In the public image of history and in film, most massacres leave only vague traces of memory. A recent comparison with Vietnam, however, could put prere on the Bush administration
On 19. November 2005 US Marines are said to have killed 24 civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha. Democratic U.S. Representative John Murtha accuses the Pentagon of a deliberate cover-up of the massacre and states a scandal that is "even worse" than the revelations about the torture prison in Abu Ghureib. As if by itself, in the current reports, a comparison with "My Lai" suggests. Once again, anonymous statistics on the number of victims leave the media indifferent. Only special murders in the war cause a stir.
3.000 or more Taliban prisoners of war have gone unaccounted for since their surrender at the end of 2001 – during a definable phase of the war in Afghanistan (The Massacre That Mustn’t Be). In 2002, the Irish television journalist Jamie Doran presented his documentary "Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death," which contained numerous references to massacres – some of which took place in the presence of or were witnessed by witnesses. with the knowledge of U.S. military personnel – were murdered (accusations against the U.S. Army remain unchallenged). Even before the film was broadcast on German television, two of the witnesses Doran had interviewed were murdered. Official investigations into mass graves in the northern Afghan region of Mazar-i-Sharif, which had been expected at the latest after test excavations by the U.S. organization "Physicians for Human Rights" and according to information from the UN, failed to materialize for the time being. Five years later, no one asks what happened to the case anyway.
Traces of the massacre in Afghanistan. Photo: doctors for human rights
The only casualty statistics that are precisely kept in the current "war on terror" refer to U.S. soldiers. Civilian casualties in Islamic countries, on the other hand, rely on vague estimates that range between 30.000 and significantly more than 100.000 move. A few tens of thousands more or less, that does not stop in the "fog of war" so exactly.
The "Tiger Force" example
Specific crimes against civilians, on the other hand, make the horror of war more vivid and provide the media with material for a topical story. But even they sometimes remain hidden in the grave of concealment for decades or never become known. From the 19. October 2003, after eight months of research, the U.S. daily newspaper The Toledo Blade (state of Ohio) published its extensive findings on atrocities committed by the elite "Tiger Force" unit. In 1967, members of this 45-man U.S. unit are said to have tortured innocent peasant families and literally slaughtered several hundred civilians over a period of seven months in the Sud Vietnamese mountains. Necklaces with ear trophies were worn and grenades were thrown at shelters where women and children were hiding. Tiger Force Sgt. William Doyle is quoted as saying, "The only way we could survive was to kill others. Because there was no need to worry about the dead!"
The superiors covered up. Soldiers with remorse were smoked in. Official investigations into the incidents were then quietly discontinued five years after they officially came to light in 1975. The military had no interest in prosecution. As early as 1966, there had been indications of conspicuous practices by the force in question. Ward Just reported in his book "To What End" that a soldier of the "Tiger Force" had sent the ears of killed "enemies" by mail to his wife. Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss, and the other authors of The Toledo Blade drew on U.S. veterans involved, Vietnamese testimony, and U.S. Army documents in their 2003 expose of mass killings of civilians.
The Burning My Lai
By far the most famous massacre
Just ten miles away from the 1967 Sud Vietnamese "Tiger Force" deployment sites, My Lai lies. This village is associated with by far the most famous war crime committed by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War: the My Lai massacre, carried out by members of Charlie Company under the leadership of 24-year-old Lieutenant William Calley on March 16, 1968. March 1968.
The continuing gross significance of the horrific event can perhaps be gauged by the fact that a U.S. website containing the original documentary photos of the crime disappeared from the Internet in time for the 2003 Iraq War by the governments of the U.S. and Great Britain.1 My Lai belonged to the Sud Vietnamese province of Quang Ngai, which had already been declared a "free fire zone" in 1967 because of a high "Viet Cong" percentage among the population. The free-fire zones, for which the Pentagon and the White House were responsible, suggested to the soldiers that they were allowed to shoot any Vietnamese in the declared areas ("kill areas").
