My+Lai+Massacre - 446 Jennifer Hunt References Bittner...

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Unformatted text preview: 446 / Jennifer Hunt References Bittner, E. (1980). The Functions of the Police in Modern Society. Cambridge, MA: Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain. Hunt, J. (forthcoming). “The development of rapport through the negotiation of gen- der in field work among police.” Human Organization. Skolnick, ]. (1975). justice Without Trial. New York: John Wiley. Sudnow, D. (1967). Passing On: The Social Organization of Dying. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Van Maanen, ]. (1978). "The asshole." In P. K. Manning and J. Van Maanen (eds), Policing: A View from the Street. Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear. Westley, W. A. (1970). Violence and the Police: A Sociological Study of Law, Custom and Morality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 42 The My Lai Massacre ’ HERBERT KELMAN V. LEE HAMILTON War is a part of politics. When a nation’s leaders are frustrated as other strategies for reaching international goals fail, war becomes a possibil- ity. War, then, can be considered a technique—albeit a most violent one—to accomplish political objectives. Nations vary in their willingness to go to war. Switzerland, for ex- ample, has vowed to never go to war, and for over 200 years has been at peace. The Swiss, however, do train their men to handle weapons in case another nation should attack them. The United States, in contrast, is very willing to invade other nations—in recent years Somalia, Haiti, Panama, Grenada, Desert Storm. To paraphrase the Allies’ slogan for World War I, “to make the world safe for capitalism" seems to be the reason for these wars. Seldom is the matter put this crassly, of course, for the goal of controlling oil, although it sells well on Wall Street, doesn't go down well on Main Street—~which provides the sons (and, increasingly, the daughters) to be sacrificed on the altar of profits. While war can bring out the best in people—-such as soldiers throwing themselves onto live grenades in order to save their bud- dies—it seems more likely to bring out the worst. Dehumanization, considering opponents as less than human and treating them as such, is one of the unfortunate consequences of prolonged wars. In this selec- tion, Kelman and Hamilton analyze the case of dehumanization that received the most publicity in the war in Vietnam. MARCH 16, 1968, was a busy day in US. HISTORY. Stateside, Robert F. Kennedy announced his presidential candidacy, challenging a sitting president from his own party—in part out of opposition to an undeclared and disastrous war. In Vietnam, the war continued, In many ways, March 16 may have been a typical day in that war. We will probably never know. But we do know that on that day a typical company went on a mission—which may or may not have been typical—to a village called Son (or Song) My. Most of what is remembered from that mission occurred in the subhamlet known to Americans as My Lai 4. The My Lai massacre was investigated and charges were brought in 1969 and 1970. Trials and disciplinary actions lasted until 1971. Entire books have 447 448 / Herbert Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton been written about the army’s year-long cover-up of the massacre (for exam- ple, Hersh, 1972), and the cover-up was a major focus of the army’s own inves- tigation of the incident. Our central concern here is the massacre itself—a crime of obedience—and public reactions to such crimes, rather than the lengths to which many went to deny the event. Therefore this account concen- trates on one day: March 16, 1968. Many verbal testimonials to the horrors that occurred at My Lai were available. More unusual was the fact that an army photographer, Ronald Haeberle, was assigned the task of documenting the anticipated military en- gagement at My Lai—and documented a massacre instead. Later, as the story of the massacre emerged, his photographs were widely distributed and seared the public conscience. What might have been dismissed as unreal or exagger- ated was depicted in photographs of demonstrable authenticity. The dominant image appeared on the cover of Life: piles of bodies jumbled together in a ditch along a trail—the dead all apparently unarmed. All were Oriental, and all appeared to be children, women, or old men. Clearly there had been a mass execution, one whose image would not quickly fade. So many bodies (over twenty in the cover photo alone) are hard to imag- ine as the handiwork of one killer. These were not. They were the product of what we call a crime of obedience. Crimes of obedience begin with orders. But orders are often vague and rarely survive with any clarity the transition from one authority down a chain of subordinates to the ultimate actors. The operation at Son My was no exception. “Charlie” Company, Company C, under Lt. Col. Frank Barker’s com- mand, arrived in Vietnam in December of 1967. As the army’s investigative unit, directed