My Lai 30th anniversary (multiple responses)

Fri, 13 Feb 1998 01:23:56 -0500


From: John Tegtmeier <>
Subject: Re: My Lai 30th anniversary (2 posts)

On Sun, 8 Feb 1998 sixties-l@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU wrote:

> From: Jesse Lemisch <LEMJJ@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
> March 16 will be the thirtieth anniversary of the My Lai massacre.
> One of the effects of a visit I made to Germany last year was to persuade
> me that, by and large, Germans -- especially younger ones -- have done a
>better job than have Americans in coming to terms with atrocities done by
>the two countries.

Are you trying to equated the Holocaust with My Lai???? I note the word
"atrocities", so you obviously have something wider in mind. Perhaps you
could articulate this?

If you want to see a culture in denial over war crimes and atrocities,
look at Japan.

John Tegtmeier


Subject: Re: My Lai 30th anniversary (2 posts)

Jesse Lemisch asks about plans for commemorating the 30th anniversary of
the My Lai massacre.

There are two significant events regarding My Lai that I know about.
Michael Boehm will hold a formal dedication of the My Lai Peace Park in
Son My, Quang Ngai province, Vietnam on the anniversary (March 16). Hugh
Thompson will be there as will 60 Minutes and Mike Wallace (if they don't
renegue). I'll post below a description of the project from a
fundraising letter I did recently. For more info. you can reach Mike
Boehm by email:

The My Lai Project Advisory Board includes: Michael Bilton, Robert Bly,
Susan Brownmiller, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, W.D. Ehrhart, David Elder
, Joe Elder, Gloria Emerson, Frances Fitzgerald, Le Ly Hayslip, David
Halberstam, Paul Hayden, Larry Heinemann, George Herring, Wayne Karlin,
Maxine Hong Kingston, Yusef Komunyakaa, Robert Jay Lifton, Don Luce,
David Marr, John McAuliff, Sen. George McGovern, Nguyen Ngoc Hung, Tim
O'Brien, Ron Ridenhour, Jonathan Schell, Gloria Steinem, Studs Terkel,
Hugh Thompson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Gore Vidal, Alice Walker, Marilyn
Young, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt

I urge everyone to support it. If you do, make checks payable to:
Madison Friends Meeting
1704 Roberts Court
Madison WI 55711-2029

Please specify on your check: "My Lai Projects"

Also David Anderson at Univ. of Indianapolis will gather Ron Ridenhour,
Wiliam Eckhardt (chief prosecutor of the My Lai cases) and Tim O'Brien at
his university. There is also talk of bringing M. Scott Peck (who has a
chapter on My Lai in People of the Lie) and Jonathan Schell whose book on
Quang Ngai anticipated the massacre (one could argue). These 2 are not
confirmed. David's email is or

David edited the proceedings book on the 1994 Tulane My Lai conference on
the 25th anniversary of the disclosure. The book, Facing My Lai: Moving
Beyond the Massacre, is available from Univ. Press of Kansas.
has the Kirkus Review review on line if you want to see that. Thanks to
Jesse for notice about the Olsen Roberts book. I hadn't heard about it.

Here at Tulane we will have a public event on March 25th. Ron Ridenhour
will be the main speaker.

For information regarding the My Lai Oral History Panel tape (from the
Tulane conference) visit my web site:

Here's a description of the My Lai Peace Park Project that went out
recently as part of a fundraising effort.


As the 30th anniversary of My Lai approaches (March 16), I'm writing to
ask you to support this fine project that seeks to improve the lot of the
people of My Lai.

You probably know of my involvement in the 1994 Tulane My Lai conference
and may know that I served for a while as Mike Boehm's co-chair for the
30th Anniversary My Lai Peace Park Project.

The project has three components, all of them worthy of your support.
First, building the Peace Park will not only address America's own
psychic wounds, but more immediately will infuse money into the local
economy and good will into the spirit.

Second, endowing the My Lai Revolving Loan Fund will allow Mike Boehm to
continue to help My Lai families to improve their economic lot in the
short term.

Finally, improvements in the My Lai school house, now so small students
must rotate in and out by half-days, will help to enhance the promise of
the future.

As you can imagine, fundraising for such a project, so far away and with
such dark associations, is not easy. So please write a check right now
for $10, or $25, or $100. I myself have contributed $500.


Best wishes in the New Year,

Randy Fertel

PS On the back [i.e. below] you'll find part of a travel piece I did
after my trip to Vietnam in 1996. It describes a visit to My Lai and
will, I hope, put a more accessible, human face on this dark page of
American history. [IT FOLLOWS:]

Facing My Lai After 30 Years

On the darkest day of a long, dark war, thirty years ago tomorrow, five
hundred and four Viet-namese noncombatants, most of them women and
children, died at the hamlet of My Lai 4, Son My village, Quang Ngai
Province, Vietnam.

Over ninety men, women, and children died the same morning at My Khe 4,
just a few kilome-ters away. Many still argue that what we have come to
call the My Lai Massacre was extraordinary, an aberration. Was it? Or
was it simply an incident so well publicized, and so obviously
horrifying, that we have been able to set it in brackets?

