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While laws are humanity's attempt to interpret ethical behavior, ethics should not be confused with religious beliefs or laws. •There are common threads such as the unethical implications of slavery, genocide, torture, sexism, racism, murder, rape, and fraud in the eyes of most religions and laws. •It is important for organizations like the Marine Corps to clearly define their ethical code, which lays out what is considered good or bad conduct, so incidents such as the My Lai Massacre are prevented. Small unit leaders must continue to demonstrate and reinforce these ethical codes on a daily basis to sustain the existence of ethical behaviorMy Lai MassacreOn March 16, 1969, C Company, 11th U.S. Brigade had been in Vietnam for three months. During their time in country they had suffered 28 casualties, including five dead with little success of their own. Two days before the incident, a booby trap had killed a popular sergeant and injured several others. Morale was dwindling. Instructed by commanders to "Go in aggressively, close with the enemy, and wipe them out for good," and, "anyone in the village is considered VC or VC sympathizers" the U.S. soldiers began killing and mutilating the women and children in the village of My Lai. Within two hours, 504 Vietnamese civilians would be killed and mutilated. 119 of those were under the age of seven. They defended their unethical actions by claiming they were just "following orders." The event drastically changed world opinion and support for our national strategy in Vietnam and severely impacted the morale of all U.S. personnel.Taking a Stand Flying his OH-23 helicopter over My Lai, Warrant Officer (WO) Thompson witnesses a group of wounded civilians. Not yet knowing what is occurring, he marks their position and calls for the soldiers on the ground to render medical attention. Returning from refueling, he sees that the people whom he noticed previously are all dead. Moving to the eastern side of the village, he sees dozens of bodies in an irrigation ditch, some still visibly alive and moving. Thompson decides to intervene with little success. Thompson then witnesses the company commander execute a women who had earlier been marked for medical attention. The WO calls for other gunships in the area to come to his assistance and lands between a group of fleeing civilians and the soldiers pursuing them. He orders his aircrew to shoot any soldier that opens fire on him or the civilians. Other gunships land to transport the civilians to safety. If not for the actions of
WO Thompson and his crew, the slaughter would have continued, demonstrating that one person can make a difference.BARRIERS TO ETHICAL THINKING At the root of virtually every unethical act lies some form and degree of self-delusion. Self-delusions are flaws in thinking.