Haditha and My Lai: A Comparison Including the Coverups

My-Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre, South Vietnam, March 1968. 

I am increasingly struck by the similarities in the military response to the killings in Haditha, November 19, 2005 and in My Lai, Vietnam, March 16, 1968. For four months there were no revelations about the Haditha murders by United States marines until Time published its account in March 2006. The My Lai slaughter was not revealed until over a year later in Fall 1969 when some letters were published that led to a full scale army investigation.

In both events, indiscriminate, purposeful murder against babies, children and defenceless adults transpired. In both cases the marines or the army attempted to conceal the event and frankly not even court martial soldiers guilty of such crimes. In both cases only after the press either through a video or letters became aware of the massacre, was there greater public scrutiny.

Lt  William Calley was convicted on March 29, 1971 of murdering twenty-two Vietnamese even though 347 Vietnamese innocents were killed in My Lai and surrounding villages. He was pardoned in 1974 after forty months of house arrest.

The military knows My Lais and Hadithas are quite common. They are not unusual. The only special circumstance is that they became known. The Pentagon is so accustomed to its power, unlimited access to the nation's financial resources, arrogantly smug in all the holidays that glorify war, the National Anthem that advocates war, the president in his marine choppers and air force ones, that it has successfully convinced Americans that it stands for freedom and liberty.

You will hear from defenders of these actions that soldiers were under stress. You will hear that this is the fog of war. You will hear that the "enemy" commits similar atrocities. You will hear these are young soldiers, sent to a war they did not make, and should be treated leniently.

Yes they were under stress. In both instances they had taken casualties PRIOR but not duing these operations of death. No this is not the fog of war because there was no "collateral damage." These were purposeful killings. Yes the "enemy" commits similar atrocities but Americans believe we are better or as Mr Bush repeatedly states, the "leader of the civilised world." He implies our adversaries are uncivilised. Yes soldiers in both instances, but more so in Vietnam, did not choose to serve in the conflict or at least did not enlist with the expectation they would be in a war. However, the current force is voluntary and not conscripts, even though most who served in Vietnam were not drafted.

I am uneasy about merely punishing the perpetrators. To truly demonstrate the nation's revulsion and morality in the face of such crimes, it needs to take on its own elite national security managers–both civilian and military–and bring them to justice. I am not confident that Haditha will result in a major and dramatic effort to put on trial senior military and civilian leaders that are responsible for the war and the specific coverup in Haditha. It would challenge the core values of America's love of self, empire and military prowess.

A marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, Lance Corporal Roel Ryan Briones (who uses Ryan as his last name) was apparently not involved in the killings but part of a marine unit that went to the houses of death in Haditha after the slaughter. I believe he was to photograph and carry away the dead. He described holding one of the baby girls slaughtered by the marines: "I held her out like this," demonstrating with his arms extended, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs." Quoted from Rone Tempest in Los Angeles Times.

For the record: The marine unit involved in Haditha crimes was Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

For the record: The army unit involved in My Lai crimes was Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal 23rd Division.

The struggle continues for decency and honour that is so lacking in our country's external relations.

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