Kumbukumbu ya Mauaji Mabaya Yaliyowahi Kutokea Duniani


Kumbukumbu ya miaka 50 tangu yatokee mauaji makubwa ya yanayofahamika kama My Lai yaliyotokea eneo la Son My nchini Vietnam.

Mnamo March 16, 1968 wanajeshi wa Marekani waliwaua watu 504 ambao walikuwa raia wa Vietnam na tukio hili lilitokea na kutambulika kama tukio la kutisha zaidi ambalo lilitokea wakati wa Vita ya Wavietnam.

Waliuawa wanawake, wanaume na watoto, huku idadi kubwa ya wanawake wakibakwa na kutendewa vitendo vya kikatili.

On March 16, 1968, Capt. Ernest Medina led his infantry company in an assault on the village of Son My, along the central coast of South Vietnam, as part of a mission to find and destroy a battalion of the National Liberation Front, also known as the Vietcong. One of the hamlets within the village was called My Lai.

Operating under the assumption that villagers of My Lai would be away at the market, Captain Medina planned an aggressive sweep through the area, ordering his men to destroy everything and to kill anyone who resisted. By the end of the day American forces had killed 347 to 504 unarmed Vietnamese women, children and old men, and raped 20 women and girls, some as young as 10 years old.

The massacre at My Lai was not the only time American troops committed war crimes against Vietnamese civilians, but it was the single worst instance; its severity, its cover-up and the eventual trial of just a handful of the unit’s leaders became a synonym for the entire American war in Vietnam. But while even today the massacre is often portrayed as having been perpetrated by a unit of misfits, the cause was a failure in leadership, from the commander of Captain Medina’s division, Maj. Gen. Samuel W. Koster, to the platoon leader most closely associated with the killings, Second Lt. William Calley.

The disaster at My Lai began even before Captain Medina’s company arrived the morning of March 16. The unit — Charlie Company, First Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment — had arrived in Vietnam in 1967. While still in Hawaii, it received high marks for preparedness and training.

But the unit had been hastily thrown together, and many of its experienced officers and noncommissioned officers, who had already served in-country, had to be transferred out of the unit as it prepared to deploy because Army regulations prevented them from returning to combat so quickly.

Statistically, Charlie Company was slightly above average among the infantry companies serving in Southeast Asia during the war. Eighty-seven percent of the remaining noncommissioned officers had graduated from high school, a rate 20 percent higher than the average for line infantry companies. Seventy percent of the men in lower enlisted ranks had graduated from high school, also slightly above the average for soldiers serving in Vietnam.

The unit was mixed demographically, with half of its troops being African-American, and the men came from geographically diverse hometowns. Other than the inexperienced men in key leadership roles, and the company’s experiences in the months before My Lai, there is little to explain why this particular group of soldiers committed the most horrific set of war crimes by American troops during the entire conflict.

Soon after its deployment in Vietnam, Charlie Company began to take heavy casualties from booby traps and snipers. Lieutenant Calley grew to hate and fear the local Vietnamese after losing his radio telephone operator, William Weber, to a sniper’s bullet while carelessly leading his men along the top of a dike between rice paddies to keep them out of the water. After that, all Vietnamese became synonymous with Vietcong guerrillas for Lieutenant Calley, and soon the rest of the company adopted his harsh attitudes.

Captain Medina and his officers tolerated Charlie Company’s abuse of Vietnamese civilians in the weeks before the massacre. After Pfc. Herbert Carter knocked an unarmed farmer into a well, Lieutenant Calley shot the defenseless man. Captain Medina allowed his troops to use prisoners as human mine detectors and personally beat captives during interrogations.

Rape became such an endemic problem in Charlie Company that one member of its Second Platoon, Michael Bernhardt, assumed that every woman Lieutenant Calley’s platoon came across would be raped within moments. After a booby trap killed Sgt. George Cox, surviving soldiers stole a radio from a local woman and kicked her to death when she protested.