The U.S. military leadership, with its official success parameter of body count, ignited a perverse competition among companies and soldiers for the highest body counts. Among the GIs, in view of the high proportion of civilians, it was joked: "Everything that is dead and not female is a Vietcong." Captain Ernest Medina’s address sending Lieutenant Calley and his men to the village of My Lai on the morning of the massacre is from Robert J. Lifton was described as a de facto "part of the funeral service for a fallen sergeant". They like to ame, according to witnesses, that – by definition – there were no more "civilians" on the ground. The unarmed residents of all ages and genders then became victims of a three-hour bloodbath in which more than 20 soldiers are believed to have followed the killing spree of their platoon leader Calley. More than 500 corpses, including about 350 women, children and babies, as well as numerous old people, were later found in mass graves near My Lai.
The US pilot Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson was appalled. He intervened in the action and even ordered his helicopter crew to push on his own soldiers if necessary to protect the Vietnamese people. The eyewitness Ronald Haeberle, present for the official documentation as a photographer for the army newspaper "Stars and Stripes", kept eighteen color photographs for himself after the end of the mass murder. For the official military report version, the superiors agreed on the successful liquidation of 128 "Vietcong" fighters, while conceding the unintentional death of possibly 20 civilians.
The good news for the "killratio": due to the completely unarmed "enemy" there was not a single own loss. Some soldiers had refused the mass murder order or had only feigned their obedience, others had followed it with cries of despair. A GI had deliberately shot himself in the foot so as not to have to participate. A conscript involved later guilelessly referred to My Lai as "just some Nazi thing".
Internally, Captain Medina strongly discouraged a GI from reporting the incident. A completely uninvolved person, 22 year old ex-soldier Ronald Ridenhour, finally succeeded, through his own research and numerous letters to the highest authorities in March 1969, in getting a zogerliche investigation of the covered-up massacre underway. Only in November followed a newspaper report by Seymour Hersh, the publication of the gruesome Haeberle photos and worldwide emporia. In The Hague, the daily newspaper Het Vrije Volk wrote:
The Americans massacre those whom they wanted to protect. It is the declaration of bankruptcy of the policy of the USA in Vietnam.
Excess of mercy for one of the perpetrators
The helplessness in the face of the crime was expressed during the My Lai trial in questions such as: "Have the babies moved to attack you??" ("Have the babies moved to attack?") The only perpetrator to be convicted in March 1971 was Lieutenant William Calley, after eyewitnesses described numerous of his gruesome murders in court. He soon spent the life sentence as house arrest. After three and a half years, he was granted a full pardon by President Richard Nixon.
In 1976, just one year after the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its earlier 1972 decision that the death penalty, which had not been carried out since 1967, was unconstitutional. Since then, gas chambers, lethal injection and other instruments of execution have been waiting again in some U.S. states, even for twelve-year-old offenders or the mentally retarded – in contradiction to international conventions of the people’s right. The question arises whether the Vietnam War has left an unfortunate legacy of violence to U.S. society in this area as well.
At the same time that the death penalty was being rehabilitated once again, convicted mass murderer Calley was living free fub as an unchallenged U.S. citizen. He could not recall any military training course on the Geneva Conventions. He had found My Lai "not a rough deal" after the indictment, invoked ambiguous orders – not entirely without reason – and even published autobiographical accounts as a patriot. He confessed:
I liked being in Vietnam. I knew I could be killed here, but I could also experience more than in America. Because in Vietnam I always had to be in the thick of it.
"This sort of thing happened continuously"
Among the tens of thousands of fan letters sent to William Calley, there were numerous letters from soldiers who professed to have "got through" villages in earlier wars similar to those of Calley’s troops in My Lai.
On 30.9.In 1999, the New York Times reported on a much older massacre of up to three hundred civilians by U.S. soldiers in Sud Korea, at a bridge near No Gun Ri in July 1950. The U.S. government’s Peers investigation report, published in part in 1974, refers to massacres in three other places in Vietnam besides My Lai, which – like the war crimes committed by the Tiger Force unit in 1967 – went largely unpunished. On 25.2. In 1969, according to an April 2001 article in the New York Times, members of a Navy SEAL team under the command of Bob Kerrey, the late Democratic senator from Nebraska, killed more than a dozen unarmed women and children in the small Sud Vietnamese village of Thanh Phong.2 Am 19. February 1970, 16 women and children were shot dead in the Vietnamese village of Son Thang by members of the 1st Marine Division as part of a "search-and-destroy" mission. Two Marines involved, sentenced to long prison terms, eventually spent a year in jail.
