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What was the Impact of the My Lai Massacre?

The reason for US involvement in Vietnam is that the president of America at the time, Lyndon B.Johnson firmly believed that the conversion to communism in Vietnam would set off the “Domino Theory” (surrounding countries of the country would succumb to communism) and thought they should do all they could to prevent communist expansion in Europe. There is no doubt that The My Lai Massacre shocked the world and had an unprecedented impact on the world’s social conscience when the horrors of what happened on March 16th, 1968, were unveiled. The brute force used and the mindless killing of innocent people left people shaken. How the young American youth had been involved with such atrocity and how they impassively spilt the blood of women, the elderly and babies caused ripples of doubt of the Army’s presence in Vietnam. They caused a turning point in American public opinion.

A major attack was planned on My Lai. They were instructed to destroy the village. They were told to assume that all the civilians who resided in My Lai were either Vietcong or Vietcong sympathizers – Charlie’s Company carried out this attack. They were met with no resistance in the village of My Lai. However, the civilians of My Lai were shown no mercy, and they proceeded to gun down hundreds of inhabitants, predominately the elderly, women and infants. Other brutalities transpired; women were gang-raped and tortured, other civilians maimed with “C company” etched into their chests, others struck with rifle butts and bayonets and beaten to death. The total death toll was 504, and one platoon led by Lieutenant William Calley was responsible for over half the alleged deaths. One soldier who was at My Lai, Varnado Simpson, stated in December 1969: “Everyone who went into the village had in mind to kill.

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We had lost a lot of buddies, and it was a VC stronghold. We considered them either VC or helping the VC.” Word of the brutalities that occurred did not reach the public until November 1969, thus inducing worldwide antagonism and increasing domestic opposition to the American involvement in the Vietnam War. The callous attitude the American’s had shown during this incident repulsed the American public and decreased morale for the US’s involvement. Serious questions arose concerning the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam – it affected the way the world perceived how American’s waged war and was a blemish on American integrity – many were disgusted at the US army’s behaviour. The mother of one of the soldiers accused of killing civilians at My Lai asserted: “I sent them (the US army) a good boy, and they made him a murderer.” The very statement depicts how the experience of the Vietnam War made soldiers go through a dramatic metamorphosis that apparently robbed them of empathy and compassion – though it could be argued that the traumatization of the Vietnam War itself could have had some effect.

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Gradually as the war went on, “by the spring of 1968, American people were convinced that victory in Vietnam was not worth 300 dead and 30,000 million a year.” (Observer newspaper 1973). Many protests were staged before the My Lai incident occurred -“In 1965, David Miller publically burnt his draft card (call-up notice) and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. His actions inspired others, and throughout America, Anti-Vietnam War groups organized meetings where large groups of young men burnt their draft cards.” (Spartacus). In 1967 – again before the My Lai incident, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was formed, demonstrating all over America. People watched on television as Vietnam heroes threw away the medals they had won fighting in the war. One shouted: “Here are my merit badges for murder.” Another apologized to the Vietnamese people and claimed that: “I hope that someday I can return to Vietnam and help to rebuild that country we tore apart.” (Spartacus)

One soldier, Keith Franklin, wrote a letter that was only to be opened on his death. He was killed on May 12, 1970: “If you are reading this letter, you will never see me again, the reason being that if you are reading this, I have died. The question is whether or not my death has been in vain. The answer is yes. The war that has taken my life and many thousands before me are immoral, unlawful and an atrocity… I had no choice as to my fate. The war-mongering hypocrites predetermined it in Washington. As I lie dead, please grant my last request. Help me inform the American people, the silent majority who have not yet voiced their opinions.” (Spartacus) A popular song that ridiculed the American president at the time was “Hey! Hey! LBJ, How many kids did you kill today? We don’t want your war, Draft beer, not boys, dump Johnson, eighteen today, dead tomorrow”.

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The anecdotes in this paragraph depict the vast negativity on the US’s involvement in the war – and it questions whether the fact that when American withdrew from Vietnam was inevitable and not based on the My Lai incident as it has been argued that long before this period many demonstrations and protests had been staged to deter the continuation of the Vietnam War – though it is certain that The My Lai incident added fuel to the theory that America should withdraw from Vietnam. The Tet Offensive was also a turning point in the Vietnam war as after this event; it became clear that the American’s were still no closer to victory as although in military terms this was a success (37,000 VC killed compared to 2500 Americans), this event brought to light that Vietnam seemed to have infinite supplies of men and women willing to fight. The Tet Offensive was so named as it was a religious festival for the Vietnamese where they paid tribute to their dead ancestors, and they had the surprise factor in this attack as they did not expect the Vietcong to attack one of their own festivals.

They also successfully entered the American embassy and captured Saigon’s radio station, which ruptured the self-confidence and morale of the American people. It was rumoured that Vietcong was on the verge of collapse earlier. Now the Vietcong showed they could still take down influential buildings in the capital of South Vietnam – a fact that again showed that the Americans were slowly but surely losing the war. This event could be seen as less significant than the My Lai massacre as although it caught the American soldiers off guard, the My Lai massacre in which much of the innocent had been slaughtered showed that the US soldiers were capable of committing carnage without displaying any evident remorse – shocking the American public and increasing opposition to US involvement, the My Lai massacre triggered anti-war protests. It could be argued that this was the starting point of the opposition of the US public to the Vietnam War.

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In conclusion, it could be voiced that although My Lai shocked many in its repercussions and triggered anti-war activism, the outcome would still have been inevitable even if it had not occurred as support for the war was rapidly decreasing and morale was low. The American public, however, doubted the US army’s cause more though after the horrific facts seeped out in 1969 – it is clear why they tried to cover this up, it did them no favours back at home, as before this people already doubted why their soldiers were at Vietnam though the vast majority of the American public had supported it in the beginning. Although they showed signs of military success – they had not won over the American public, so they had lost at home in a sense. The media hugely criticized the US army, and anti-war activism in America increased – The My Lai incident played some part in this. American tactics also played a part in the eventual withdrawal of American troops. Because there was no way of telling who was Vietcong and who was innocent, the Americans proceeded to commit mass murder of both VC and innocent civilians, which gave them a false impression of how successful they were at killing the Vietcong. The fact that it was a guerrilla war did not help – they had no idea of telling where the enemy was and was unfamiliar with their surroundings.

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What was the Impact of the My Lai Massacre?. (2021, Aug 16). Retrieved August 15, 2022, from