Day 10: My Lai Massacre

Jesus. We didn’t even get the name right; there were a series of villages, one named My Lai, but we lumped them all together.

I hired a car for the nearly 3 hour ride from Hoi An to My Son, where the massacre site and museum is located.

The ride was pretty – almost nothing but small towns and rice. Rice, everywhere you look.

I’d read up on the events of that day, but I was surprised at how small it was. Some of the small details took on bigger meaning, given the size: At My Son, about 275 people were slaughtered, in a space not much bigger that a couple of football fields.

They took a lunch break. That’s right. A lunch break. And then they went back to killing.

In case you don’t know, they means us: American soldiers.

I started at the museum, where a kind but frank Vietnamese women led me through the exhibits, not pulling any punches. Words like “murder”, “slaughter”, “premeditated”, “entire”, and “kill” were uttered while looking me directly in the eye.

I liked that, both the courage and the honesty of it.

Part of the outdoor exhibit is rice, which I also liked. It is modest; foundations of buildings, with a simple list of names of the dead. Most of the foundations were destroyed later, when the military tried to cover it up.

There were a few American men that were heroes; Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot, tried repeatedly to stop the killing. He spotted a group of 10 villagers being chased by the Americans, and came to their rescue, even telling his gunner to shoot Americans that tried to kill the Vietnamese.

He was subsequently ridiculed in the press, received death threats, and more.

Meanwhile, the American most responsible served 3 years of house arrest.

I was 4 at the time; the approximate age of many of the victims. I have vague recollections of hearing the name My Lai (badly pronounced) growing up.

But I wanted to visit, just like I visited Dachau, and the site of the Twin Towers. I wanted to see with my own eyes the places where humans have perpetrated such evil. I wish I could stop it, the killing, the hatred, the intolerance. Or expose the folly: We kill because we dislike a way of government. In Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, and more secretly, in many more places.

Vietnam isn’t better off for our intervention. Despite that, we’ve been welcomed here. What a lesson, to be forgiven en masse by a people you persecuted


One Comment to “Day 10: My Lai Massacre”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s hard to read – I have a lump in my throat – and the lessons you’re pulling out of the experience are just so hard to swallow. I know very little of these times, have the wool pulled over my eyes, but it’s heartbreaking. thanks for sharing your honesty and your journey!

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