VIETNAM

What happens when Mao’s guerrilla warfare plan clashes with American military firepower.

 

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LIFE magazine Dec 5, 1969

 

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The villagers in My Lai may have seemed “innocent” but were in fact Viet Cong guerrillas.

Clues to their status as guerrillas included:

[1] No military age men in the village. Why were males of draft age missing from the village?

[2] There were tunnels with weapons

[3] Booby-traps all around yet none of the villagers were being affected by the booby-traps. They knew where they were.

[4] The US Army found an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) commander on the scene.

[5] The US Army unit’s favorite sergeant had been killed a few days earlier by a land mine in My Lai.

 

The US media then portrayed the war after this incident as “anti-war” and painted it in a very bad light. The Vietnam veterans were called “baby-killers” after LIFE magazine featured the story and showed a full-color picture of women, children and old men all massacred by the US Army (see below).

Group of civilian women and children rouThe My Lai Massacre, the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed citizens of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), almost entirely civilians and the majority of them women and children, perpetrated by US Army forces on March 16 1968. Bodies of some of the vi

After this particular incident, the anti-war fervor increased and the public support for the war never regained its momentum. This incident at My Lai was ultimately the catalyst for the war being ended by President Nixon. In order to win re-election in 1972, Nixon had to promise to end the military draft which ultimately ended the war.

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The only person who received any real punishment for the My Lai massacre was LT Willam Calley Jr.

The Calley trial mesmerized the American Public. How could American soldiers engage in such diabolical behavior?

Mark Lane wrote a book about American soldiers and claimed that My Lai-style operations weren’t as rare one may think.

Lt Calley (His own Story) coverLT Calley late had his sentenced commuted by President Nixon.But in his own book, LT Calley said that he was perplexed how American soldiers would move 10 to 20 meters and would step on, or trigger some sort of booby trap. However, he noticed that the Vietnamese children and even the adults would walk at seemingly random, but would never trip or set off any of the booby traps. His logic was that the reason the children and others never tripped a trap was because they knew where the booby traps were located. The next logical step in his mind was that if the people knew where the traps were hidden, they should have told the Americans where they were if they had their best interest in mind.

 

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Growing up on the West Side of Denver during the sixties exposed me to a lot of returning veterans of the Vietnam war. They would drink and regale about their combat experiences in the hot humid jungles.

I recall many of these stories like they were told to me yesterday. But I don’t ever remember any Vietnam veteran telling me about how guerrilla war worked theoretically. All they knew was that we were embroiled in a war in Vietnam and they crossed their fingers and hoped they wouldn’t be drafted and sent to Vietnam.

Many members of the anti-war movement didn’t necessarily understand the tenets of guerrilla warfare, nor why women and children were “involved” in the war. All they knew was that seeing dead children in living color made many Americans unable to stomach the war and the daily images of the misunderstood carnage turned an entire generation against the war. With the withdrawal of US combat troops in 1973, the Viet Cong (communists opposing the US) counted this as a W in the win column. The US military won nearly every battle militarily and ended up losing the war psychologically.

I remember the Vietnam vets telling me about having to shoot women and/or children. Their mood turned somber as they detailed their accounts of having to act on-the-spot and make a decision to kill someone in a matter of seconds. Most could recount the incidents they witnessed in chilling detail. Bones chips.Torn flesh. Blood splatter. They had no clue as to what phase of guerrilla war of which they were participants.

As ask my students to image they are a US soldier on patrol in Vietnam. In thick vegetation, the point man in their patrol turns the corner and witnesses the scene depicted below:

What to do? Do you shoot? If so, who do you shoot? The mother is armed, and thus probably assumed to pose a credible threat. Do you shoot the mother and the baby? Do you shoot only the mother and try and save the baby? Mostly soldiers probably wouldn’t enjoy shooting babies, but what happens if the child services? Does the child grow up and appreciate the fact that the Americans spared their life? Or do they grow up and eventually join the VC guerrillas to avenge their parents’ deaths at the hands of the Americans?

What about these two women? Are they “innocent” non-combatants?

The anti-war movement even tied intimate relations to a man’s status and beliefs about the Vietnam war to their chances of getting sex. Men surely paid attention to this tactic.

The first soldier to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was Captain Roger Donlon, US Army Special Forces. He earned the Medal during the early part of the war when the Special Forces were running the war in a vain attempt to keep the guerrilla war from escalating into a conventional war.

Sat Evening Ppost 10-23-65 (Green beret Donlon)

 CPT Roger Donlon

US Army Special Forces

Mark Lane was daring enough to publish this gem. This book details how more My Lai events occurred on a normal basis.

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LT Calley was eventually the scapegoat. 

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CPT Medina who ordered “kill everything in the village” was never indicted; nor any of his superiors.

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In the end, Calley only ended up serving 4 months in prison and some time under house arrest.

The reason I published this page was because people really have no clue about what our soldiers were facing in Vietnam. The old World War II battle dogma; the advent of the hippies; television in every home; and Mao’s guerrilla warfare plan all made for the perfect storm. I am not saying that a massacre didn’t happen. However, read the materials and judge for yourself whether or not the village was “friendly.”

The incident is taught in American schools as our soldiers being ruthless animals slaughtering completely innocent civilians. The “innocent civilians” component is what is in question. The sad thing is that the men and women who were deployed to Vietnam mostly had no clue about guerrilla warfare; they learned under fire.

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