How was the My Lai Massacre reported by the U.S. media?
Plan of the investigation
How did the United States media represent the My Lai Massacre? What did the incident look like in the American newspapers? I have chosen this topic because the importance of the media during the Vietnam War (particularly the My Lai) cannot be underrated. The U.S. media influence Americans’ perception of the event, as the primary information was reversed and many details were never revealed. Throughout the world history, many countries did the same thing in order to avoid panic and unneeded criticism. In this particular case, it was done to justify the actions of the men of Charlie Company, particularly First Lieutenant William L. Calley who launched the massacre. In the book called “At the Crossroads of Justice” and in Seymour Hersh’s newspaper reports, I have found the valuable evidence that helped me prove the fact that the My Lai incident was a great tragedy that wasn’t supposed to be ever unearthed. I have used two of its passages to demonstrate the behavior of American media and explain the reasons why the information was never to be revealed.
Summary of Evidence
In March 1968, hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were slaughtered by American soldiers. My Lai Massacre became a great example of the behavior of the U.S. media during the armed conflicts. This event was notorious because the information about it was concealed, and the number of Vietnamese victims was never to be revealed. “The story remained largely out of the public eye until the media published Haeberle's photographs in November 1969.” The pictures taken by Ron Haeberle, the official army photographer, became the key evidence during the investigation that was run later on. Many of the photographs showed American military aircrafts and armed soldiers running around the villages and empty fields. The most striking photos were those that showed the dead Vietnamese civilians on the roads, and the dead children that no one cared to bury. One of the children on the photographs was shot immediately after Haeberle took the picture. However, the photographer claimed that he had destroyed a great number of other images that were taken by him during and after the Massacre. Haeberle failed to interfere with the event because his job required no interference. “He was later censured by the report of the Peers Commision.”
U.S. Army Officer William Calley was found guilty of killing about five hundred Vietnamese civilians. He got a life sentence for his deeds initially, but, later on, received a pardon from president Nixon, which was highly criticized by the latter’s contemporaries. As it was reported, officer Calley “lacked common sense and could not read a map or compass properly.” It is clear that he couldn’t orientate and was blinded with hatred towards the Vietnamese. His anger was released when he got to slaughter the civilians with his own hands. He himself “rounded up a group of villagers, ordered them into a ditch and mowed them down with a fury of with machine gun fire.”
There was no chance for the officer to be justified in the eyes of his co-citizens. What he and his “team” decided to do was to cover up all the information and not to let any detail slip into a single newspaper. The photographs were banned as well. Only in 1969 did the first investigation take place, after “a former GI of Charlie Company, Ron Ridenhour, had heard the stories from other soldiers of the massacre at Pinkville, and wrote a letter to several Congressmen, requesting an investigation.” However, the investigation didn’t show any violation of the war rules.
American civilians continued living in the world of lies for almost two years. This time was important for the soldiers. Several other events took place in Vietnam, and more Vietnamese women and children were slaughtered. The evidence found in the book by Paul Noto “At the Crossroads of Justice” lets the readers know how, why from and by whom the information on the My Lai Massacre was so carefully concealed.
Evaluation of Sources
Seymour Hersh was an independent war journalist who brought the story of Charlie Company to light after he launched an investigation in 1968. His articles were published worldwide, and he received a prize as an International reporter. I have chosen a passage from his newspaper because it was one of the first reliable accounts of the My Lai. In this passage, he proves the fact that all the information on the massacre was very well concealed, and the American officials in Vietnam did whatever they could in order not to reveal the details of the bloody event that was launched by their co-citizens. Obviously, the My Lai Massacre involved the mass slaughter of civilians, including women and children, which would have been highly criticized by American citizens if they found out (which actually happened in the end and caused a wave of protests.) Trying to prevent the protests, the leaders of the My Lai Massacre ordered the media to “shut up” and not to give away any information. Being proficient in military and security matters, Seymour Hersh immediately recognized the cover-up. Here, he claims that American citizens got to hear the truth almost two years later, when the war was over, and it was too late to argue against the My Lai, as the Vietnamese civilians were already dead. However, the Charlie Company and the Task Force Barker got the information almost immediately after the massacre happened. This was, of course, because the companies played the key role in the cover-up.
