My Lai Remembered

My visit to My Lai moved me to tears.  As far back as I can remember, the My Lai massacre has been a trigger for the anti-war movement, especially during the Vietnam War.  March 16,1968 should be one of the darkest days in US history, but sadly few young people have even heard about this horrific event.  The US Army’s ‘Charlie’ company moved in on the village of Mai Lai, killing everything in sight,  “anything that moved.” Most of the young men from the village were off fighting for both sides in the war, some for the Viet Cong, some for the south and the Americans, so when the troops arrived by helicopter, they were met by a tranquil village scene, unarmed villagers going about their daily routines, mainly women, children and the elderly.  It didn’t matter who their targets were, they were under orders to shoot to kill and followed through, shooting raping and killing everyone in sight… 504 people.  The few who survived had to ‘play dead’ for hours, trapped under the bodies of their loved ones as the soldiers burned the village to the ground, destroying the evidence of their war crimes.  The facts are irrefutable, horrific photos captured by an American photographer documenting the war, and reported by the few soldiers who broke rank and tried to stop the carnage and eventually blowing the whistle on their comrades.  So as we rode our bikes into the museum site, I was ready to confront the images of this barbaric moment in history.   When you arrive, your first step should be the short 15 minute video presentation ‘War Stories: Heart of Darkness’ an American documentary produced for Al Jazeera Television. It takes you through the stories of the survivors and one of the soldiers who returned to the scene of the crime, to give himself some closure. What is disturbing is how he wouldn’t own up to being a part of the atrocities, even all these years later.  You emerge from the presentation overwelmed, as you try to process what you have just seen.  And as you wander through the museum, looking at those photos and reading the captions, referring to the soldiers as murderers and criminals, you find it difficult to dispute the language.  You also learn that the survivors were not set free, but kept imprisoned in a POW camp… and that while 26 soldiers were charged with war crimes only one was convicted and he was able to serve his 3 year sentence under house arrest.  As you wander the grounds, you are confronted by the burned out evidence, what is left of the torched homes and bomb shelters, even one home painstakingly restored.  Outside each address, you see a plaque explaining who lived there… and who died there… with their names and ages.  And as you move from place to place, it’s hard not to see one of the most potent reminders, the mud footpath through the village, recreated in concrete with the bare footprints and bicycle tire tracks of the fleeing residents alongside the treads of the soldiers boots.  There are also a few statues set up around the grounds, one wall mural, and one massive statue of an elderly woman holding a dead baby in her arms with dead and dying all around her, but her fist raised defiantly in the air.  It is unbelievable that this could happen in my lifetime, even more difficult to understand how it could still be happening today.  We have all heard about war time atrocities around the world, the slaughter of millions of people in Rwanda, the killing fields of Cambodia, the carnage in the former Yugoslavia and even the reports today of soldiers being accused of their own mass murders under the guise of war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  “Never Again?”, until everyone grasps ths concept it will continue to happen.  How do you recover or process such a devastating experience.  As we continued our ride in silence, the warm welcome of the Vietnamese people in the villages of the area, especially the children, let you see that life does go on.  Even those who remember what happened hold no animosity or vengeance… giving us all a lesson in forgiveness and survival.

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  1. Cycling Through Vietnam | RTW - March 12

    […] and memorial site of the My Lai massacre. I have already posted this story and you can read it here.   We arrived in Hoi An, late in the afternoon,  another one of the places I had been looking […]

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