11/20 – My Lai

American troops in Vietnam. My Lai destroyed the credibility of the US mission and resulted in poor treatment for many returning veterans. (source: VOA News)

On this day in 1969 The Plain Dealer, an Ohio-based US newspaper, published imagery taken from the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. United States soldiers from the 23rd “Americal” Infantry Division killed over 400 Vietnamese villagers in the Sơn Tịnh District of South Vietnam in March of 1968 during a routine search for enemy Vietcong (VC) fighters. Despite encountering no enemy resistance in the hamlets they searched, soldiers from the 23rd Division rounded up unarmed civilians and, according to PFC Michael Bernhardt, began “… going into the hootches and shooting them up […]; they were shooting women and children [and] I don’t remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive”.

Only one American was charged for the My Lai Massacre – 2nd Lieutenant William Calley Jr, who served 3 years of house arrest – but the gradual realization back home in the United States that something horrible had happened in My Lai was enough to galvanize the anti-war movement. In the years following 1969, American support for military operations in Vietnam (or anywhere else, for that matter) took a huge hit. The myth of American moral superiority on the battlefield was forever tarnished.

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