My Lai: an experience that brought shame

Posted by John Kanelis on
My Lai
American Experience

The American experience isn't all sunshine and light. There are dark chapters that have been written in our continuing saga.

One of them occurred one day in 1968 in a far-off land, where Americans were fighting a war that ended 40 years ago this month. But on that day, a company of U.S. Army soldiers walked into a village and killed several people. They were civilians. Some were children. Women and old men were among the victims.

It happened in My Lai.

Panhandle PBS is set to air a documentary segment Tuesday at 8 p.m. that tells the story of what happened that day in a small village in what was then known as South Vietnam. "American Experience" chronicles the bad as well as the good aspects of our nation's history.

My Lai qualifies as one of the worst.

The "American Experience" segment will visit with Vietnamese citizens who were there. It will talk to some of the soldiers who took part.

The men walked into the village after being shot at for days by enemy forces. Indeed, some of the men contended they just snapped under the pressure of incessant combat. Army Lt. William Calley ultimately would be court-martialed for his role in the massacre. He spent time in prison, was released and has all but disappeared from public view.

The issue for years has been whether the men were following lawful orders. There also has been discussion about the blurring by the enemy of the line separating soldier from civilian. Throughout the Vietnam War, one of the difficulties American fighting men had was trying to discern who were civilians and who were Viet Cong. At times they were the same. Other times they were not.

The My Lai massacre, once it was revealed to Americans back home, became yet another flashpoint in a growing anti-Vietnam War movement that gained strength as these deeds became known.

This is a sad and tragic chapter in the totality of the American experience -- and the program of that name tells us to us in stark terms.

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