Monday, June 21, 2010

my lai (this one's not in any way amusing)

Those of you reading this who are old enough to remember coverage of the American / Vietnam war, or who have read anything about it, will probably have heard of the 'my lai massacre'. I recently spent a weekend visiting the area, where a museum and war memorial have been built. It was impossible to align the quiet peace and beauty of the place with the horrifying carnage that was wreaked there just over 40 years ago.

Although what happened here is very disturbing, i feel everyone should know something about it.

"In the absence of light, darkness prevails"

(I heard this quote in a trailer for the movie Hellboy, and apparently it's an adaption of a Buddhist saying, but I can't find out what. Anyone know?)

We humans have such potential for good, and yet, if we don't actively cultivate this good in ourselves, and if we don't actively encourage (and insist on it) from others, atrocities like this show what can happen. The dark stuff - the abuse of power, the inhumanity, the greed, the hotheadedness, the arrogance - is still going on, now, all over the world.

Strangely, the day after putting this post up, I read a chapter in Martin Bell's book 'Through Gates of Fire' where he discussed how "good things happen because people make them happen and bad things happen because people let them happen"....

A scary statistic he quotes is that in WW1, 90% of casualties were soldiers; in recent wars, 90% are civilians. 

Amnesty international is a good place to start for more information and campaigns against war crimes.

The My Lai / My Khe massacre

Early one morning in March 1968, American troops landed helicopters in rice fields, and over four hours systematically killed between 400-500 unarmed villagers in a small area in central Vietnam. The majority of those killed were women, children, and elderly people.

It's bizarre and disturbing that an American army photographer captured the carnage quite calmly, and that the photographs were kept and made available. The troops appear detached, unconcerned with what they were doing, some smiling.

Copies of reports from American troops are chilling in their disregard for human life.

Looking at the photographs of the piles of bodies was gut-wrenching and emotional. I kept thinking about the families and children I'm working with - every lunchtime we lie around on the mats all sprawled out. The families slaughtered would have been people just like the them. The homes burnt down were just the same as the homes where I visit colleagues and friends.

The museum was deeply chilling and fascinating, but also incredibly, admirably, balanced.  Whilst it doesn't hold back on showing the evil, the inhumanity and the devastating loss of life, the curators have also been very careful to highlight the actions of three American soldiers (Thompson, Andreotta and Colburn) who risked their lives to intervene in the carnage. When they saw what was happening, they landed their helicopter between a troop of soldiers and some fleeing villagers, and turned their weapons to face their countrymen. They then airlifted a boy to hospital. 

There is a big section showing how the area is regenerating (pictures of the school choir, the district badminton team, the newly built hospital etc)

And right next to the large plaque commemorating the villagers killed, is an equally large painting depicting the world-wide demonstrations against the war.

A powerful lesson in forgiveness, not dwelling too much in the past, and looking for the good in situations, ourselves, and other people.


  1. It is horrifying what we are capable of doing to each other!

  2. "There is no limit too war, They turn you into too who you not are; it is simply: "...the horror, the horror..."-Mr.Blue