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.