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REPORTING THE MY LAI MASSACRE
THE VIETNAM CONFLICT
Kenneth J. Wolverton
This report will attempt to demonstrate how the press was partially responsible for a War Crime in 1968 through Bias and also how the press helped keep it a secret for 19 months by failing to have Substantial Completeness in reporting the war.
We will examine the My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968 during the Vietnam Conflict and how it was eventually uncovered and reported by the press.
In the particular problem of the My Lai Massacre, it will be shown that the ideals of journalism were not only abused, but what can only be defined as manipulation and bias (c/n1a) which translate as lies were passed on by the media as truth.
Bias and Substantial Completeness are the focus of this report, but news coming from any war often fails at accuracy and objectivity also because of eminent danger, chaos, and security while the war correspondent or imbedded reporter has limited access to all levels of operation. (c/n 1b). This report will primarily center on historical analysis.
The report is cited through various online and microfilm contemporary newspaper articles, information drawn from seven books and supporting facts from various websites.
In conclusion we will look into the factors of situation, structure and culture and how they may have influenced the news. We will examine what manipulation may have taken place and what the revelation of truth finally brought to the conduct of the Vietnam War, and see if any reporter succeeded where others had failed.
The criteria of this report is in the form of an historical analysis, in chronological order of the My Lai Massacre, March 16, 1968. However there are references that predate this period to show context of substantial completeness in reporting the war.
For a news story to be credible, a journalist must be without Bias and have Substantial Completeness as an intrinsic element. These two terms defined are,
Bias: a distorted and unfair judgment or disposition caused by values of a reporter, photographer, editor, or institution—it is not just a distorted presentation.
Substantial Completeness: Providing the reasonable reader with enough information to make informed judgments about causes, consequences and policy alternatives regarding events and issues (c/n-2).
In the situation of 1968, America was in the midst of what was to be one of its darkness moments as a country and as the leading democratic nation. The lack of Substantial Completeness in the press was at the center of the problem. Throughout 1968 events begin to turn the attitude of the American people against what was not called “war” but the Vietnam Conflict. As stated on a High School website,
American involvement in the Vietnam Conflict was one of the most controversial events to take place during the late 20th century in the United States…many American lives were lost to fight the spread of communism and preserve a peoples' right to choose their leaders.(“Conflict”).
Below are a few historic points of 1968:
|January - Beginning of the siege of Khe Sanh; beginning of the Tet offensive|
|February - General Westmoreland requests an additional 206,000 troops over current 535,000; request refused|
|March 16 - My Lai massacre by U.S. troops|
|March 31 - President announces limited bombing halt over Northern Vietnam (coincides with Johnson's decision not to run for president)|
|April 4 - Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinated|
|October - U.S./D.R.V. meet in Paris for peace talks|
|November - Richard Nixon elected President, (“Timeline”).|
The above timeline is accurate but the My Lai Massacre would not be revealed to the American public until 19 months after it occurred, Sept. 5, 1969 (Hersh -128).
The Situation of 1968
It is little exaggeration to say in 1968 that the world was in turmoil (SFE-1). “During the Vietnam war, the body count was served up every day on the evening news. While Americans ate dinner, they watched a graphic visual scorecard: how many Americans had died that day, how many South Vietnamese and how many Communists.” (“Body Count”). The body count was often expressed like scores in a football game. There was a general distortion of the war in part because of defensive patriotism and fear of Communism, known as the “Domino Theory+. The military and political attitude of warfare permeated the press. It was a fear of a Communist takeover. It was casually referred to as the “Domino Theory.” As defined in the encyclopedia it is,
Domino Theory: The notion that if one country becomes Communist, other nations in the region will probably follow, like dominoes falling in a line. The analogy, first applied (1954) to Southeast Asia by President Dwight Eisenhower, was adopted in the 1960s by supporters of the U.S. role in the Vietnam War. (“Domino”).
This message of the war was passed onto the American public and the news reported from Vietnam became a presentation of partial facts as the full truth (NYT-1).
The My Lai Massacre was the beginning of an uncovering of violence that few people in America would believe that our own soldiers were capable of doing, and unleashed a controversy not only of war crimes by our military, but what the press should report (NYT-2).
