1298) The USA Response to "Modern" Massacre: My Lai

Hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were massacred at My Lai. (Estimates range from 350-500.) Lt. Calley's imprisonment amounted to three days' imprisonment, before house arrest. Others escaped punishment entirely.

During WWI, some 1,600 Ottomans were tried for crimes committed against Armenians, a number punished via execution.

The following article appeared in the Sunday Gazette Mail, a newspaper in West Virginia, Jan. 9, 1972, pages 1D and 10D; the part from pg. 1D is missing.

What follows is an insightful article on historical slaughters.

U.S. Looks At Slaughter In New Way

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More than 90 men testified at the trial and none said they had noted any resistance in the village. Galley, testifying in his own behalf, was the only witness who stated flatly that orders had been received from a higher level that he kill noncombatants. In the later trial of Medina, the Army prosecution did not contend that Medina had given such orders.

On March 29, after 89 hours and 58 minutes of deliberations spaced over 13 days, the six-man military jury composed entirely of professional officers and combat veterans found Calley guilty of 22 of the 109 pre-meditated murders with which he had originally been charged. Two days later, it sentenced him to life in military prison. Its only other option, given its guilty finding, had been death.

THE PUBLIC REACTION was immense, startling and deeply negative. State legislatures adopted pro-Calley resolutions. Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace demanded a pardon and visited Calley after Calley was released from the stockade on President Nixon's order.

A number of draft boards resigned. Thousands of letters backing Calley were sent to the White House. "Free Calley" bumper stickers appeared by the thousands and a pro-Calley ballad became a popular song.

One day after Calley was sentenced — as the furore gained momentum — President Nixon intervened. Normally, Calley would have been taken quickly from the Ft. Benning stockade to the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., for imprisonment during his appeal.

But Nixon ordered that Calley be released from the stockade and held in his Ft. Benning apartment pending review of his conviction. (The time Calley serves in the apartment counts toward fulfillment of sentence. Now that his sentence has been reduced to 20 years, he will be eligible for parole early in 1978, if his sentence is not further reduced or nullified.)

Explaining the President's decision to release the lieutenant from the stockade, Nixon's press secretary, Ronald Ziegler, said, "This is not a legal step. It is a step taken at the President's discretion. He just personally felt that Lt. Calley should not be put in the stockade or sent to Leavenworth while review is taking place."

Two days later, the White House announced Nixon also had decided to make a review of the Calley case after the military appeals process was ended to decide whether the conviction and sentence should be affirmed.

John D. Ehrlichman, Nixon's domestic affairs aide, explained "The President felt, in this case, having captured the interest of the American people as it has, that it was important for him to make clear at this stage that it would include more than the legal process the military code of justice provides." Ehrlichman asserted that Nixon was "trying to be very scrupulous not to interfere" in the case and that his actions reflected in no way on the merits" o the case.

A dramatic response came in a letter to the President dated that same day (April 3) from Aubrey Daniel, the young Virginian who had been the Army's prosecutor against Calley.

Daniel quoted Nixon's news conference statement of Dec. 8 1969: "What appears was certainly a massacre and under no circumstances was it justified. One of the goals we are fighting for in Vietnam is to keep the people of South Vietnam from having imposed upon them a government which has atrocity against civilians as one of its policies. We cannot ever condone or use atrocities against civilians to accomplish tha goal."

THE PROSECUTOR WROTE "In view of your previous statements concerning this matter, I have been particularly shocked and dismayed at your decision to intervene . . . Your decision can only have been prompted by the response of a vocal segment of our population who while no acting in good faith, cannot be aware of the evidence which resulted in Lt. Calley's conviction. Your intervention has, in my opinion, damaged the military judicial system and lessened any respect it may have gained as a result of the proceedings."

Going on to laud the jurors in the Calley trial, who had come under considerable public vilification, Daniel told the President, "It would seem to me to be more appropriate for you as the President to have said something in their behalf and to remind the nation of the purpose of our legal system and the respect it should command.

"I would expect that the President of the United States, a man whom I believe should and would provide the moral leadership for this nation, would stand fully behind the law of his land on a moral issue which is so clear and about which there can be no compromise.

"For this nation to condone the acts of Lt. Calley is to make us no better than our enemies and make any pleas by this nation for the humane treatment of our own prisoners meaningless. . ."

A White House spokesman said Dec. 29 that a Nixon staff member had replied to Daniel in the President's behalf, but that the reply would not be made public.

With the explosion of emotion over the Calley conviction, the My Lai affair reached a climax.

