Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lt. William "Rusty" Calley: One of Our Own War Criminals

The Lieutenant is not exonerated, but he is contrite.
But, because contrition itself is rare, it should be noteworthy.


On 16 March 1968, U.S. soldiers gunned down hundreds of civilians in the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai. The Army at first denied, then downplayed the event, saying most of the dead were Vietcong. But in November 1969, journalist Seymour Hersh revealed what really happened and Calley was court martialed and convicted of murder.

The My Lai Massacre was one of the darkest moments in the Vietnam War. 2nd Lt. William “Rusty” Calley had ordered his platoon to kill everyone in the South Vietnamese hamlets of My Lai and My Khe. Initially 26 American soldiers were charged, but only Calley was convicted. He admitted on the witness stand that he personally executed civilians and received a life sentence for the murders of 22 people.

Calley always claimed that he was acting on direct orders from his company commander, and many Americans believed that he was scapegoated for the massacre. His sentence was later reduced by President Richard Nixon and he served three years under house arrest.

Despite many invitations from national news media, Calley had never before spoken publicly about it until last Wednesday, when he was invited to speak before the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus (GA).

His remarks would not have been on my radar, except that blogger Dick McMichael was in attendance and narrated it on his Dick's World site.

McMichael says that Lt. Calley made only a brief statement, but agreed to take questions from the audience. At one point with his voice breaking, Lt. Calley said,
There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai ... I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.
During the Q&A, McMichael asked Lt. Calley for his reaction to the notion that a soldier does not have to obey an unlawful order, that in fact, to obey an unlawful order is to be unlawful yourself.

The ex soldier replied,
I believe that is true. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them - foolishly, I guess.
I should add (as I recall), beginning when the U.S. Military command first questioned Lt. Calley, he has never denied his part in the massacre.

I post Lieutenant Calley's statement as an object lesson in integrity; there are a number of them to be extracted.

9 Moderated Comments:

Blogger MadMike said...

There is no excuse for what Calley did, despite the fact that this was a really nasty war. I do not believe he acted on orders. I believe he was caught up in a very bad moment. I know that is understated but there is no other way to say it. I am glad he is contrite. He has been since the first day of the rest of the days of his life. War sucks. This one really sucked.

8/25/2009 04:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vig, I followed the links you provided, which gave me the impetus to provide a long, lengthy rant about Calley. Bro Mike states there is no reason for Calley's actions and that he was caught in a terrible situation.

I recognize and respect his contriteness and, yes, war sucks. However, I do believe he acted on orders, Mike. Can we agree to disagree? I can't fathom the idea that he was the only person involved in this horrible tragedy.

I posted this comment on the site to which you directed me. I rarely repost, but I don't have enough room to put it here.

There are no clear-cut answers, so I cannot offer an opinion. The events at My Lai and Calley's participation horrified me. Somehow, history provides a different perspective.

I doubt if we'll ever know the whole truth surrounding My Lai. I do know that you are right in stating: I post Lieutenant Calley's statement as an object lesson in integrity; there are a number of them to be extracted.

Yet, the term, "integrity," has as slipper a definition as "truth."

               Calley and the My Lai Massacre

8/25/2009 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger Stella by Starlight said...

Damn it! I'm not ANONYMOUS, I'm STELLA. The internet sprites have attacked me once again.

8/25/2009 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Beach Bum said...

I'm with Mike on this one, shit happens in the best of times and from what my battalion Sergeant Major told a bunch of stupid kids in the 1980's Hell is an understatement for Vietnam was.

8/25/2009 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

For as long as I have known Mad Mike, he has put great credence in the bad-apples-at-the-bottom-of-the-barrel theory. I have always put more importance in the carpenters and the blacksmiths who produced and positioned the barrel in the first place.

All of that is to say that it is bad leadership and bad wars (and occupations) that produce bad renegade soldiers out of a well-trained professional corps. So, the first ones you should be pointing your fingers at are the stiffs in the pentagon wearing the brass and the suits and the ties.

So, I am completely inclined to buy Calley's version.

Secondly, applying the same rule of thumb that you first look at the leadership before you look for scapegoats among the rank and file grunts: take a look at what our chickenshit President and his chickenshit Attorney General want investigated about the last eight years. They want to scapegoat the professional officers in the C.I.A. instead of the unindicted felons in the Pentagon and the White House. Especially the ones who twisted arms in the CIA -in the first time - to get the twisted intelligence to create the barrel of shit we now refer to as Iraquagmire. (Yeah! We're not out of it yet, are we?)

I'm just sayin'....

8/25/2009 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger Jack Jodell said...

It is good to see Calley making pronouncements of contrition. We will never see such integrity from swine like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Yoo, Wolfowitz, or Bush.

8/25/2009 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Exacto, Jack! You have placed your needle into the main vein of my theme. It is the mother lode of my outrage.

8/25/2009 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger Stella by Starlight said...

Over and over, I have asked myself the following question about the My Lai massacre and wonder who else in the upper reaches of government were involved. I guess we agree, Vig: First look at the leadership before you look for scapegoats among the rank and file grunts. What choices could they possibly have being soldiers trained to obey direct orders?

Bro, I agree with you that he was caught up in a bad moment, and many of these soldiers were just confused kids. But someone "up top" knew what was going on. I read an article that indicated the DoJ's first action was to hush up the events at My Lai. Why would they do that if not for guilt.

I don't agree with Calley's actions, but firmly agree he was a prosecuted scapegoat. I admire his contrition and integrity. He stated that from the first day of the My Lai engagement, he was regretful.

And, as usual, what Jack said. I need to visit you, Jack.

8/27/2009 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger MadMike said...

I don't deny the events were hushed up. As a matter of fact the Army did everything they could to keep this quiet. I am just not convinced that Calley acted on anyone's orders when he and his squad murdered an entire village of innocent civilians. In such situations there is really no time to be discussing the sitrep with the chain of command. Shit just happens.

I agree with Vigil 100% however on his view of the latest investigations into the CIA activities of the last 8 years.

8/29/2009 07:07:00 AM  

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