My Lai
During the summer of 1971, in the midst of protests and demonstrations in the United States against the Vietnam War, it became evident that something horrific had happened in the remote South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai. Three years previously, in March 1968, a unit of American soldiers engaged in seemingly indiscriminate violence against unarmed civilians, killing over 500 people, including women and children. News filtered slowly through the system, but was initially suppressed, dismissed or downplayed by military authorities. By late 1969, however journalists had pursued the rumors, when New York Times reporter Seymour Hirsch published an expose on the massacre, the story became a national outrage. Howard Jones places the events of My Lai and its aftermath in a wider historical context. As a result of the reporting of Hirsch and others, the U.S. army conducted a special inquiry, which charged Lieutenant William Calley and nearly 30 other officers with war crimes. A court martial followed, but after four months Calley alone was found guilty of premeditated murder. He served four and a half months in prison before President Nixon pardoned him and ordered his release. Jones' compelling narrative details the events in Vietnam, as well as the mixed public response to Calley's sentence and to his defense that he had merely been following orders. Jones shows how pivotal the My Lai massacre was in galvanizing opposition to the Vietnam War, playing a part nearly as significant as that of the Tet Offensive and the Cambodian bombing. For many, it undermined any pretense of American moral superiority, calling into question not only the conduct of the war but the justification for U.S. involvement. Jones also reveals how the effects of My Lai were felt within the American military itself, forcing authorities to focus on failures within the chain of command and to review training methods as well as to confront the issue of civilian casualties--what, in later years, came to be known as "collateral damage." A trenchant and sober reassessment, My Lai delves into questions raised by the massacre that have never been properly answered: questions about America's leaders in the field and in Washington; the seeming breakdown of the U.S. army in Vietnam; the cover-up and ultimate public exposure; and the trial itself, which drew comparisons to Nuremberg. Based on extensive archival research, this is the best account to date of one of the defining moments of the Vietnam War."

My Lai Details

TitleMy Lai
Author
FormatHardcover
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJun 1st, 2017
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
ISBN0195393600
ISBN-139780195393606
Number of pages320 pages
Rating
GenreHistory, War, Military, Military History, Nonfiction, Literature, 20th Century