Capt. Eugene M. Kotouc, an intelligence officer who had provided some of the information on which the My Lai combat assault was based, had been accused of assaulting and maiming a prisoner while questioning him.

Kotouc admitted he had cut the tip of one of the prisoner's fingers off with a knife while attempting to scare him into talking, but he insisted it was an accident. He was acquitted.

IN AUGUST, MEDINA went n trial at Ft. McPherson in a proceeding tinged with important questions of command responsibility.

The prosecution had dropped its contention that Medina had ordered the massacre. It based its claim of his responsibility for it on the allegation that he had become aware of it at an early stage of the My Lai operation and had not acted promptly to stop it.

Medina had actually admitted as much in the course of a lie detector examination he had taken in November, 1970, but this was inadmissible as evidence. The young Army prosecutors, Eckhardt and Wurtzel, vho often seemed uncertain and unskillful as compared to the flamboyant Medina defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey, marshaled few. witnesses who would testify clearly as to Medina's awareness.

Military Judge Howard, who also presided in the Hutto case, made several rulings on admissibility of evidence that also restricted the government's case. The defense put on a number of articulate, neatly attired members of Medina's company who impugned the testimony of prosecution witnesses.

Howard finally ruled the jury could find Medina guilty only on involuntary manslaughter on the responsibility charge.

The five-man military jury deliberated 57 minutes before finding Medina not guilty on that charge as well as two other charges the judge had left standing.

During the Medina trial, the defense brought a number of ranking officers into the court as character witnesses, including the deputy post commander at Ft. McPherson. All gave Medina highly favorable endorsements. The night before the verdict, Judge Howard told reporters that he thought "Medina has the American people on his side" and he revealed that he had said to Medina, in the course of a personal conversation in chambers, that he ought to stay in the Army after his trial because, "You're the kind of guy we want."

Soon after acquittal, however Medina left the Army for a job with a helicopter company.

LATER, DURING the Henderson trial, in crucial testimony that tended to clear the colonel on the coverup charges, Medina said that he had lied to Henderson about the extent of civilian killings at My Lai, telling him that 20 to 28 had been killed when he had been informed it was 106. He also admitted he had misled authorities during the later My Lai investigations.

Although there were many inconsistencies in testimony in the Henderson trial, which took 62 days and tied the Calley trial for the longest court-martial ever held in the Army, the doubts led to acquittal of Henderson on all charges after less than four hours of jury deliberation. He, too, promptly announced that he would leave the Army.

So the trials ended.

Last week, the Army said it was still considering administrative action against nine men — four enlisted men and five officers — who had been cleared of criminal charges in the My Lai affair and remained in the Army.

This action could include discharges for the enlisted men and censure or reprimands for the officers.

In interviews, the reactions of those involved in handling the long series of investigations and trials varied, although the predominant note seemed one of disappointment and chagrin that the time and estimated $10 million spent had borne such little fruit in terms of ever publicly clearing up questions about what had happened at My Lai.

Even defense attorneys expressed unhappiness at the outcome as a whole.

F. Lee Bailey, who plans to write a book about the My Lai cases, remarked, "I think the most you can say about My Lai is that it represents an evolution of popular attitudes about war. In the old days of bald, all-out patriotism, no one would have dared try these men.* I think it's good they were tried. But I think a lot of them were deliberately let off the hook."

* Holdwater: Bailey was not off the mark; massacres committed by Americans closer to the time period of the "Armenian genocide," and the massacres of the mid-1890s, went unpunished. These would include the slaughter of native populations during the Indian warrs, and great numbers of Filipino civilians at the turn of the 20th century.

"We massacre like everybody."

Charles L. Weitner, a former Georgia congressman who represented one of the enlisted men whose case was dismissed, Sgt. Esequiel Torres, said bitterly:

"There was only one thing important to come out of the My Lai case— that is the realization that Americans can massacre people just like gooks and there's really no difference between us and them. The My Lai trials were an effort to perpeuate the illusion that there was, but I don't think people believe that any more and I think that's important, that we realize we're just like Bengalis, Pakistanis, North Vietnamese and everyone else — we massacre like everybody."

Gen, Hodson, the former Army judge advocate general, took a sharply different view. He said the Army had made a diligent attempt to prosecute the cases. But, he said, so much time had passed that memories had faded and the prosecution had to necessarily rely on the testimony of soldiers and former soldiers who wanted to protect themselves from possible findings of guilt.

Ronald Ridenhour said he remained convinced that the Army did not handle the My Lai cases satisfactorily, but on reflection, he added:

"I think that what everyone forgets is that what was most in my mind when I wrote those letters was to get the policy, the military policy, changed in Vietnam and save some Vietnamese lives.

