates would put up with their deficient performance putting the rest of the squad / platoon / company at risk.

I’d be even more surprised if someone could show me an American soldier who woke up one morning, still drenched from the tropical downpour the afternoon before the night before and exhausted after weeks in the field and a ration drop was abandoned the day before and after picquet duty in a night harbour holding a clacker for a Claymore and wondering whether to fire it at what might just be shadows or moving enemy, and said to himself on waking “As a result of the Vietnamization policy, I am going to turn to drugs and become an addict, for yea and verily, Vietnamization is what ails me and drugs are the cure.”

Not a simple question. Stats at the end of the war indicate that near 30% of US troops were addicted to Heroin.
This relates to final days. Many troops were confined to firebases or rear areas with menial jobs, free time and had money.
Vast numbers of civilians worked on these bases and brought stuff in.
Drugs were a growing item in our society and later day troops represented that. Marijuana use was endemic and it was highest quality.
You could buy cigarette packs that were repacked with rolled joints. Also small vials of opium to smear on them or smoke separately.
The junk provided was 99-100% pure. Street H is about 5-10% pure.
Guys were snorting and smoking it and the strength hooked them.
Field troops were less exposed but not all. I have interviewed and talked to many over the years and they confirm this.
Friend of mine. a two tour decorated dog handler was a regular heroine user.
It is also accepted that this was an enemy tactic that worked fairly well.
Some guys ran operations by going a couple kliks beyond the wire and sitting tight a few days.
“Who wanted to be the last to die in VN?” The end was near and it was a mess.
There is a tremendous amount of reading on this subject if anyone cares to look. I am sure you will scoff at my comments.
You make a lot of summations based on knee jerk opinion rather than historical facts.
My Lai was in 1969-and the unit was made up of a lot of replacements and draftees.
I know a guy who was in Calleys’ class at Ft Benning. He said the guy should never have passed the course, but the demand was quite high then.
No matter the troops or the circumstances, Americans are never, for any reason, authorised to summarily murder anyone, especially babies and women.
That is one of the most basic rules. What makes this particularly bad is that a coverup ensued and it seems the responsibility kept climbing til they put a lid on it. Not good.
I was in country at the time and information filtered down a bit at a time. 90% of anyone hearing it was simply aghast that such a thing could happen.
John Kerry and his winter soldier crowd tried whining about how we were all criminals, but his crowd thinned out pretty quick under pressure and many were proven liars.
Some bad things happened. They involved a very few bad apples.
Most of my cohorts are VN Vets and many are retired military.
They relate a host of horror stories about the reorganization and associated pains of rebuilding our military in the 70s and 80s.
So many bad conduct discharges were handed out during the war that legislation was enacted to review them. Many were determined be related to the chaos of the times and were upgraded.
I got out in 1970 and was surprised and skeptical of the drug claims. Actual research backed up a lot of them.
Also lots more interesting stuff for those who care to do actual research.
There are no simple or easy answers about Vietnam. I don’t find much fun in the subject, " only war we had or not.

There were legions of guys who did the best they could with what they had at hand. I prefer to remember them.