My Lai Review

  • David
    June 12, 2017
    I get free history books for review, but am I grateful? Nah. Am I respectful? Not for a moment. I especially enjoy ridiculing the unfairly-maligned publishing industry, which has never been anything other than perfectly nice to me, for launching an avalanche of books on important anniversaries of major historical events or, like the recently-passed 100th anniversary of World War I, or the upcoming half-millennium since Martin Luther glued (or maybe nailed) his 95 (or maybe 87) theses. Call me a I get free history books for review, but am I grateful? Nah. Am I respectful? Not for a moment. I especially enjoy ridiculing the unfairly-maligned publishing industry, which has never been anything other than perfectly nice to me, for launching an avalanche of books on important anniversaries of major historical events or, like the recently-passed 100th anniversary of World War I, or the upcoming half-millennium since Martin Luther glued (or maybe nailed) his 95 (or maybe 87) theses. Call me a great unpleasant crank (you won't be the first), but I just don't think the theses have more or less significance and meaning on their 500th anniversary than they had on, say, their 473rd, or will have on their 514th. I know, I know, publishers have to earn their crust, too. Nice divisible-by-ten anniversaries get the attention of the pompous media blowhards who pass for opinion-shapers in our benighted era because they can write thumb-sucking content for their site (for slow news days) and have a snappy, I'm-smarter-than-you riposte to the inevitable question “And why exactly should I care about the Diet of Worms now?” And, if you are a publisher and can actually get aforementioned pompous etc who pass etc in our benighted etc to mention your book on the topic as well, so much the better.The My Lai Massacre will have its fiftieth anniversary on March 16, 2018. A fiftieth anniversary may actually be one worth paying attention to. With increased longevity, anybody writing about a 50-year-old event stands a fighting chance of finding participants who might have been reticent to go on the record at the time but are now looking to set the record straight before going to meet their reward. For example, a recent book about the so-called ”Secret War in Laos” had a boatload of interesting information from those who kept mum for decades. This book about My Lai does not contain any new headline-making bombshells about the massacre or the subsequent trial of William Calley. Those survivors who could really set the record straight can't or won't talk, but it's clear that the author did his damnedest to compile the mountain of the official documents into a coherent narrative. He also added a few new interviews to create as clear a version of events as the circumstances allow.New interviewees in this book include two Vietnamese survivors (Kindle locations 1730, 7023, and elsewhere), a post-Vietnam friend of Calley (l. 6325 and elsewhere), and a military historian and author of a book on the US Air Force in Vietnam (l. 6588 and elsewhere).The most important interviewee, though, must be the late Lawrence Colburn (l. 1996 and elsewhere), who was the last surviving member of the helicopter crew who prevented the massacre from being worse than it was, ferried a few lucky survivors to safety, and reported the incident. (For their trouble, the crew was investigated for insubordination, had their names forged on official statements, and had a US Senator call for their court-martial. However, eventually they got the honor they deserved.) It's possible that Colburn talked to other historians before his death, but this is certainly one of the last occasions on which one of the few people who came out of the incident honorably will have a chance to testify.Calley, the only person to serve a prison sentence in connection with the massacre, has been nearly silent for decades. He did not appear very contrite in 2007 when he unsuccessfully attempted to engage in checkbook journalism with the London Daily Mail. He appeared more apologetic when speaking to a sympathetic audience in his native Georgia in 2009. But clearly he did not speak to the author of this book. It doesn't feel like a big loss because, if this book is getting it right, much of Calley's early life and every movement connected with the massacre has gotten such intense scrutiny and documentation that there is simply no more relevant information to be gotten from Calley.Calley's immediate superior, Ernest Medina, was acquitted of all charges and apparently went on to a prosperous post-military career working for a helicopter factory owned by the attorney who defended him at the trial. Medina seems to be still alive at age 81. People who are alive can sue for libel, so the author has to step very carefully. I got the impression that the author feels Medina is the real villain of the massacre and the subsequent cover-up, but there was no irrefutable evidence to connect Medina (or anyone else) to, for example, the possibly incriminating documents that mysteriously disappeared from official files or to convenient lapses of judgment and memory by participants.The massacre takes only the first quarter of the book. The rest is taken up by the twist and turns of various investigations, cover-ups, revelations, and trials. Because of this, I think it will appeal more to the fan of the courtroom drama than the fan of military action. Read the book. Things like this happen and people say “How could this happen?”, but that doesn't prevent it from happening again. You can't prevent it, but you can understand it.I received a free unfinished electronic copy of this book for review. Thanks to Oxford University Press and NetGalley.
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  • Joseph
    May 1, 2017
    My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness by Howard Jones is a study of one of the darkest moments in American military history. Jones is University Research Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Alabama, where he chaired the Department of History for eight years and received the John F. Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award and the Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award.Having served in the Marines we were taught the standards of war and the rules of engagement. We had My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness by Howard Jones is a study of one of the darkest moments in American military history. Jones is University Research Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Alabama, where he chaired the Department of History for eight years and received the John F. Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award and the Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award.Having served in the Marines we were taught the standards of war and the rules of engagement. We had leadership that was experienced and committed to standards. The Vietnam War was different. Officer's were pulled from the ranks. The ranks were drafted into service. Those in Vietnam simply wanted to do their twelve months and get out alive. Most didn't rush in and volunteer to fight. Some did though and that combination between aggressive and those who just wanted to make it out alive created a dangerous situation. The aggressive leaders wanted a body high body count. Those wanting to live saw it advantageous to shoot first and ask questions later. It was difficult to tell friend from foe so viewing everyone as the enemy was a survival tactic. Soon any native was a "gook." One of my colleague's father was a helicopter door gunner in the war. He remembers asking his father how could you shoot people like that. His father said, "They weren't people."There has always been a dehumanizing of the enemy. In World War I, it was the Huns. In World War II it was the Japs and later it was the Commies. Vietnam took it extremes. The hidden enemy was frustrating. Not being able to retaliate against an enemy killing your friends was a heavy burden on many fighting the war. There was a lashing out at what is to be known as My Lai massacre.Unclear orders, incompetent leadership (Calley was called Lt Shithead by his company commander), built up aggression and contributed to the atrocity. Through the chain of command, it came down to the people remaining in the village were enemy combatants. At the end, 347 Vietnamese were dead this included old men, women, and children. There were no American deaths and three weapons were captured. Although, there was much firing and artillery fire it was coming from the American forces. My Lai was not armed. The 48th Battalion of the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) was reported to be in My Lai; they were not. Calley's Charlie Company was responsible for much of the massacre. What makes My Lai so horrible is more than the killing of civilians of all ages, is the rape at gunpoint that took place. This was not a military operation. This is something invading hoards did in the middle ages.Howard goes into graphic detail of the search and destroy mission and the atrocities committed. He goes into the cover up, trial, and eventual freedom for Lt Calley. This book has to be one of the most disturbing books I have read and ranks with WWII atrocities by the Axis powers. The Abu Ghraib torture incident in Iraq caused quite a stir in 2003. This was a drop in a bucket compared to My Lai and the cover up. Howard does include those who refused orders to kill civilians and those who worked to stop the massacre. A frightful history and a very dark chapter in the history of the US military.
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  • M. Sarki
    May 21, 2017
    War is madness. My Lai is a tragic piece in our U.S. military history. It was a mistake to think I might be interested in this accounting.
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