It possibly may never have been known if it were not for the conscience of Ron Ridenhour, a young helicopter crewman from Phoenix who flew over the site days after the tragedy happened, and then heard rumors of it before he left the army. After debating on what to do for nearly a year he finally wrote a letter detailing his information, sending 30 copies to officials in the government and military (NYT-3). In part Ridenhour wrote the following:
It was late in April, 1968 that I first heard of ‘Pinkville’ and what allegedly happened there. I received that first report with some skepticism, but in the following months I was to hear similar stories from such a wide variety of people that it became impossible for me to disbelieve that something rather dark and bloody did indeed occur sometime in March, 1968...One morning in the latter part of March, Task Force Barker moved out from its firebase headed for ‘Pinkville.’ Its mission: destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants. (Goldstein -34)
Ridenhour went on to detail his involvement in Vietnam and subsequently what he had been told by fellow soldiers who had taken part in a very unbelievable event. Ironically this was the beginning of Ridenhour applying ethics in moral issues and principles to his future career as a journalist.
It is relevant, that Ridenhour is central to the idea of this report and ethics in the press with the definition of morality defined as:
The effort to guide one's conduct by reason--that is to do what there are the best reasons for doing, while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be effected by one's conduct. (Rachels-14)
In accordance with this moral definition, Ridenhour revealed a dark secret of the Vietnam Conflict, that many professional journalists had already heard of or had personally witnessed and because of what one can only think of as dominant national and military bias, was ignored (NYT-2). Ridenhour searched his conscience and with the help of his High School teacher, finally took action and wrote letters to public and military officials based on moral principals (Hersh-105).
The Army eventually sent a colonel to interview Ridenhour, after Senator Udall from Arizona had pressured Senator Rivers from South Carolina, the Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, to influence the Army to look into the matter. The sad note of this is that many people in the military had been aware of the tragedy within hours of its occurrence, including two army journalists and the soldiers and officers who took part, plus the commanding officers of the regiment and division (Hersh -22). This also may be the only reason the national press eventually got interested in the massacre because a top level scandal involving very high ranking Army officers, possibly even General Westmoreland, commander of Vietnam forces (“Scandal”). Amongst the hundreds that knew directly, and even a larger numbers indirectly, there was only one American helicopter pilot, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson who actively tried to stop the slaughter of between 400 to 500 old men, women and children. He reported to his commanding officers over the airwaves (that was heard at Division level and recorded) what was going on. Thompson even landed his helicopter between the American soldiers and Vietnamese to stop the killing. Thompson thought that the soldiers would be court marshaled, and so did not seek any further action after that day (“Thompson”).
If had it not been for the persistence of Ridenhour, the My Lai Massacre may never have been known. He would stir a hornet’s nest that the military, the government, the people of America, and even many members of the press believed should have never been touched (CPD-1). But because of his tenacity in trying to get someone to pay attention, the word eventually got out through rumor, to a very wide body of people, and yet it was not until October 22, 1969, that one journalist finally picked up a thread of information and started to follow it on an investigative journey. His name was Seymour Hersh (Hammer -133).
It was Hersh who would ultimately uncover the story, but it was the Fort Benning public information office that first gave a press release to the local paper, the Ledger-Enquirer Sept. 5, 1969. “On that day, in newspaper offices and broadcasting studios around the United States, a small story, less than a hundred words long, clattered across the Associated Press ticker.
“‘FORT BENNING, GA. (AP)-AN ARMY OFFICER HAS BEEN CHARGED WITH MURDER IN THE DEATHS OF AN UNSPECIFIED NUMBER OF CIVILIANS IN VIET NAM [sic] IN 1968, POST AUTHORITIES HAVE REVEALED COL. DOUGLAS TUCKER, INFORMATION OFFICER, SAID THE CHARGE WAS BROUGHT FRIDAY AGAINST 1ST LT. WILLIAM L. CALLEY JR., 26, OF MIAMI, FLA., A TWO-YEAR VETERAN WHO WAS TO HAVE BEEN DISCHARGED FROM THE SERVICE SATURDAY’” (Hammer -10).
Several other reporters had good tips in later weeks about the case but failed to persuade their news bureaus to take it seriously enough to mount a major inquiry. It was a Media mentality out of focus, so it was Seymour Hersh who first found the press release on Sept. 6, 1969 in The New York Times and pursued on his own (Hammer- 173).
Hersh writes in his book on the My Lai Massacre,
Officers in the Pentagon were prepared for a flood of questions that weekend from all news media-but it didn't come. ‘I was amazed that it didn't get picked up, just amazed,’ said one colonel. It would appear that the press had become so accustomed to unaccountable death in Vietnam, that this small release of civilian murder was hardly news worthy. Five days later the news of Calley's arrest was telecast on the Huntley-Brinkley news show and millions of viewers were told that Calley ‘…has been accused of premeditated murder of a number of South Vietnamese civilians. The murders are alleged to have been committed a year ago and the investigation is continuing. A growing number of such cases is coming to light and the Army doesn’t now what to do about them’(Hersh- 130).
This quite possibly was the first time the media even hinted that something was going very wrong ethically and morally inside the Army that was fighting a politically polarized war in Vietnam.
It was only because of the dogged persistence of Hersh and his dedication to the role of a journalist that the actual truth of the event would finally be revealed. Hersh writes that he received a tip on October 22 that, “The Army's trying to court martial some guy in secret at Fort Benning for killing seventy-five Vietnamese civilians,” the source told him (Hersh-29). In fact, the Army was still trying to keep any word about the events at My Lai out of the newspapers. By October 29, 1969, Hersh found Calley’s lawyer and succeeded where other reporters had failed to dig into the press release. He went to Salt Lake City to interview the lawyer, but before leaving Washington, he had received confirmation of the essential facts of the story from a government source. Calley’s lawyer confirmed them, adding that: “…The thing that's important is this: why do we prosecute our own people while on a search-and-destroy mission and they kill some people, be they civilian or not. Is there a point in the chain of command at which somebody could be tried? I think not”(Hersh -29).
On November 11, Hersh flew to Fort Benning and found Calley for an interview and said that Calley was apprehensive and knew what was coming and that Hersh would be the last reporter to whom he would talk with, for many months. Hersh wrote,
He told me, that evening, a little bit about the operation; he also told me how many people he had been accused of killing. I flew back to Washington the next day and began to write my story. I did it somewhat hesitantly, my thought being that Calley, perhaps, was as much of a victim as those infants he and his men murdered at My Lai... (Hersh-30).
With that, Hersh, as an investigative reporter began a series of articles that would be initially ignored by all of the major media.
Once I had completed my research on My Lai 4, I tried to get it published. Life and Look magazines weren't interested. With some hesitation, I turned over my story to the Dispatch News Service, a small Washington news agency…Fifty newspapers were offered the initial Dispatch story by cable on November 12; more than thirty including many of the leading newspapers in the nation published it the next day…(Hersh -131).
In a follow-up story on November 20, Hersh gave eyewitness accounts of soldiers involved in the massacre (LT-2). One them was Michael Terry in Utah:
They just marched through shooting everybody ... they had them in a group
standing in front of a ditch, just like a Nazi-type thing. One officer ordered
a kid to machine gun everybody down. But the kid just couldn't do it. He threw
the machine gun down and the officer picked it up ... I don't remember seeing
many men in the ditch, mostly women and kids (LT-1).
The ramifications of the uncovering of My Lai was that Seymour Hersh would later win the Pulitzer Prize for reporting a story that many people in America did not want to read, let alone believe. The American public would even turn against those who brought out the truth. “Ridenhour too, felt the brunt of public anger over his in baring the deed. At first the mail was favorable, but within a couple weeks, he was getting letters asserting, ‘I want to tell you, you are a re traitor…a Hanoi agent…the shame of our society…’” (Hammer -176).
It would take another five years, and nearly 30,000 more American soldiers lives (and unknown hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese) before the politicians and military generals finally had to bend to the public’s will and bring American troops home. But the My Lai tragedy had been exposed by reporters who acted with moral responsibility and that helped end the war in Vietnam (Bilton -189).