by Lt. Gen. William R. Peers, characterized the personnel, they “contained no significant deviation from the average” for the time. Seymour S. Hersh (1970) described the “average” more explicitly: “Most of the men in Charlie Company had volunteered for the draft; only a few had gone to college for even one year. Nearly half were black, with a few MexicanoAmericans. Most were eighteen to twenty-two years old. The favorite reading matter of Charlie Company, like that of other line infantry units in Vietnam, was comic books" (p. 18). The action at My Lai, like that throughout Vietnam, was fought by a cross-section of those Americans who either believed in the war or lacked the social resources to avoid participating in it. Charlie Company was indeed average for that time, that place, and that war. Two key figures in Charlie Company were more unusual. The company's commander, Capt. Ernest Medina, was an upwardly mobile Mexican- American who wanted to make the army his career, although he feared that he might never advance beyond captain because of his lack of formal education. His eagerness had earned him a nickname among his men: “Mad Dog Medina." One of his admirers was the platoon leader Second Lt. William L. Calley, In, an undistinguished, five-foot-three-inch junior-college dropout The My Lai Massacre / 449 who had failed four of the seven courses in which he had enrolled his first year. Many viewed him as one of those “instant officers" made possible only by the army’s then-desperate need for manpower. Whatever the cause, he was an insecure leader whose frequent claim was "I’m the boss.” . . . The Son My operation was planned by Lieutenant Colonel Barker and his staff as a search-and-destroy mission with the objective of rooting out the Forty- eighth Viet Cong Battalion from their base area of Son My village. Apparently no written orders were ever issued. Barker’s superior, Col. Oran Henderson, ar- rived at the staging point the day before. Among the issues he reviewed with the assembled officers were some of the weaknesses of prior operations by their units, including their failure to be appropriately aggressive in pursuit of the enemy. Later briefings by Lieutenant Colonel Barker and his staff asserted that no one except Viet Cong was expected to be in the village after 7 A.M. on the fol- lowing day. The “innocent" would all be at the market. Those present at the briefings gave conflicting accounts of Barker’s exact orders, but he conveyed at least a strong suggestion that the Son My area was to be obliterated. As the army’s inquiry reported: “While there is some conflict in the testimony as to whether LTC Barker ordered the destruction of houses, dwellings, livestock, and other foodstuffs in the Song My area, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that such destruction was implied, if not specifically directed, by his or- ders of 15 March” (Peers Report, in Goldstein et al., 1976, p. 94). . . . Charlie Company’s Captain Medina was briefed for the operation by Barker and his staff. He then transmitted the already vague orders to his own men. Charlie Company was spoiling for a fight, having been totally frustrated during its months in Vietnam—first by waiting for battles that never came, then by incompetent forays led by inexperienced commanders, and finally by mines and booby traps. In fact, the emotion-laden funeral of a sergeant killed by a booby trap was held on March 15, the day before My Lai. Captain Medina gave the orders for the next day’s action at the close of that funeral. Many were in a mood for revenge. . . . As March 16 dawned, much was expected of the operation by those who had set it into motion. Therefore a full complement of “brass" was present in helicopters overhead, including Barker, Colonel Henderson, and their supe- rior, Major General Koster (who went on to become commandant of West Point before the story of My Lai broke). On the ground, the troops were to carry with them one reporter and one photographer to immortalize the antici- pated battle. The action for Company C began at 7:30 as their first wave of helicopters touched down near the subhamlet of My Lai. By 7:47 all of Company C was present and set to fight. But instead of the Viet Cong Forty-eighth Battalion, My Lai was filled with the old men, women, and children who were supposed to have gone to market. By this time, in their version of the war, and with whatever orders they thought they had heard, the men from Company C were 450 / Herbert Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton nevertheless ready to find Viet Cong everywhere. By nightfall, the official tally was 128 VC killed and three weapons captured, although later unofficial body counts ran as high as 500. The operation at Son My was over. . . . But what could have happened to leave American troops reporting a vic- tory over Viet Cong when in fact they had killed hundreds of noncombatants? It is not hard to explain the report of victory; that is the essence of a cover-up. It is harder to understand how the killings