"Well, they (the Army) did institute new fire policy rules," he asserted. "They set down criteria for troops opening fire, the same for artillery and helicopter gunships. We never had these before... at least that is what I was told by a lot of troops when I was there." (As a free-lance journalist last year.)

But official Army spokesmen, questioned in both the Pentagon and Saigon about what Ridenhour said, denied that there had been any substantive change in the Army's rules of engagement as a result of My Lai.

The spokesmen indicated some troops may have been confused by tightening up of enforcement and a few changes in the rules that were ordered in 1968 after the Tet offensive but before My Lai became known to high officials.

The following appeared on the same page as the article above.
My Lai, Dacca Neither First, Last of Massacres

By William Guttmann
London Observer

LONDON—The bloody and horrifying events in Dacca which became known after the Pakistani defeat brought the word "massacre" back into newspaper headlines. No animals behave like this to their kind: Massacre is a monopoly of man and apparently an incurable habit.

Almost any literate person can jot down a dozen or so notorious examples-—from the massacre of the Innocents by Herod, to last year's Attica prison shootings in the United States.

The number of victims may vary between many millions and a small number of individuals; but it is not necessarily mass killings which warrant the name. Motives range from carefully thought out reasons of state, to primitive feelings of revenge or blind rage. The type of persons singled out as targets of massacre may be determined by race, religion, nationality or even the accident of their being assembled in one particular place. There is, apparently, hardly any limit to the type of people capable of committing such deeds.

Not infrequently, the same people have been at one time victims, and at another perpetrators, of massacre. British women and children were slaughtered by Indians at Cawnpore in 1857, and Indians were gunned down by British troops at Amritsar in 1919.

The Greek war of Independence started in 1821 with Greeks killing Muslims in the Pelopennese; soon afterwards the Turks retaliated by massacring Greeks in Asia Minor. In Ulster, in 1641, Irishmen attacked Puritan settlers and were said to have killed 30,000 of them; eight years later in Drogheda and Wexford, Cromwell retaliated by massacring the garrison and civilians there without discrimination of age or sex.

Rd Indians slaughtered white settlers in the massacres of Wyoming and Cherry Valley in 1778, and suffered the same fate at Sand Creek in 1864 and on other occasions in the following decades. Jews were, through the ages, the traditional victims of persecution and in the Nazi extermination camps were done to death by the millions; but even they committed the same crime when at Deir Ya-sin in April, 1948, in the course of the struggle from which the state of Israel emerged, Jewish terrorists killed some 200 Arabs—men, women and children.

Turks massacred Bulgars in 1876 and Armenians in 1895, 1909 and 1915. Russians massacred Poles in Warsaw in 1861 and at Katyn early in World War II.

ONE STRANGE aspect of massacre is that, often, killers and killed have been kith and kin. In the infamous "Night of the long knives" in June, 1934, Hitler murdered — besides scores of other Germans — some of the men who had been his most intimate friends and faithful collaborators, among them the Capt. Roehm who gave his name to that purge. Frenchmen killed thousands of Frenchmen when the Paris commune was suppressed in 1871; Russian citizens, peacefully demonstrating, were slaughtered by'Russian troops in St. Petersburg on Bloody Sunday 1905.

The suppression of political opponents, the elimination of rebels or suspected rebels, by the authority which is in power and determined to defend that power, is the most common motive of such acts. Mao Tse-Tung's, Stalin's and Hitler's elimination of opponents in the millions are probably the greatest massacres on record.

In cases which arise from authority acting against real or apparent opponents, demonstrators and hostile crowds, it is often fear, even panic, a blind obsession with law and order and the safety of the state which cause its defenders to go to the extreme of brutal and insensate killings.

Unless human nature changes, there is little hope that the slaughter will ever cease. Dacca is not the end of the massacre road.

Holdwater: "...There is little hope that the slaughter will ever cease." Unfortunate, but true. A reminder that the genocide advocates' mantra, justifying the hatred-spreading study of genocide as a means to prevent future genocides, is wishfull thinking at best and dishonest at worst.

Note that in this intelligently written piece, the Turks emerged as the champions of massacre, having been called on crimes against Greeks, Bulgarians, and three time periods regarding Armenians. Even in an article where the point was that victims can sometimes be perpetrators, the crimes of Bulgarians and especially Armenians, in their much more expansive campaigns of ethnic cleansing directed against Turks and Muslims, escape notice.

© Holdwater
The source site of this article gets revised often, as better information comes along. For the most up-to-date version, and the related photos, the reader may consider reviewing the direct link as follows:



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