The My Lai Massacre would not be fully investigated by the government until 1974, when the Army would disclose all the details in what has come to be known as “The Peers Commission Report” by Lieutenant W. R. General Peers, the investigating Army officer. The report was not written by a “commission” but by General Peers as an individual. General Peers concluded that:
· During the period of 16-19 March 1968, troops of Task Force Barker massacred a large number of Vietnamese nationals in the village of Son My.
· Knowledge as to the extent of the incident existed at company level at least among the key staff officers and commander at the Task Force Barker level, and at the 11th Brigade command level.
· Efforts at the Americal Division command level to conceal information concerning what was probably believed to be the killing of 20-28 civilians actually resulted in the suppression of a war crime of far greater magnitude. [unknown actual figure, but up to 500 were slaughtered]
· The commander of the 11th Brigade, upon learning that a war crime had probably been committed, deliberately set out to conceal the fact from proper authority and to deceive his commander concerning the matter.
· Investigations concerning the incident conducted within the Americal Division were superficial and misleading [this includes false information given and repeated by the press] and not subjected to substantive review.
· Efforts were made at every level of command from company to division to withhold and suppress information concerning the incident at Son My.
“One aspect of the Son My operation most difficult to comprehend is that the facts remained hidden for so long. Within the Americal Division, at every command level from company to\division, actions were taken or omitted which together effectively concealed from higher headquarters the events which transpired…” (Goldstein - 58). The culpability of the press was not fully covered until 1989 with the BBC TV documentary and book Four Hours in My Lai.
The Analysis of Reporting the My Lai Massacre
What happened and what was revealed. There is no question that the massacre at My Lai occurred but later it was revealed it was the wrong village – in fact the village that was a Viet Cong headquarters was only two miles away (Hammer -xii). But what is the perhaps the saddest part of this tragedy is that the Army had been systematically slaughtering innocent people in what was called a “Free Fire Zone” since 1965 (NYT-2).
It is the question of ethics that the press had been aware of “Indiscriminate Causalities” long before the issue was ever brought to the public’s attention by Ridenhour (NYT-2). Contemporary military vernacular is Collateral Damage. “Broadly defined, collateral damage is unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment or personnel occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities” (“Damage”). But in 1968, the American Press was nearly as guilty as the soldiers who did the killing, in keeping this a dark chapter for so long, and yet they had helped establish an attitude, that “…most Americans believed the massacre to have just been one of those things that are bound to happen in war” (Bilton - 377).
Reporters such as Neil Sheehan, had been in Vietnam since 1964 when the first Marines were sent in, and most of them took part in what was known as the “Five O’clock Follies” where they conveyed the line of thought and agenda of the military.
“The tragic story of Vietnam is not in truth a tale of malevolent men bent upon conquest for person gain or imperial glory. It Is the story of an entire generation of leaders (and an entire generation of followers) so conditioned by the tension of the cold war years that they were unable to perceive in 1965 (and later) that the Communist adversary was no longer a monolith…..” said Townsend Hoopes, the former Under Secretary of the Air Force, January1970 (NYT-2).
Sheehan goes on, “Kids do get killed in war. Besides, I'd never read the laws governing the conduct of war, although I had watched the war for three years in Vietnam and had written about it for five. Apparently, a lot of the men in Saigon and Washington who we directing the war didn't read those laws either, or if they did, interpreted them rather loosely.” Sheehan includes the press in this estimation by reporting personal observations as a war correspondent in Vietnam. He writes,
Let's take a look at our conduct in Vietnam through the viewing glass of these laws. The Army Field Manual says that it is illegal to attack hospitals. We routinely bombed and shelled them. The destruction of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army Hospitals in the South Vietnamese countryside was announced at the daily press briefings, the Five o'clock Follies, by American military spokesmen in Saigon (NYT-2).
Sheehan confirms his own culpability as a Correspondent when he describes what had become a common occurrence two years before My Lai in The New York Times.
In November, 1965. I found five fishing hamlets on the coast of Quangngai Province in central Vietnam, not far from My Lai, which had been ravaged over the previous two months by the five inch guns of United States Navy destroyers and by American and South Vietnamese fighter-bombers. The local Vietnamese officials told me that at least 184 civilians had been killed. After a day of interviewing the survivors among the ruins, I concluded that a reasonable estimate might run as high as 600 dead…No common-sense military purpose seemed to be served. When I wrote my story describing the agony of the fisher folk, however, it did not occur to me that I had discovered a possible war crime. The thought also does not seem to have occurred to my editors or to most readers of The Times. None of the similar stories that I and other reporters wrote later on provoked any outrage, except among that minority with the field of vision to see what was happening. As Lieutenant Calley told the prosecutor at sort Benning, ‘It wasn't any big deal, sir’ (NYT-2).
