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My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Massacre

The My Lai Massacre was the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed citizens of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). They were almost entirely civilians, the majority of them women and children. The massacre was conducted by U.S. Army forces on March 16, 1968. Before being killed some of the victims were raped and sexually molested, beaten, tortured, or maimed. Some of the dead bodies were also mutilated.

Six months later, Tom Glen, a 21-year-old soldier of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, wrote a letter to General Creighton Abrams, the new overall commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, accusing the Americal Division (and other entire units of the U.S. military) of routine and pervasive brutality against Vietnamese civilians. The letter was detailed and its contents echoed complaints received from other soldiers.

Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Army Major, was charged with investigating the letter, which did not specifically reference My Lai (Glen had limited knowledge of the events there). In his report Powell wrote: “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” Powell’s handling of the assignment was later characterized by some observers as “whitewashing” the atrocities of My Lai. In May 2004, Powell, then United States Secretary of State, told CNN’s Larry King, “I mean, I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened. So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored.