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My Lai : Vietnam, 1968, and the descent into darkness
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Nearly 10 years in the making, this exhaustively researched and well-written narrative bores in on the details of what has become known as the My Lai Massacre—the slaughter of 504 old men, women, and children by American troops in the South Vietnamese village of Son My on Mar. 16, 1968—and the massacre's legal and political aftermath. Jones (Blue and Gray Diplomacy), professor emeritus of history at the University of Alabama, mined an array of sources, including some original oral histories and interviews with Americans and Vietnamese, in producing this authoritative account of a dark moment in American history. To Jones's credit, he succeeds in his goal of presenting a "balanced and accurate account" of the still-controversial incident. He also tackles the thorny questions of why the massacre took place, and whether it was an aberration. Jones boils down the answer to the former question to character flaws and the lack of "a notion of decency" among the troops who did the killing and raping. As for whether My Lai was a Vietnam War aberration, Jones cites other massacres in Vietnam and previous U.S. wars, but notes that My Lai "stands out, in part because of the numbers" of people killed. Maps & Illus. (June)

Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly.


Reexamines the My Lai massacre, in which unarmed villagers were killed by American soldiers, offering new perspectives on the events and their relevance. - (Baker & Taylor)

"In this raw, searing new narrative account, Howard Jones reopens the case of My Lai by examining individual accounts of both victims and soldiers through extensive archival and original research. Jones evokes the horror of the event itself, the attempt to suppress it, as well as the response to Calley's sentence and the seemingly unanswerable question of whether he had merely been following orders. My Lai also surveys how news of the slaughter intensified opposition to the Vietnam War by undermining anypretense of American moral superiority. Compelling, comprehensive, and sobering, Howard Jones' My Lai chronicles how the strategic failures and competing objectives of American leaders resulted in one of the most devastating tragedies of the Vietnam War"-- - (Baker & Taylor)

A reexamination of the 1968 My Lai massacre offers new perspective on the events and their relevance today in light of Abu Ghraib and other US Military scandals - (Gardners)

On the early morning of March 16, 1968, American soldiers from three platoons of Charlie Company (1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division), entered a group of hamlets located in the Son Tinh district of South Vietnam, located near the Demilitarized Zone and known as "Pinkville" because of the high level of Vietcong infiltration. The soldiers, many still teenagers who had been in the country for three months, were on a "search and destroy" mission. The Tet Offensive had occurred only weeks earlier and in the same area and had made them jittery; so had mounting losses from booby traps and a seemingly invisible enemy. Three hours after the GIs entered the hamlets, more than five hundred unarmed villagers lay dead, killed in cold blood. The atrocity took its name from one of the hamlets, known by the Americans as My Lai 4.

Military authorities attempted to suppress the news of My Lai, until some who had been there, in particular a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson and a door gunner named Lawrence Colburn, spoke up about what they had seen. The official line was that the villagers had been killed by artillery and gunship fire rather than by small arms. That line soon began to fray. Lieutenant William Calley, one of the platoon leaders, admitted to shooting the villagers but insisted that he had acted upon orders. An exposé of the massacre and cover-up by journalist Seymour Hersh, followed by graphic photographs, incited international outrage, and Congressional and U.S. Army inquiries began. Calley and nearly thirty other officers were charged with war crimes, though Calley alone was convicted and would serve three and a half years under house arrest before being paroled in 1974.

My Lai polarized American sentiment. Many saw Calley as a scapegoat, the victim of a doomed strategy in an unwinnable war. Others saw a war criminal. President Nixon was poised to offer a presidential pardon. The atrocity intensified opposition to the war, devastating any pretense of American moral superiority. Its effect on military morale and policy was profound and enduring. The Army implemented reforms and began enforcing adherence to the Hague and Geneva conventions. Before launching an offensive during Desert Storm in 1991, one general warned his brigade commanders, "No My Lais in this division--do you hear me?"

Compelling, comprehensive, and haunting, based on both exhaustive archival research and extensive interviews, Howard Jones's My Lai will stand as the definitive book on one of the most devastating events in American military history.
- (Oxford University Press)

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