My Lai massacre in Vietnam War recalled after 50 years


My Lai has been a byword for the war crimes which can erupt in modern warfare ever since it was exposed by Ronald Ridenhour in 1969. Ridenhour served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner, but did not take part in the operation himself.

It was the worst recorded U.S. war crime committed in Vietnam. More than 500 people, nearly all civilians, were shot or burned to death in a U.S. attack on a number of small villages in the Son My area of  Vietnam’s central highlands.

Pham Thi Thuan, My Lai massacre survivor, stands in a museum during the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre in My Lai village, Vietnam March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kham
Pham Thi Thuan, My Lai massacre survivor, stands in a museum during the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre in My Lai village, Vietnam March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kham

In Vietnam, a low-key ceremony is planned to honor the dead, with a shrine being consecrated nearby.

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The name associated with the killings – who stood trial, in a court-martial – is William Calley, a lieutenant at the time. Although Calley was convicted in 1971 of 22 murders, and initially sentenced to life imprisonment, a huge public outcry in his defense led him to being released in 1974. He had served just three and a half years under house arrest at the direct orders of President Richard Nixon.

Calley himself made an apology in 2009, although it resembled what has often been called the Nuremberg defense: “I was only obeying orders”.

Relations between Vietnam and the United States were restored in 1995. Earlier this month, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, made the first visit to a Vietnamese port since the war. It sailed into Da Nang, itself famous for its role in the war, only 25 miles from Son My.

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