The words of Lt. Calley who was tried for the murder of 109 Vietnamese women and children, best express’s the attitude of indiscriminate war in Army and accepted as normal policy by many he saw what was going on.
“‘God,’ people say. ‘But these were old men, and women, and children.’ I tell you: I didn’t see it. I had this mission, and I was intent upon it: I only saw, They’re the enemy” (Sacks- 8).
A “Free Fire Zone” (kill anything alive inside the zone) had become a common feature of American warfare in Vietnam at least two years before the My Lai Massacre. As Sheehan reported, the two Army journalists present at the My Lai Massacre were not the first journalists to witness unquestionable war crimes in Vietnam (NYT-2).
Early on, Richard Hammer, a freelance reporter discovered that Seymour Hersh was well ahead of him in reporting the massacre, so he decided to turn his investigation into a deeper and longer range project. In his book he wrote,
…why an atrocity, the massacre at Son My village, could occur, and how and why American soldiers sent to protect and defend a people could turn and slaughter them (Hammer - xi).
What Hammer came to understand was that there had been a program of conditioning that had completely taken over the ability of the soldiers to see reality as it was, and obey a blind ideology of destruction that was dictated by the Army leadership and all but ignored by the American media. In his research Hammer interviewed an Army officer who first gave a press release of the My Lai operation.
…two years later, the press officer, Arthur Dunn, was to say [it] ‘raised questions in my mind’ as to just how the Viet Cong could have carried away all its other weapons from such a major engagement at close-quarters (Hammer - 6).
Hammer saw at this point many people had simply chosen to ignore signs (passed on by the press) that something had gone wrong, and he writes, “The New York Times reported it in a front page story Monday [March 18, 1968] morning the American version of the assault on Son My [My Lai], as relayed from the military in Saigon,
The operation is another American offensive to clear enemy pockets still threatening the cities…two companies of United States soldiers moved in on the enemy force from opposite sides, heavy artillery barrages and armed helicopters were called in to pound the North Vietnamese soldiers (Hammer - 7).
As history would eventually expose, the above was a partial lie (there were no North Vietnamese soldiers or VC) produced by the military and perpetuated for the next 19 months through the help of the cooperation of the media (CT-2).
What is astounding is that many reporters had already witnessed other so called “legitimate military actions” where atrocities were committed, but willingly went along with the Army’s line of perception. In many ways, reporters were amiss morally even more so than soldiers who were conditioned to obey, for Reporters were not threatened with court martial and could leave the battlefield any time they chose. But there were paradoxes within this observation, for one of the people who witnessed the My Lai Massacre was both a soldier and a photojournalist (CPD-1).
Hammer wrote that on August 1, 1968, in the weekly newspaper of the Americal Division, The Southern Cross, an article illustrated My Lai (Operation Muscatine) with photographs by Ronald Haeberle, an American soldier-photographer assigned on March 16 to Company C, the division reporter (who had also witnessed the truth of the tragedy) wrote:
Operation Muscatine [My Lai] involved some of the largest encounters with the Viet Cong in the War's fledgling history. Troops twice encountered a Viet Cong battalion near the village of My Lai and killed a total of 196 enemy soldiers (Hammer - 8).
Lies were sanctified. An ironic event would take place 19 months later when the Cleveland Plain Dealer would publish photographs of the massacre.
Photographs showing South Vietnamese civilians allegedly killed in the incident. It said the photographs showing South Vietnamese civilians allegedly killed in the incident. It said the photographs came from a former Army combat photographer, Ronald L. Haeberle, of Cleveland. Haeberle said in a copyright story that he joined the company just before it entered the village and heard from the men it was suspected the villagers were Viet Cong sympathizers. He said he saw men, women and children slaughtered (CPD - 2).
