One of the most disturbing events of the Vietnam war happened fifty years ago this week. American soldiers were sent to the village of My Lai to eliminate what was according to Intel to be a Viet Cong support location in the area. In a span of four hours almost five hundred men, women and children were slaughtered. The American troops said they were following the orders of the officers in charge. There was an attempt by the Pentagon and the White House to cover up the massacre but some of the pictures of the dead civilians made it to the media. There were demonstrations against the war on college campuses all across the nation. American troops returning home were called baby killers. This event was the slow start of the process of us getting out of a war that killed at least 3.8 million Vietnamese, 800,00 Cambodians, 1 million Laotians, and 56,000 Americans. Billions of dollars were wasted on a war we could not win.
We not only lost the war in Vietnam but as a nation, we also lost a time of innocence when the problems of the world were reduced to the evening news on television, and the daily newspaper on our doorsteps. Vietnam era veterans have paid a high price for their time in the service as people are now saying “Thank you for your service.” It took over forty years after my discharge to hear those words. My Lai happened fifty years ago. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.