came to be committed in the first place, maldng a cover-up necessary. Mass Executions and the Defense of Superior Orders Some of the atrocities on March 16, 1968, were evidently unofficial, sponta- neous acts: rapes, tortures, killings. For example, Hersh (1970) describes Charlie Company’s Second Platoon as entering “My Lai 4 with guns blazing” (p. 50); more graphically, Lieutenant “Brooks and his men in the second pla- toon to the north had begun to systematically ransack the hamlet and slaugh- ter the people, kill the livestock, and destroy the crops. Men poured rifle and machine-gun fire into huts without knowing—or seemingly caring—who was inside” (pp. 49—50). Some atrocities toward the end of the action were part of an almost casual "mopping-up,” much of which was the responsibility of Lieutenant LaCross's Third Platoon of Charlie Company. The Peers Report states: “The entire 3rd Platoon then began moving into the western edge of My Lai (4), for the mop- up operation. . . . The squad . . . began to burn the houses in the southwestern portion of the hamlet" (Coldstein et al., 1976, p. 133). They became mingled with other platoons during a series of rapes and killings of survivors for which it was impossible to fix responsibility. Certainly to a Vietnamese, all GIs would by this point look alike: “Nineteen-year-old Nguyen Thi N goc Tuyet watched a baby trying to open her slain mother’s blouse to nurse. A soldier shot the in- fant while it was struggling with the blouse, and then slashed it with his bayo- net.” Tuyet also said she saw another baby hacked to death by CIs wielding their bayonets. "Le Tong, a twenty-eight—year—old rice farmer, reported seeing one woman raped after 015 killed her children. Nguyen Khoa, a thirty—seven- year-old peasant, told of a thirteen-year-old girl who was raped before being killed. 015 then attacked Khoa’s wife, tearing off her clothes. Before they could rape her, however, Khoa said, their six-year-old son, riddled with bul- lets, fell and saturated her with blood. The CIs left her alone” (Hersh, 1970, p. 72). All of Company C was implicated in a pattern of death and destruction throughout the hamlet, much of which seemingly lacked rhyme or reason. But a substantial amount of the killing was organized and traceable to one authority: the First Platoon’s Lt. William Calley. Calley was originally charged with 109 killings, almost all of them mass executions at the trail and other loca- tions. He stood trial for 102 of these killings, was convicted of 22 in 1971, and The My Lai Massacre / 451 at first received a life sentence. Though others—both superior and subordi- nate to Calley—were brought to trial, he was the only one convicted for the My Lai crimes. Thus, the only actions of My Lai for which anyone was ever convicted were mass executions, ordered and committed. We suspect that there are commonsense reasons why this one type of killing was singled out. In the midst of rapidly moving events with people running about, an execution of stationary targets is literally a still life that stands out and whose participants are clearly visible. It can be proven that specific people committed specific deeds. An execution, in contrast to the shooting of someone on the run, is also more likely to meet the legal definition of an act resulting from intent—with malice aforethought. Moreover, American military law specifically forbids the killing of unarmed civilians or military prisoners, as does the Geneva Convention between nations. Thus common sense, legal standards, and ex- plicit doctrine all made such actions the likeliest target for prosecution. . . . The day’s quiet beginning has already been noted. Troops landed and swept unopposed into the village. The three weapons eventually reported as the haul from the operation were picked up from three apparent Viet Cong who fled the village when the troops arrived and were pursued and killed by helicopter gunships. Obviously the Viet Cong did frequent the area. But it ap- pears that by about 8:00 A.M. no one who met the troops was aggressive, and no one was armed. By the laws of war Charlie Company had no argument with such people. As they moved into the village, the soldiers began to gather its inhabitants together. Shortly after 8:00 AM. Lieutenant Calley told Pfc. Paul Meadlo that “you know what to do with” a group of villagers Meadlo was guarding. Estimates of the numbers in the group ranged as high as eighty women, chil- dren, and old men, and Meadlo’s own estimate under oath was thirty to fifty people. As Meadlo later testified, Calley returned after ten or fifteen minutes: “He [Calley] said, ‘How come they’re not dead?’ I said, ‘I didn’t know we were supposed to kill them.’ He said, ‘I want them dead.’ He backed off twenty or thirty feet and started shooting into the people—the Viet Cong—shooting au- tomatic. He was beside me. He burned four or five magazines. I burned off a few, about three. I helped shoot 'em" (Hammer, 1971, p. 155). Meadlo him- self and others testified that Meadlo cried as he fired; others reported him later to be sobbing and “all broke up.” It would appear that to Lieutenant Calley’s subordinates something was unusual, and stressful, in these orders. . . . Among the helicopters flying reconnaissance above Son My was that of CWO Hugh Thompson. By 9:00 or soon after, Thompson had noticed some horrifying events from his perch. As he spotted wounded civilians, he sent down smoke markers so the soldiers on the ground could treat them. They killed them instead. He reported to headquarters, trying to persuade someone to stop what was going on. Barker, hearing the message, called down to Captain Medina. Medina, in turn, later claimed to have told Calley that it was “enough for today.” But it was not yet enough. 452 / Herbert Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton At Calley’s orders, his men began gathering the remaining villagers— roughly seventy—five individuals, mostly women and children—and herding them toward a drainage ditch. Accompanied by three or four enlisted men, Lieutenant Galley executed several batches of civilians who had been gathered into ditches. Some of the details of the process were entered into testimony in such accounts as Pfc. Dennis Conti's: “A lot of them, the people, were trying to get up and mostly they was just screaming and pretty bad shot up. . . . I seen a woman tried to get up. I seen Lieutenant Calley fire. He hit the side of her head and blew it off ” (Hammer, 1971, p. 125), Pfc. Gregory Olsen corroborated the general picture of the victims: “They were—the majority were women and children, some babies. I distinctly re- member one middle-aged Vietnamese male dressed in white right at my feet as I crossed. None of the bodies were mangled in any way. There was blood. Some appeared to be dead, others followed me with their eyes as I walked across the ditch” (Goldstein et al., 1976, p. 502). . . . It is noteworthy that during these executions more than one enlisted man avoided canying out Calley’s orders, and more than one, by sworn oath, di- rectly refused to obey them. For example, Pfc. james Joseph Dursi testified, when asked if he fired when Lieutenant Calley ordered him to: “No. I just stood there. Meadlo turned to me after a couple of minutes and said ‘Shoot! Why don't you shoot! Why don't you fire!’ He was crying and yelling. I said, ‘I can’t! I won’t!’ And the people were screaming and crying and yelling. They kept firing for a couple of minutes, mostly automatic and semi-automatic" (Hammer, 1971, p. 143). . . . Even those who obeyed Calley’s orders showed great stress. For example, Meadlo eventually began to argue and cry directly in front of Galley. Pfc. Herbert Carter shot himself in the foot, possibly because he could no longer take what he was doing. We were not destined to hear a sworn version of the incident, since neither side at the Galley trial called him to testify, The most unusual instance of resistance to authority came from the skies. CWO Hugh Thompson, who had protested the apparent carnage of civilians, was Calley’s inferior in rank but was not in his line of command. He was also watching the ditch from his helicopter and noticed some people moving after the first round of slaughter—chiefly children who had been shielded by their mother’s bodies. Landing to rescue the wounded, he also found some villagers hiding in a nearby bunker. Protecting the Vietnamese with his own body, Thompson ordered his men to train their guns on the Americans and to open fire if the Americans fired on the Vietnamese. He then radiOed for additional rescue helicopters and stood between the Vietnamese and the Americans under Calley’s command until the Vietnamese could be evacuated. He later returned to the ditch to unearth a child buried, unharmed, beneath layers of bodies. In October 1969, Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism at My Lai, specifically (albeit inaccurately) for the rescue of children hiding in a bunker “between Viet Cong forces and advancing friendly The My Lar' Massacre / 453 forces” and for the rescue of a wounded Child “caught in the intense crossfire” (Hersh, 1970, p. 119). Four months earlier, at the Pentagon, Thompson had identified Calley as having been at the ditch. By about 10:00 A.M., the massacre was winding down. The remaining ac— tions consisted largely of isolated rapes and killings, “clean-up” shootings of the wounded, and the' destruction of the village by fire. We have already seen some examples of these more indiscriminate and possibly less premeditated acts. By the 11:00 A.M. lunch break, when the exhausted men of Company C were relaxing, two young girls wandered back from a hiding place only to be invited to share lunch. This surrealist touch illustrates the extent to which the soldiers’ action had become dissociated from its meaning. An hour earlier, some of these men were making sure that not even a child would escape the executioner's bullet. But now the job was done and it was time for lunch—and in this new context it seemed onl...
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