The photographs unleashed a backlash from the American public, calling Haeberle and the Plain Dealer unpatriotic. Some people said the paper showed “poor taste” in publishing such “obscene” photos. Some of the corpses were partially nude (Bilton 189).
Hammer writes in his book, One Morning in the War: The tragedy of Son My,
The soldiers of the first platoon of Charley Company went in shooting, and for nearly an hour they did not stop. They were convinced they were attacking Pinkville, or My Lai, the VC stronghold (and some of them still think so). They were prepared for heavy action and large casualties. Instead, they hit the sub-hamlet of Xom Lang… a hamlet which if not considered exactly friendly was, nevertheless, not considered implacably hostile. On the American military maps, it was called My Lai 4.
By the margin of error of less than two miles, and perhaps because of the mis-naming by the Americans, a settlement which was not the center of the VC, where the VC had never appeared in great numbers, was the first to suffer that morning, and suffer in the extreme. What is further note of irony in the tragedy was meaning of the name of Xom Lang or My Lai, which meant The Place Where Trouble Does Not Come (Hammer- 10).
Few reporters were doing Objective Reporting during the Vietnam Conflict. The press failed on a colossal scale in reporting war crimes years before My Lai was revealed. The three individuals written about in this report are most significant allowing the tragedy to be uncovered, revealed and analyzed.
Ron Ridenhour first uncovered the dark secret. Although not yet a reporter, it would be the beginning of a career as an investigative reporter.
[He] was convinced that he had to stir the cold ashes of Son My, and the only way to do it would be to enlist powerful support. He sat down and wrote a letter of about fifteen hundred words, detailing everything he had heard about Son My and listing in it the names of those who had told him specific events and those whom they had mentioned. He made thirty copies of the letter and then sent them off to the Army and the Executive and Congressional branches of the Federal Government (Hersh-106).
Seymour Hersh would win the Pulitzer Prize by bringing Ridenhour’s story to the front pages of the world press. Hersh exemplified the role of an ethical journalist.
Richard Hammer, almost in a line of tribute to Ridenhour and Hersh, would visit My Lai two years after the tragedy and write the book that gave analysis and understanding of how and why not only soldiers, but the press had been morally responsible in the ongoing tragedy of the Vietnam Conflict. America did not begin withdrawing troops until 1973, and the war did not end until 1975. In the end over there were more than 50,000 American dead; South Vietnamese dead were estimated at more than 400,000, and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese at over 900,000 (“Dead”).
In 1967, the author of this report was a young man in the American Army trained as a “Combat Medic.” It is because of that background the topic of this paper was chosen, and also because he believed at that time the American media was unethical and morally irresponsible. The author of this paper remembers the “Five o’clock Follies” and the element of Army propaganda was obvious to him. In the last 18 the months the author of this report has had what is known as a “deja vous” experience. It happened when the battle calls of the war in Iraq began a new moment of the media’s collaboration in what is now daily being revealed to the American public. This time it may be a joke.
Bush provided amusing descriptions of photographs Wednesday night during the annual dinner of the Radio and Television News Correspondents Association. Some showed the president in awkward poses as he looked behind furniture in the Oval Office. For those photos, Bush told the audience, ‘Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere ... nope, no weapons over there ... maybe under here?’ (“Weapons”).
Once again America is involved in a war that had no clear understanding or agreement in the conduct of it, and seems also unlikely to have any clear conclusion. Politicians and myth-makers would prefer us to believe, that distortion is as good as truth.
The “Domino Theory” led to the “Free Fire Zones” that allowed the military and the press to overlook the mass murder of civilians. Now there is new fear terminology. The mythmakers once again have manipulated the American public in using the scary label of “Terrorists” which has allowed the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” story to be initiated by the Government and perpetuated by the Media. What happened in Vietnam seems to be happening today in a new form. “There are reports are coming out now, that could have been written before the war [with Iraq]” (c/n 3).
What seems familiar (now with the time of Vietnam) to the author of this report are three factors discussed in The Virtuous Journalist. They are:
· Situational Factors. Distortions caused by situational factors arise from a condition inherent in the nature of circumstance of the subject of a news story” (Pg 72).
· Structural factors. There are distinct characterizations in each medium that determine the way in which information conveyed by the medium will be understood (pg 73).
