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Sunday, March 16, 2008


My Lai +40

40 years after American soldiers brutally gunned down an estimated 500 defenseless Vietnamese civilians at My Lai, an op-ed today purports to tell us "What My Lai tells us about how to lose a war," but it actually serves to remind us not just of the massacre itself, but of the followup that is less well-known. We've discussed here the role that Colin Powell played in attempting to coverup the massacre itself. But eventually it did come out, and exactly one person, Lt. William Calley, was convicted of 22 counts of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. So what happened? "President Nixon commuted his sentence to house arrest, and Calley was later paroled after serving 3 1/2 years."

That I actually knew, but had forgotten. Here's something I never knew: "Hugh Thompson Jr., a Georgia-born helicopter pilot, landed amid the carnage that day and snatched a handful of civilians from certain death." But what happened to Thompson after that is quite instructive, on several levels:

He was awarded the Soldier's Medal for bravery, but not until 1998; and Pentagon bureaucrats, still afraid of publicity, tried to hand him the medal in a private meeting, with no media present. Thompson, displaying the same moral courage he showed in 1968, demanded a public ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Today is also the anniversary of the death of another American hero, who never received a medal for bravery, publicly or privately, but deserved one every bit as much as Hugh Thompson:

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