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Shadows of My Lai

The Webster Retort
By Stephen Webster
Investigative Reporter
June 2, 2006
For The News Connection, The Lone Star Iconoclast

Shadows of My Lai

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
-- The Who
, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Welcome to Iraq
Photo by Chris Floyd

March 16, 1968; North Vietnam. Charlie Company’s 11th Brigade was ordered into Son My village, divided up into four areas by U.S. military intelligence: My Lai 1, 2, 3 and 4. The civilians would be away from their homes by 7 a.m. at the latest. Everyone remaining was Viet Cong or a sympathizer, or so they said. The men of Charlie Company’s 11th were to destroy the entire village with extreme prejudice.

Unfortunately, the Viet Cong was not there. U.S. soldiers so mentally fractured by their time in the war had to either kill innocent civilians or face years of court-martial. Most of the men went ballistic, blindly slaughtering en masse. Various accounts put the total number of dead between 347 and 504. The victims were old men, women, children and babies. The gruesome details of the attack are spine-chilling. An American gunship saved a small group when it landed between the last remaining encampment of Vietnamese civilians and U.S. soldiers. The pilot, Hugh Thompson, Jr., later known as “The Hero of My Lai,” claimed that he would open fire on American soldiers if they did not halt their attack. It was three years before the truth came out.

The cover-up of this terrible bloodletting – a war crime, by all definitions – was swift and absolute. Colonel Oran Henderson took up the investigation and concluded 22 innocents died that day; unavoidable deaths in what was otherwise a successful attack that snuffed out the lives of over 120 “insurgents.” But that is not what happened. In response to written reports from soldiers who refused to take part in the massacre, Colon Powell, then a Major in the Army, whitewashed it, claiming that relations between Vietnamese civilians and American soldiers were “excellent.”

It took a journalist, Investigative Reporter Seymour Hersh, now with The New Yorker Magazine, to break the painful truth. Within days it was all over the national media. By the time the military trials had finished, America’s heart had changed. It was the single most important turning point of the Vietnam War, jarring those who simply did not want to know the truth into opening their eyes to the ugly, brutal reality of America’s blood-soaked foreign policy.

On November 19, 2005, Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso, Texas, died just outside of Haditha, Iraq after an improvised explosive device detonated near his convoy. He was just 20 years old. His unit, many of whom were on their third or fourth tours in Iraq, simply snapped. They went on a rampage through the small Sunni Muslim city of Haditha, killing over 25 civilians that we know of. Old men, women, children, even babies were murdered in cold blood. The only witness to this was a nine year old girl.

In a video captured by a local student, the girl looks like any other innocent child. She is wearing a pink shirt with a smiling bunny rabbit adorning the front. But the expression on her face is simply haunting. She tells the cameraman how her grandmother died, on her knees in prayer, shot in the back of the head. Then, she says, soldiers went into her grandfather’s room and shot him as he lay in bed. They stepped out and hurled a grenade into the room. Then they killed her brother. Then her baby sister. They lined them up in a row, execution-style, and shot them one by one. The children were wearing pajamas. Their blood and tears stain the walls and floor, caught on a tape that will rock your sheltered, Conservative-Christian reality.

Now the mainstream U.S. media is paying attention, thanks to the efforts of Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine and well-known Democratic war hawk. Once a trusted advisor to Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr., he is persona non grata with Dubya’s administration, having called for a withdraw from Iraq last year.

We can only wish the Haditha massacre were an isolated incident. The reality is far more terrible.

This past April I spoke with Geoff Reymillard, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He recounted a story of how a mother, father and their two children, both under the age of five, were killed at a roadside checkpoint in Baghdad. The report went up the chain of command, and a meeting was called. That night, a crowd of soldiers gathered to listen to their superiors address the matter. “If those [expletive] Hajis would just learn how to drive,” said one Colonel, “that [expletive] wouldn’t happen.”

“What we are seeing here is an Iraqi no longer being a human,” said Reymillard. “They become this Haji, just like they became Gooks in Vietnam, they have become Haji’s to our soldiers. Their deaths are not reported at all. They are all just chalked up to being insurgents. That is what happens over and over again. All the Iraqis being killed just ‘become’ insurgents. I just … I don’t know how you can be in favor of that at all.”

This time, we were lucky. Haditha was but a shadow of My Lai. This is the consequence of waging an unprovoked war with a currency of lies. Putting young men fresh out of high school into the middle of a civil war is no strategy for victory; it is a recipe for massacre. The Bush Administration has run out of white paint. Wake up and smell the truth.

U.S. out of Iraq. Now.

Stephen Webster is an Investigative Reporter with North-Texas weekly The News Connection, a Staff Writer with Peace Journalism Magazine and George W. Bush's hometown paper The Lone Star Iconoclast, a former contributor to The Dallas Morning News' Science & Technology section and the former Editor-in-Chief of Binary Culture.

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