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Today is the 40th Anniversary of the My Lai Massacre

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40 years ago today, American soldiers in Charlie Company, of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division, murdered upwards of 500 civilians, almost exclusively women, children, and old men, in the hamlets of My Lai and My Khe in Vietnam.

It's true that several soldiers chose not to participate in the event and that there were some heroes, like Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr., a helicopter pilot who put down his aircraft between some soldiers and their intended victims and secured their evacuation. But the few men that stood their moral ground were by far outnumbered by others who chose to participate in rape, murder of infants and toddlers, mutilation of corpses, the torching and demolition of every structure, and the destruction of all livestock in the hamlets. The U.S. Army reported that "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle."

It was only by a miracle that the American public ever heard about this incident as there was no press representation at this operation. An Army photographer with a personal camera, Ronald L. Haeberle, who took the famous set of unauthorized color photos (one is above) that appeared in Life magazine and a story by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (now of the New Yorker) a year an a half after the event occurred are what brought it to the attention of ordinary Americans. The photographs were just too graphic for Army brass to deny or cover up despite earlier attempts to dismiss the event by a constructing a whitewashed investigation conducted by none other than Colin Powell, who was a 31-year-old Army Major at the time. Powell's report stated "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." [And people are shocked (shocked!) that he went along with the whole "weapons of mass destruction" thing.]

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My Lai helped hasten the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam only because the public found out about it. My Lai begged the question, that if the public only found out about the event via a miracle, how many other similar incidents had transpired since the US arrived in Vietnam? Despite assurances by former government and veterans groups that My Lai was an isolated incident the evidence is to the contrary.

In 2004 the Toledo Blade won the Pulizter Prize for a series of articles on a platoon-sized unit called the Tiger Force whose mission was to perform My Lai style raids behind enemy lines in Vietnam in years pre-dating the My Lai Massacre itself. An investigation into the atrocities committed by this group was closed by President Gerald Ford's then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld [the man who ok'd US abuses and torture of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison according to US generals].

When we look at our current situation, knowing that the media is under much more strict control than in the Vietnam conflict, what we don't know about what is being done with our tax dollars and in our names raises even more questions. When we know that we have been fed a lot of misrepresentation (at best), it's difficult not to assume the worst, for those of us who are paying attention at least. So here we are, 40 years to the day later, all these babies died at our hands, have we learned anything?

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