Seymour Hersh Visits My Lai

Full transcript of the interview here.

And here is Hersh’s piece in The New Yorker, “The Scene of the Crime.”

“They went in in the morning, a group of boys—and you’ve got to give them credit. You know, they toked the night before, and they did their whiskey the night before. They had their—you know, their drugs. But that morning, they got up thinking they were going to be in combat against the Viet Cong. They were happy to do it. Charlie Company had lost 20 people through snipers, etc. They wanted payback. And they had been taking it out on the people, but they had never seen the enemy. They’d been in country, as I said, in Vietnam for three or four months without ever having a set piece war. That’s just the way it is in guerrilla warfare—which is why we shouldn’t do it, but that’s another story. And they went in that morning ready to kill and be killed on behalf of America, to their credit. They landed. There were just nothing but women and children doing the usual, as you said in your intro—cooking, warming up rice for breakfast—and they began to put them in ditches and start executing them.

Calley’s company—Calley had a platoon. There were three platoons that went in. They rounded up people and put them in a ditch. And Meadlo was ordered by Calley. He was among one or two or three boys who did a lot of shooting. There was a big distinction, basically, between the white boys, country boys like Paul Meadlo who did the shooting, and the African Americans and Hispanics, who made up about 40 percent of the company. In my interviews, I found that distinction. Most of the African Americans and Hispanics, that was Whitey’s war. The whole thing was Whitey’s war for them. And they did shoot, because they were afraid that their white colleagues might shoot at them if they weren’t participating, but they shot high. One guy even shot himself in the foot to get out of there. I mean, we had that going on, too, above and beyond the normal stuff.

The other companies just went along, didn’t gather people, just went from house to house and killed and raped and mutilated, and had just went on until everybody was either run away or killed. Four hundred and some-odd people in that village alone, of the 500 or 600 people who lived there, were murdered that day, all by noon, 1:00. At one point, one helicopter pilot, a wonderful man named Thompson, saw what was going on and actually landed his helicopter. He was a small combat—had two gunners. He just landed his small helicopter, and he ordered his gunners to train their weapons on Lieutenant Calley and other Americans. And Calley was in the process of—apparently going to throw hand grenades into a ditch where there were 10 or so Vietnamese civilians. And he put his guns on Calley and took the civilians, made a couple trips and took them out, flew them out to safety. He, of course, was immediately in trouble for doing that.”

As the U.S. government embarks on a massive PR effort to reconstruct the image and perception of the Vietnam War (see here and here), it is interesting to keep in mind what Rev. Walter H. Hannoran said about it. Father Halloran was the priest that took part in the exorcism that spawned the book and film The Exorcist. He also received two Bronze Stars for serving as a paratrooper chaplain during the Vietnam War. I read once that he said something along the lines of “I saw more evil in Vietnam than I ever saw in that boy’s bedroom.”

 

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