· Cultural factors. A distortion and imbalance resting on cultural assumptions can result from gaps in historical knowledge, reliable cultural information, or personal experience (pg 74).
To equate this very crudely and quickly, the author believes the factors now are:
· Situational – Terrorism has replaced Communism and Weapons of Mass Destruction has become a new form of a Free Fire Zone.
· Structural – The role of newsmakers in the media has been taken over primarily by the infotainment media, television --eyewitness destruction of the smart bombs and imbedded reporters gave blow by blow accounts of the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
· Cultural – Vietnam was in the process of a civil war, much as Iraq has been in some form of revolution since Old Testament times. In Vietnam, the terms of gook, slant-eye and slope were derogative names for anyone Vietnamese, as familiar to American Troops as now an Arab is a camel-jockey, dune-coon, and Target.
The author admits this is a very broad generalization, but questionable information has led America to war. As stated in The Virtuous Journalist,
…a common problem in journalism is relying on unsubstantiated and questionable premises without acknowledging their weakness, to generate a desired conclusion (pg 184).
The ultimate lesson we have to learn from war may yet have to arrive. As for what came of the My Lai Massacre, little can be said to outweigh the death of so many people, right or wrong. War has always made careers for some people as it did for most of the writers presented in this report. And yet far more than income was realized, for the soul was searched extensively by Ridenhour, Hersh and Hammer, and perhaps their testament of truth to posterity will be a redeeming quality and give hope where some would believe there is none. Truth may be painful, but it is honorable.
Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker Nov. 24, 2003, about the failure of the corporate media, to report new findings of other atrocities in Vietnam done by American soldiers known as the “Tiger Force.” or launch their own investigations into the official cover-up. Hersh is still attempting to get the media to do its job. “The Blade's[the breaking newspaper] extraordinary investigation of Tiger Force, however, remains all but invisible. None of the four major television networks have picked it up (although CBS and NBC have been in touch with the Blade), and most major newspapers have either ignored the story or limited themselves to publishing an Associated Press summary,” Hersh wrote (“Tiger”).
For the author, one person stood out in this testimony of tragedy that was neither a reporter nor writer. He is Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, who perhaps is the type of human being that gives meaning to the terms of ethics and morality and why people who practice journalism seek to emulate such courage in their profession. It is about honor, not reward. Thompson would not get a medal he deserved for his act of heroism until 30 years later. In 1998 Thompson was recognized by the American government.
It wasn't until March 6, 1998, after internal debate among Pentagon officials (who feared an award would reopen old wounds) and outside pressure from reporters, that Thompson and Colburn [his gunner in the helicopter] finally received medals in a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
But both say a far more gratifying reward was a trip back to My Lai this March to dedicate a school and a "peace park." It was then they finally met a young man named Do Hoa, who they believe was the boy they rescued from that death-filled ditch. ‘Being reunited with the boy was just...I can't even describe it’ says Colburn. And Thompson, also overwhelmed, doesn't even try (“Thompson”).
One often hopes that there is an honor that is larger than life, and that sometimes one views a person, or feels a place where history has shown humans have dignity. But to conclude this report, the author is left with a feeling that perhaps Richard Hammer had when he put the following quote from The Rebel by Albert Camus, in the front of his book, One Morning in the War; The Tragedy of Son My.
‘The triumph of the man who kills or tortures is marred by only one shadow: he is unable to feel that he is innocent. Thus he must create guilt in his victim so that, in a world that has no direction, universal guilt will authorize no other course of action than the use of force and give its blessing to nothing but success. When the concept of innocence disappears from the mind of the innocent victim himself, the value of power establishes a definitive rule over a world in despair. That is why an unworthy and cruel penitence reigns over this world where only the stones are innocent’ (Hammer -I).
Beauchamp, Tom, L., Stephen Klaidman. The Virtuous Journalist. New York: The Oxford Press, 1987
Bilton, Michael and Kevin Sim. Four Hours in My Lai. New York: Viking, 1992.
Calley, William L. and John Sack. Lieutenant Calley: His Own Story. New York: Viking, 1971.
Goldstein Joseph, Burke Marshall and Jack Schwartz. The My Lai Massacre And Its Cover-Up—Beyond the Reach of the Law: The Peers Report with a supplement and introductory essay on the limits of the law. London: The Free Press, 1976
Hammer, Richard, One Morning in the War: The Tragedy at Son My. New York: Coward-McCann, 1970.
Hersh, Seymour, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and its Aftermath. New York: Random House, 1970.
Rachels, James, The Elements of Moral Philosophy . New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
Class Notes (c/n)
c/n1a Jour 439, March, 23 and April 6, 2004 Lecture on bias and manipulation.
c/n-1b – Jour 201. Nov. 2003, Lecture by Dodge Billingsly, imbedded journalist in Iraq.
c/n-2 -- Jour. 439. March 2004 Reasonable reader/substantial completeness.
c/n-3 – Jour. 439 March 2004
CPD//Cleveland Plain Dealer -- CT//Chicago Tribune – LT//The Times (London),
NYT//The New York Times --PI//The Philadelphia Inquirer
SFE//San Francisco Examiner
CPD-1 Eszterman, Joseph, “Cameraman Saw GIs Slay 100 Villagers,” Cleveland Plain Dealer 20 Nov. 1969: pg 1+
CPD-2 Braestrup, Peter, “Pinkville Massacre. Like Scandal in the Family for Ft Benning.” Cleveland Plain Dealer 1 Dec. 1969: pg 7A
CT-1 /Kamm, Henry, “GIs Leery of Massacre Reports.” Chicago Tribune 1 Dec. 1969:
CT-2 / Currie, William, Joseph McLaughlin, “Army Story of Pinkville “Fishy” EX-GI, Chicago Tribune 28 Nov. 1969: pg 1+
LT-1/ Hersh, Seymour, “New accounts of the My Lai massacre: Men challenge Medina, The Times 9 Dec, 1969: pg 10
LT-2/ Hersh, Seymour, “How Men Became Wild Animals,” The Times 2 Dec.1969: pg 2
NYT-1/ Hammer, Richard, “Cover-Up” New York Times Mar 26, 1972 : pg. BR3
NYT-2 /Sheehan, Neil, “Should We Have War Crime Trials?” The New York Times 28 May 1971
NYT -3 /“Statements by Ziegler, Resor and Stennis.” The New York Times. Nov. 27, 1968: pg 18
PI-1 /wire service, “Flier Given Medal But Army Silent.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 29 Nov. 1969: pg 1
SFE -1/ Flynn, William, “Tens of Thousands Echo the Cry Here” July 1, 1968: pg 1
Body Count--Chernus, Ira, “Bring Back the Body Count” 3 April,2003: Alternet.org .
March, 25, 2004 http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=15545
Conflict--“The Vietnam Conflict” Webquest .March, 25, 2004 http://www.plainfield.k12.in.us/hschool/webq/webq12/vietnam2.htm
Damage --“Collateral Damage,” USAF INTELLIGENCE TARGETING GUIDE April 6, 2004 http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/usaf/afpam14-210/part20.htm#page180
Dead--“Vietnam War” bartleby.com . April 6, 2004 http://www.bartleby.com/65/vi/VietnamW.html
Domino--encyclopedia.com . March 25, 2004
Haeberle--“25th Aviation Battalion”, 25thaviation.org . March 24, 2004 http://www.25thaviation.org/id298.htm
Thompson --Boyce, Nell. “Hugh Thompson, Reviled, then honored for his actions at My Lai” USNews.com . March 23, 2004http://www.usnews.com/usnews/doubleissue/heroes/thompson.htm
Tiger/ Davis, Mike. “The Scalping Party” Nov. 14, 2003 alternet.org April 6,204 http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=17192
Timeline--Copyright 2001 “Ask Asia” . March 28, 2004 http://www.askasia.org/teachers/Instructional_Resources/Materials/Timelines/T_vietnam_1.htm
Scandal--Vistica, Gregory, L. “A Quiet War Over The Past.” mylaipeacepark.org .
March 23, 2004 http://www.mylaipeacepark.org/1197art.html
Weapons/ “Bush's jokes about weapons of mass destruction draw criticism” Mar. 26, 04 startribune.com April 6, 04 http://www.startribune.com/stories/1762/4686956.html