Sergeant Cox’s death set the stage for the My Lai massacre. On March 15, the company held a memorial service at which Captain Medina reminded the company of their casualties. The company had lost half of its strength in just two months. Lieutenant Calley’s First Platoon was down to 27 of its original 45 men.

Captain Medina argued that Charlie Company could not afford more casualties, so they needed to pull together and be aggressive in their pursuit of the enemy. Soon after the funeral Captain Medina briefed the company about its next mission: an assault into My Lai to destroy the remnants of one of the Vietcong’s most lethal units,the 48th Local Force Battalion.

The briefing for the assault on My Lai led many of Captain Medina’s subordinates to believe that their mission was to kill everyone in the hamlet, to shoot the livestock, to destroy the wells and to level the buildings, because everyone living in My Lai was either a member of the Vietcong or a Vietcong sympathizer.


Captain Medina told his troops that this was their chance to avenge their fallen comrades. One private, Dennis Bunning, later claimed that Captain Medina ordered them to kill everyone; their intelligence briefing claimed that all My Lai’s women and children would be at the market that morning. Another, James Bergthold, summed up the general response to the briefing: “Although Captain Medina didn’t say to kill everyone in the village, I heard guys talking and they were of the opinion that everyone in the village was to be killed.”
The massacre began as an ordinary search-and-destroy mission preceded by an artillery barrage aimed at the rice paddies northwest of the village. The 105-millimeter shells were supposed to land 400 meters away from My Lai, but some of the rounds fell near houses. The artillery was intended to harass Vietcong; but there were no Vietcong in My Lai, not any more at least, so it merely damaged houses and dikes and forced residents to hide in bunkers.

Lieutenant Calley’s platoon, and part of second platoon, led by Second Lt. Stephen Brooks, landed at My Lai with the first wave of helicopters and secured the landing zone. While they did not receive any enemy fire, the constant stream of machine gun and rocket fire that helicopter gunships sprayed at the nearest huts gave them the impression that they were under attack. Lieutenant Calley and Lieutenant Brooks led their men into the village after a second wave of helicopters brought the rest of the company.

Moving into My Lai the platoons broke up into smaller groups of soldiers that their officers could not observe. Two privates, Dennis Conti and Paul Meadlo, kept the people they encountered under guard until an officer could evaluate them. When Lieutenant Calley found them, he ordered Private Conti and Private Meadlo to “take care of them” and left.

Under pressure from Captain Medina to quickly move his men through My Lai, Lieutenant Calley returned a few minutes later, and asked why they had not taken care of the villagers. Private Meadlo responded that they were following his orders, and Lieutenant Calley responded that he wanted the villagers killed. Pushing the soldiers into a firing line, Lieutenant Calley ordered them to shoot the villagers.

Private Meadlo obeyed Lieutenant Calley while Private Conti watched the tree line for danger. After firing three magazines of ammunition, Private Meadlo broke down in tears, telling Private Conti: “If they are going to be killed, I’m not doing it. Let him do it.”

Continuing into My Lai, Lieutenant Calley, along with Private Conti, Private Meadlo and Specialist Ronald Grzesik, arrived at a drainage ditch where other members of the company guarded 50 more villagers, including women, small children and a Buddhist monk. When the monk could not tell Lieutenant Calley where the Vietcong had gone, he pushed him into the ditch and shot him. After additional soldiers brought more Vietnamese to the ditch, Lieutenant Calley ordered his men to shoot them.

The massacre finally ended when a flight crew led by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson intervened. Angered by the murders he observed from his scout helicopter, he landed when he saw soldiers moving toward a group of villagers hiding in a bunker. As he left the helicopter, Mr. Thompson told the door gunner, Lawrence Colburn, to cover him, and to fire on Charlie Company if they begin killing the Vietnamese at the bunker.

After confronting Lieutenant Calley, who told him that it was none of his business, Mr. Thompson persuaded the pilots of other helicopters overhead to land and evacuate the civilians. His radio calls eventually caught the attention of Lt. Col. Frank Barker, who ordered Captain Medina to stop the killing.


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