Prof Grimsley at Blog Them Out of the Stone Age points to Ed Ruggerio's L.A. Times op-ed on how the My Lai Massacre, which I commemorated a few days ago shows that all in war is a shade of grey. Rugerio argues that the bravery and courage of Hugh Thompson and his helicopter crew in defending the survivors of Lt. Calley's rampage through the village at the behest of Captain "Calley misunderstood my orders" Medina shows that even unjust wars are not all black and white.
From Ruggerio's article we see that even the men who perpetrated My Lai understood the nature of their task when they murdered 500 innocent civilians.
Over the next few hours that day, some GIs engaged in an orgy of violence, herding unarmed villagers — women, babies, old men — into clearings and ditches where they were machine-gunned. "It was a Nazi kind of thing," one of the men would later admit.
Yet, Hugh Thompson, and the fact that Paul Meadlo cried when Lt. Calley ordered him to kill the prisoners he was guarding are supposed to temper the episode to make it somehow less evil, less black. I'm sorry, but this one spark of light does not change the facts of the incident. It does not change the nature of the incident. All it does is show that sometimes an individual with a huge amount of moral courage will appear to remind us of who we should be, who we believe ourselves to be.
My Lai doesn't show the complexity of war, it shows only the horror.
Ruggerio wants us to remember the horrors of My Lai to reduce the likelihood that new ones will occur. Unfortunately, he reminds us in a manner that makes it appear that he is trying to lessen My Lai's impact. He also does it in a way that makes it appear that My Lai was an isolated incident. The approximately 20,000 pages of documents collected by the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group stored at the National Archive show that is was not, as does the Toledo Blade's series on Tiger Force.
Our new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have brought new massacres. In Iraq, the Marine Corps stands accused of killing 24 innocent civilians at Haditha. The Marines involved were highly trained and motivated volunteers, not the under-educated and under-trained conscripts of the 24th Infantry Division of the My Lai Massacre. Ruggerio's message is timely and necessary. By introducing shades of grey at My Lai, he undermines the efficacy of his delivery.