The Quakers had a clinic near My Lai and therefore learned very soon of the massacre on 16. March 1968. They didn’t pass on reports about it in the first place, writes Noam Chomsky in his book War Against People, "because this kind of thing happened all the time.". In 1969, journalist Seymour Hersh’s My Lai report initially failed to make it into any newspapers because his research was not perceived as anything special. In view of the technical overkill of the U.S. air war, Chomsky liked to evaluate the massacre, which was later so highly placed by the media, in the overall context even only as a "fubnote" to the official war crime.
In fact, the supreme commander, General Westmoreland, abused this – accidentally known – bloody "fubnote" in retrospect to distract from his own brutal conduct of the war. He obviously sees no point of comparison between the murder from the closest proximity and the erasing of entire villages or landscapes from a distant pilot’s cockpit3:
I remember very well. It was a tragedy. When I hoarded of it, I immediately initiated proceedings against those responsible, and indeed one or [!] two condemned. My Lai was a tragic development that contradicted our policy.
But when does the general claim to have "heard about it", how good is his memory – already dubiously documented in the quote – and who are the really responsible persons?
The theme of "My Lai" in the film
Very early Joseph Strick made his documentary film "Interviews with My Lai Veterans" (USA 1970). But there is no independent feature film about the massacre itself, despite its social explosiveness and the extensive "material" involved. However, it is essential to mention Soldier Blue (Lullaby of Manslaughter), a subversive attempt from the Western genre of all things, which came to U.S. cinema in 1969. The film by director Ralph Nelson refers to the Sand Creek Massacre (1864) on Indians and describes how a Yankee soldier, in the face of genocide, abandons his arrogant belief in the superiority of the white civilization. Soldier Blue was understood by many recipients as a covert critique of Vietnam and specifically as a parable of "My Lai". The lengthy trial of the only convict was filmed by Stanley Kramer in 1975 in the series "Judgement" for the ABC television channel under the title of The Court-Martial of Lt. William Calley .
In Coppola’s Vietnam classic Apocalypse Now (1979) there are at least two references to massacres: TV cameras film piles of corpses in a Sud Vietnamese village. The surviving inhabitants hear from a megaphone the slogan of the U.S. Army: "We are here to help you!"U.S. Captain Kilgore, in command, has his helicopters approach another Charly village, which houses simple rice farmers and children next to a furrowed National Liberation Front command post. The projectiles pelt down indiscriminately from the heights. Kilgore orders a whole squadron of airplanes to "clean up" the place, because he loves "the smell of napalm in the morning". The whole action, by the way, is supposed to clear the way for a sporting surfing event – amidst the phenomenal two-meter waves at the site!
A more direct reference to the events in My Lai can be found years later in the film Platoon (USA 1986). Oliver Stone considers details such as the previous deaths of members of the company involved and the attempted resistance to the crime by some U.S. soldiers. But in light of the terrifying facts, his clearly intended allusion to the massacre is hard to bear. In Platoon the viewer sees soldiers who, in the course of the usual "Search Destroy" actions to identify "Vietcongs", the viewer sees soldiers lapsing into uncontrolled murderous violence. Rape of women, Stone shows it "only" as a repulsed rape attempt.
However, the fact that during the crime there was not a single one of the – allegedly – wanted "Vietcong" fighters in the whole village does not become clear. Exploding explosives depots in the village, according to Stefan Reinecke (Hollywood Goes Vietnam, 1993), serve as a script construct for post-facto justification of the U.S. punitive action. Historical scenes, such as the execution of a group of praying women in front of the village temple, the mass deportation of crammed inhabitants in the village square, the piles of corpses in the ditch of My Lai, the murder of children protecting each other or the slaughter of babies, are not of interest for the artistic treatment of the events. When the screenwriter and director of Platoon the number of victims in My Lai in an interview for the documentary supported by the military Tour Of The Inferno: Revisiting Platoon (USA 2001) with "120 or 130 civilians", this also shows that his ideas about the course of events are merely unrealistic.
The understanding expected from a cultural worker is clearly overstrained by the veteran Stone. Unfortunately, it also reflects a development within the society to which his work is directed. While the My Lai massacre at the end of 1969 had caused a brief outcry in the U.S., a clear majority of the U.S. population in several polls as early as 1971 disagreed at least with the individual conviction of Lieutenant Calley.
The protest against the belligerent power elite was expressed here in the diffuse solidarity with a war criminal of lower rank, whose indescribable cruelty was well known. In fact, not a single superior officer involved had been called to account. Politicians, on the other hand, could score points with the people by sympathizing with the "victim" Calley. This provided another template for the reactionary Vietnam history constructions of the Reagan-ara (1981-1989). With self-important pose all moral "complexes" were swept away and the USA itself was stylized as the real victim. But the polls also showed that for many people there was no longer a clear distinction between the premeditated murder of civilians and the official Vietnam War. For the head of the Pentagon’s film demand, even the very toned-down depiction of a massacre in the Vietnam film "Platoon" is still unacceptable today.4
Casualties Of War
It is remarkable that a rape-murder case in Vietnam, which could perhaps rather appear as an individual war crime and not as an expression of a planmabig grown readiness for violence, came with its own title into the US cinema. The film Casualties of War (USA 1989) by Brian de Palma refers to an authentic story first published by Daniel Lang in "The New Yorker Magazine" in October 1969, before the My Lai massacre became public.
Already nineteen years before this late commemoration in the feature film, the Munich filmmaker Michael Verhoeven had used the sad material about cruelty in a war for the "freedom" of Southeast Asia in his black-and-white film O. K. (BRD 1970) taken up. Reenactment of the crime with US uniforms in the Bavarian Forest. The symbolic provocation led to a major scandal and eventually to the cancellation of the 1970 Berlin Film Festival.
Brian de Palma conveys the war crime primarily as a question of personal integrity under peer prere and as a Vietnam trauma to be overcome: the US soldier Eriksson has only been in Vietnam for three weeks and has not yet grasped the applicable rules of the game. He seeks respectful contact with the Vietnamese, plays with children, and helps an old man plow a field. Brownie, the troop’s spabbler, is shot in ambush and mortally wounded shortly thereafter. For the US soldiers it is clear that everyone in the village – including children and women – knew about the ambush: "The gooks are the last scum, like pie scrapers!"I hate this lousy, goddamn country. It should be blown up and cemented in concrete!" The wish to the reprinting soldiers is, "Burn this cow town to the ground!"
After returning home to camp, Sergeant Meserve, with an upcoming reconnaissance march in mind, makes detailed suggestions to his small squad on how to remedy the prevailing sexual emergency. Still in the night the troop leaves prematurely to its mission and kidnaps the young Vietnamese Oahn from a remote farming village under the crying of the relatives. The girl, arbitrarily declared a "Vietcong" collaborator, is abused on the march, raped countless times, and later murdered for fear of being found out. Eriksson alone resists peer prere and refuses to take part in the crime. He is now also considered – under open death threats – a "lousy Vietcong sympathizer". The compassionless perpetrators see themselves in the best Genghis Kahn tradition. They blatantly pay homage to a sexualized ideal of violence, in which the "cock" is considered the real weapon of a man.
Eriksson’s outspoken conviction that "this is not the army!" let him become an unwanted witness to be eliminated. Superiors advise him – sometimes under massive threats – to let it all go. His first interlocutor in the hierarchy trivializes: "Calm down again and try to forget about the matter. On the front line you have to expect this kind of thing!" A senior captain is putting prere on Eriksson:
I hope you realize how serious this is. An incident like this can create an international crisis … These men have built disc. If you press charges, maybe the girl will be helped in some way? … Don’t tell me about screams. I’ve heard a lot of screams in this country. Mostly they were screams of wounded American boys … Nobody’s trying to diade you from anything. But remember this: that our military courts are lenient, and the courts in the States are even more lenient.
Finally, after an attempt on his life, Eriksson resignedly calls out to the perpetrators: "I’ve told everyone here, and no one cares!"A sergeant, a Methodist chaplain, tries to talk to the drunken Eriksson in the evening. The latter tells the story to the clergyman with a self-reproach: "I did not prevent it!"5
Crime scene investigations and court-martial proceedings ensue. The accused consider themselves innocent and think that their conviction was only to serve the "Vietcong": "Many died in Vietnam". It is now our duty. You kill or are killed."The prosecution states: "Then it is common practice for members of the United States Army to have sexual relations with their prisoners and then murder them?"He is convicted of rape and murder, in one case to life imprisonment.
The entire film shows as a flashback the memories of Eriksson, who is caught up in his trauma. In the USA, he sits on a train opposite a young Asian woman who, unaware of his inner images, consoles him: "You had a bad dream. Forget it. It is over."The parents of the murdered Vietnamese woman had once given their daughter a scarf to take home with her. Now Eriksson leaves another scarf for the Asian woman on the train. Thus ends this late story about good and bad in the U.S. Army very versohnlich. The individual war crime is disconnected from the moral question of the crime of the official war leadership in Vietnam. Stefan Reinecke sums up very aptly: "The nightmare of the past has been banished, everything was just a nightmare, and the victims give absolution without being asked." (Hollywood goes Vietnam, S. 132)
By the way: The logistics of the Vietnam War included an extensive prostitution system. Strangely enough, there are almost no reports about sexual services for soldiers in the context of the current "war on terror" in Islamic countries.
Why Comparisons with Vietnam are Acceptable and Desirable
In total, about three million Americans served in Vietnam starting in 1961, after 1965 mostly in missions of one year. The average age of the conscripts was about 19 years old. At its peak in March 1969, the U.S. Army paid 543.000 men on the ground. The war cost the lives of 58.167 mostly very young U.S. Americans. Between "1961 and 1975, about two million Vietnamese fell victim to the war, with an additional 300.000 missing. Several hundred thousand Cambodians and Laotians also lost their lives."6
In view of these figures, at least for the present, a sweeping comparison between the U.S. "war on terror" (Afghanistan, Iraq) and the war in Vietnam is inadmissible. Nevertheless, there are applicable points of comparison, such as the U.S. government’s preconceived wartime eyes, the illusions regarding the "possibilities of success" of a mere military-technological superiority, the lack of understanding for a different cultural sphere, the unforeseeable temporal extension of an originally "short military mission," the conflation of U.S. military presence and civil war, or the danger of destabilizing an entire region.
Also for the US professional soldiers in Iraq applies what Robert J. As Lifton wrote about the conscripts in Vietnam: "Only desperate people commit atrocities – in the case of My Lai men who were as caught up in the endless contradictions of an absurd war as they were in the deadly political illusions of their state."7 In Vietnam, the vast majority of U.S. war crimes resulted from military and intelligence strategies. In the context of "Enduring Freedom," the U.S. administration early on challenged the Geneva Conventions. The torture scandal of "Abu Ghureib," the result of such taboo-breaking, was then rolled off onto individual perpetrators.
As in Vietnam, the U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq are given the self-image of being freedom-bringers by politics. On the ground, however, the soldiers pounced on a population, the majority of whom did not want them in the country any longer. Because of the constant attacks, the fear in the U.S. military is not only paranoid. Many deportations of harmless civilians by U.S. soldiers stem from this fear. Anger at people who do not value their own self-sacrificing service escalates into a need for revenge after the death of fellow soldiers. A report by the Vietnam veteran Terry Reed8 certainly shows parallels to the currently discussed Haditha massacre:
The war lured me into an ambush every three to five days, and masses of wounded GIs fell by the wayside. Then we immediately paid back the enemy, attacked some innocent village, razed everything and caused a bloodbath among the inhabitants
This pattern, which has also become a hangover for the village of My Lai, is apparently also reflected in the events that have now come to light in Haditha. The massacre of civilians last November was preceded by the death of a U.S. Marine in a bomb explosion!
For the opposition within the United States, a limp comparison with Vietnam is always better than none at all. The anti-Vietnam War movement, successful primarily through the alliance of soldiers and pacifists, historically holds the most important experience of resistance for the people of the United States. The impulses from this movement have also permanently changed the political culture in Europe. Those who want to thwart new war plans today can point to the slogan "Remember Vietnam!" hardly do without. Every U.S. administration women around perilous memories of Vietnam. A majority of the majority who already judge the Iraq war as wrong in the U.S. probably still somehow believe in a "moral mission". More "My Lai"-type revelations, however, could lead to the protest really reaching "critical mass" and influencing the course of the Bush administration.