In this next passage, Paul Noto, the author of “At the Crossroads of Justice,” includes a quote from the book written by Olson and Roberts. Their book called “Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam”, just like Hersh’s reports, reveals a very well built world of falsehood, which was created by the American media around the My Lai Massacre. The quote emphasizes that the American media concentrated on the losses of the country and never mentioned what was happening to the Vietnamese civilians. When the newspaper readers saw these numbers, they immediately thought that the American nation was the one that suffered in the massacre. Noto includes the quote purposely: this is just an example of what the American newspapers were full of. This cover-up also mentioned the number of the “enemy” troops that were destroyed, which encouraged patriotism of American soldiers and the civilians that were waiting for them overseas. Even the investigations that took place later “concluded no violation of the military code of engagement.”
The example of My Lai Massacre shows that during the armed conflicts, the media cannot be trusted and thus, should be constantly questioned. From the given sources that demonstrated what was written in American newspapers, and how the Massacre was described to American citizens, the readers understood that the media had a deeper role here than just a reporter of the events. It played a key role in creating the history that was beneficial for American soldiers and officers, who planned on returning from Vietnam with honor. The launchers of the My Lai Massacre were perfectly aware of the fact that the event would have caused a huge trouble in the country. And that was exactly what happened after the information and the photographs were revealed. A number of protests took place, and several American officers and soldiers were charged with the crime against humanity. He was charged with “four specifications of murder under Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice”. The Article 118 charges a soldier or an officer “if he or she has a premeditated design to kill, intends to kill or inflict great bodily harm or is engaged in an act which is inherently dangerous to others and evinces a wanton disregard of human life or is engaged in burglary, rape, sodomy, robbery or aggravated arson.” It remains a question nowadays why President Nixon pardoned the leader of the My Lai Calley, who was initially sentenced for life.
But even after Calley was charged and people got to see the photographs taken by Haeberle and read Hersh’s reports, the opinions on the Massacre were different. Some people had sympathy for Calley, saying that he was a scapegoat and not the only one to blame, as there were other officers that had put him in this position and forced him to take the actions the had taken. Many Americans still have no idea about the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre, as the old history textbooks used to conceal the information in order to justify the actions of the Americans in charge.
The My Lai Massacre is also a great example for the modern historians, who have to consider both sides of the coin. They have to keep in mind that during the wars, the facts get manipulated, and the number of victims can never be correctly evaluated right after the conflict took place. Several years, or maybe decades have to pass before the war historians can actually write books and come up with versions of who was right and who was wrong. Every war has to be looked at from different perspectives, and it’s important that eyewitnesses get to say their word. In the case of the Vietnam War, the eyewitnesses start to die out, and thus, scholars have to gather as much evidence from them as possible.
In this paper, I have investigated the My Lai Massacre – one of the most bloody and deadly massacres that took place during the Vietnam War. I have looked into the role of the media, particularly the American media, and I have explained how and why the information was hidden. Of course, the experience of one event varies depending on where one is situated and what culture he belongs to. However, there are ultimate laws of universe and laws of humanity. No matter where one is from of what side in the conflict he supports, he has to keep in mind that slaughter remains slaughter. During the My Lai Massacre women and children fell victims of the ruthlessness of the American soldiers, who were blinded with hatred towards the pooper group of people that couldn’t protect themselves. Just like slavery and the slaughter of Native Americans, the My Lai Massacre will always be a black page in the history of the world’s strongest power. It cannot be changed, but it can be remembered so that the later generations could make right conclusions and not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Toppe, Jana. "Media Coverage of the My Lai Massacre." Http://www.jfki.fu-berlin.de. Accessed January 3, 2016. http://www.jfki.fu.berlin.de/academics/SummerSchool/Dateien2011/Presentation_Handouts/Handout_-_Meigs_-_September_16_-_Toppe.pdf.
Noto, Paul. "The My Lai Incident." In At the Crossroads of Justice: My Lai and Son Thang—American Atrocities in Vietnam. iUniverse, 2011.
"The Myth of the Media’s Role in Vietnam." FAIR. May 6, 2001. Accessed January 3, 2016. http://fair.org/article/the-myth-of-the-medias-role-in-vietnam
"American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. Accessed January 3, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/photo-gallery/mylai-massacre-evidence/.
"Mrs. Osborn's Class Web Page." Mrs. Osborn's Class Web Page. Accessed January 3, 2016.
Belknap, Michal R. The Vietnam War on Trial: The My Lai Massacre and the Court-martial of Lieutenant Calley. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 2002.
"William Calley." Wikipedia. Accessed January 3, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Calley.
"The Ides of March - The Express Tribune." The Express Tribune. March 25, 2012. Accessed January 3, 2016.
Hersh, Seymour M. My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath. New York: Random House, 1970.
Olson, James Stuart, and Randy Roberts. Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945 to 1990. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Index and Legislative History, Uniform Code of Military Justice. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1950.