What I saw and heard on a visit to the official memorial at My Lai on
January 7, 1996 has stayed with me ever since. If my visit did not
necessarily answer such questions, it gave me a way to think about the
issues that still resound in the name My Lai.

The grounds are manicured. Rebuilt concrete bunkers now mark the spots
where families in earthen and bamboo bunkers lost their lives. Plaques
name and give the ages of the 504 dead. In the museum, agitprop-style
captions speak of the American devils (giac) and the evil they did.
There is talk of refurbishing and softening both pictures and language in
preparation for the booming tourist trade. Nothing, however, could soften
the experience of standing before the ditch where Lieutenant William
Calley and the members of his platoon ended so many lives. The horror
that touched me then was an emotion too complex, too powerful, to

What I can try to express though is my sense of being humbled by our tour
group's knowing guide, Duong Va~n Cong. For as much knowledge and
feeling as I brought with me that day to My Lai, it was Cong who knew
what the proper behavior should be. It was Cong who knew to bring
flowers to place and incense to light at the base of the monument; and
it was Cong who knew to bring fruit to offer on the Buddhist altar.

These simple but knowing gestures profoundly moved me. His knowledge and
my ignorance seem to me fundamental to our cultures. In terms of outward
forms and codes of conduct, Westerners, Americans especially, are
fundamentally untutored. We just don't know how things are done, hardly
believe there is a right way to do things. And yet as Matthew Arnold
reminds us, conduct is "three-fourths of life." Even so, we go about
inventing right ways as we go along. Cong's culture by contrast begins
-- in its Confucian underpinnings -- with the assumption that there is a
right way and a wrong way for everything. To perform the former is to be
in harmony with the universe, to do the latter is to fall out of harmony.
To be out of harmony with the universe is to lose the mandate of heaven.
The superior man, having the mandate of heaven, will by the nature of
things do what is proper.

Meanwhile we in the West believe that to follow any man's system is to be
enslaved to it. How can we reconcile our faith in the individual and our
existential, Sisyphean commitment to create our truths as we go, day by
day, with our deep and urgent need for some firm understanding of how the
world works and for a community shaped in conformity with that
understanding? For these questions I have no clear and ready answer.

What is clear is that the US Army and William Calley were out of harmony
with the universe that day. That day, March 16, 1968, and furthermore
throughout the long decade of the war, we lost the mandate of heaven.

How to regain it now as we remember My Lai's 30th anniversary? Perhaps
we need to start with where we are, which is to say humbled. Humbled,
not humiliated, a distinction Cong would understand more easily perhaps
than my readers. To be humiliated is to be shown inadequate because of
one's limitations; to be humbled is to understand those limitations. To
accept limitations, paradoxically, can ennoble those with the wisdom to
do it.

America, then, has been humbled. What ennobling lesson might we learn
from that realiza-tion?

Ward Just once wrote darkly that the lessons of the war would "be
whatever makes us think well of ourselves." That has often been the case
when we have taken our cues from Hollywood or from Cold Warriors, both
bent on refighting and winning a war already lost. Rather, we should
finally know better that our centuries-long wish to be "a city on a hill"
is instinct not only with high-mindedness but also and at the same time
with a dangerous smallness of mind. The candle of democracy which we
hold out to the world must never be hid under a bushel; but we must allow
those who see by its light to see the world and to imagine democracy in
their own ways, according to their own cultural heritage. This is the
lesson of My Lai, of the American War in Vietnam.

Tulane University
6120 Perrier St.
New Orleans LA 70118
504-891-1759 (phone/fax)


From: Kevin Cole <>
Subject: RE: My Lai 30th anniversary

What would make My Lai worthy of commemoration? any more than any other
bloodbath that humans have created for one another? To single it out for
mention would be to pretend that it was somehow unusual, when in fact
events like My Lai and far worse than My Lai have happened every time
armies have ever met.

I'm sorry but I couldn't see anything more than an exercise in
self-delusion in this. The participants would be hypnotizing themselves
into believing that they themselves would be too pure to take part in such
an activity. Those who wouldn't commemorate probably wouldn't protest it
either. The hypnotized never lie.



From: John Fournelle <>
Subject: Re: My Lai 30th anniversary

The Madison-based My Lai Peace Park Project (and associated
Vietnamese-American Peace Park) has a web page, as of 1 week ago. Check out
<> for articles about the project, as well as links
to articles on the history. The MLPPP has several projects, described on
the web page.

Vietnam vet Mike Boehm can be contacted for more information at


John Fournelle
Electron Microprobe Lab office: (608) 262-7964
Dept of Geology & Geophysics fax: (608) 262-0693
University of Wisconsin home: (608) 274-2245
1215 West Dayton St. email:
Madison, WI 53706 amateur radio: WA3BTA/9
Probe lab

"The first rule of all intelligent tinkering is to save every cog and wheel."
Aldo Leopold


Subject: Re: My Lai 30th anniversary (2 posts)

>class time to My Lai during the period March 15-17?

I think it's crucially important to do so --'course I'm teaching a course on
the war and another on the 60s this spring, so it's an easy call. But, an
excellent idea.
Ted Morgan

Department of Political Science
Maginnes Hall #9
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, PA 18015
phone: (610) 758-3345
fax: (610) 758-6554