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My Lai Massacre Revisited

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  • My Lai Massacre Revisited

    PBS's The American Experience has released an outstanding new documentary about the My Lai Massacre.

    A Dark Day That Still Resonates

    The slaughter of hundreds of unarmed villagers in Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam, in March 1968 — an event that came to be known as the My Lai massacre — is both an open wound in the American psyche and a cautionary tale at a time when we are once again fighting wars, and killing civilians, on foreign soil.

    The story of the killings and the subsequent cover-up is also vividly theatrical: a three-act drama of idealism, horror and slow, fumbling justice. It is told superbly by Barak Goodman in his documentary “My Lai,” a presentation of PBS’s “American Experience” on Monday night.

    The dense and complex tale goes beyond the actions of the American soldiers — from Charlie Company of the First Battalion, 20th Infantry — to explore the nature of combat in Vietnam. The documentary also delves into faulty intelligence and failures of command (as well as flashes of heroism); the cover-up, investigation and series of trials; and the poisonous domestic politics of late-1960s America.

    Mr. Goodman has had to leave out a lot, and many viewers may fault him for this or that omission. But any reasonable viewer should be amazed by how much he has been able to fit within the limits of a 90-minute television documentary. (Some will wonder why the role of the journalist Seymour Hersh in exposing the massacre is not covered. At a screening of the film last week, Mr. Goodman said that Mr. Hersh turned down his request for an interview.)

    The film employs the usual archival images and talking heads, as well as audio recordings from the court martial of Lt. William L. Calley Jr., who was convicted of ordering the killings. But Mr. Goodman has gone well beyond that, persuading soldiers from Charlie Company, some of whom had never spoken publicly about the events of March 16, 1968, to sit for interviews.

    They appear to be more interested in seeking understanding than in expressing remorse. “The people of that village were Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers,” says Kenneth Hodges, a squad leader. “Maybe some see it differently. That’s the way I see it.” Often, though, their words and their eyes seem to be telling different stories.

    Mr. Goodman, an Emmy winner and Oscar nominee in 2001 for “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy,” also uncovered home-movie footage of Charlie Company during its training and deployment (though not in combat) as well as film shot in the My Lai area from the helicopter of Hugh Thompson, the American pilot who intervened to save some of the villagers. The story of the heroism of Mr. Thompson and his crew, who at one point trained their door guns on Charlie Company troops to keep them from killing more Vietnamese, is a stark counterpoint to the savagery and lies that otherwise dominate the story.

    Mr. Goodman and his team also went to Quang Ngai Province and tracked down survivors of the massacre, most of them children at the time, who recall watching as their entire families were killed. Amazingly, one of them is Do Ba, then 4 years old, whom helicopter gunner Lawrence Colburn pulled from among dead bodies heaped in an irrigation ditch.

    For years now the Vietnam War chronicler Oliver Stone has been trying to get his own My Lai project, titled “Pinkville” (the American military designation for the My Lai area), off the ground. If it ever happens, it’s hard to imagine it will be any better or more moving than “My Lai.”

    I've read numerous articles and watched several documentaries that touched base on this horrible incident. But, this was by far the best I've ever seen and I highly recommend watching this, it can be viewed online here.

    American Experience | My Lai | PBS

    What drove a company of American soldiers -- ordinary young men from around the country -- to commit the worst atrocity in American military history? Were they “just following orders” as some later declared? Or, did they break under the pressure of a vicious war in which the line between enemy soldier and civilian had been intentionally blurred? AMERICAN EXPERIENCE focuses on the 1968 My Lai massacre, its subsequent cover-up, and the heroic efforts of the soldiers who broke ranks to try to halt the atrocities, and then bring them to light. PBS.
    There's some good questions in that quote if anyone has an opinion about this incident.
    |TG-X| mp40x

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  • #2
    Re: My Lai Massacre Revisited

    Watched the documentary; thanks for that. Not sure can form words right now that would give justice to the tragedy or the heartening bits.


    • #3
      Re: My Lai Massacre Revisited

      I've watched the first 15 minutes of the video, but right now I can't watch it all. I put it on my to do list. It look very well made and professionnal. I had never heard of that massacre before. I will give a feedback once I'll have watch the full thing. Thanks for the share.




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