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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/6/20

"Collateral Murder" and the My Lai Massacre

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From Consortium News


To gauge the transformation in the response by the U.S. military, the mainstream media and the public to a U.S. war crime, one need only compare the reactions to two of the most heinous American crimes: the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the gunning down of innocent Iraqis on a Baghdad street in 2007.

The latter was captured on a cockpit video from attacking Apache helicopters and revealed in a video released by WikiLeaks 10 years ago today. Wikileaks obtained the video from a conscientious U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning.

The My Lai incident was revealed to the public in Nov. 1969 through the reporting of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. An army veteran whistleblower, Ronald Ridenhour, had first written in early 1969 to the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and members of Congress revealing credible details about the massacre. It led to a military investigation.

The probe found that U.S. Army soldiers had killed 504 unarmed people on March 16, 1968 in the village of My Lai, including men, women and children. Some women were gang-raped by the soldiers. The military investigation led to charges against 26 soldiers. Just one, Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a C Company platoon leader, was convicted. He was found guilty of the premeditated murder of 109 villagers. (Given a life sentence, he ultimately served only three and a half years under house arrest.).

But Calley's conviction was largely covered up by the military. The New York Times ran only a short Associated Press story on Sept. 7, 1968, with few details. Hersh, however, heard something about the incident from a military source in Washington and started poking around. Eventually he got to see Calley in his cell in Georgia and was even allowed to look through classified notes on his case. Hersh had his story. He pitched it to Look and Life Magazines, but was turned down. Eventually the freelancer published his story at the obscure Dispatch News Service.

Photo by United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968 in the aftermath of the My Lai massacre. (Wikipedia)
Photo by United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968 in the aftermath of the My Lai massacre. (Wikipedia)
(Image by Video Screenshot)
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There was a public outcry after Hersh's revelation. It was picked up by newspapers across the nation, including on the front pages of The New York Times and Washington Post. It fueled anti-war sentiment and hatred of President Richard Nixon. Two days following Hersh's story about 250,000 anti-war protesters gathered at the Washington Monument. "It surpassed in size the civil rights March on Washington in 1964 and was easily the largest and was perhaps the youngest antiwar crowd ever assembled in the United States," the Post reported.

Forty years after the My Lai incident, Apache helicopter gunships patrolling the skies of Baghdad on July 12, 2007 opened fire on a group of civilians on a street below, killing a number of people, including two Reuters journalists, and the driver of a van who had come to pick up the wounded.

During the My Lai incident one brave American serviceman, Hugh Thompson, landed his helicopter between cowering civilians and advancing GIs and told the Americans his gunship would fire on them if they didn't stop. In Baghdad, one U.S. soldier, Ethan McCord, saved the lives of two Iraqi children over the orders of his superiors.

Where the Similarities End

Some similarities between the two incidents are uncanny. But the outcomes were wholly different. Both were stories of a U.S. military massacre of innocent civilians. Both began with a whistleblower, Ridenhour on My Lai and Manning on Baghdad. Both stories were turned down by major media, and later accepted by obscure publications (which then made WikiLeaks well-known). (Manning was first turned down by the Times and The Washington Post).

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Joe Lauria has been a independent journalist covering international affairs and the Middle East for more than 20 years. A former Wall Street Journal United Nations correspondent, Mr. Lauria has been an investigative reporter for The Sunday Times (more...)

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