My Lai 4: A History Class Book Report
On March 16, 1968, "Charlie Company" was sent into a small Viet
Cong village called (by the U.S.) My Lai 4. Their instructions by
commanding officers were: "... kill every man, woman, child and animal
in the village. Burn all the homes .... nothing should be walking,
growing or crawling."
Orders were followed, and as I read the first 65 pages of this
book, I was exposed to the detailed death of 306 civilians, mostly
women, small children, and old people. There was no threat to any
American GIs ... there were no Viet Cong Solders in the area. I read
of the rape of a 14 year old girl by twenty GIs ... in front of the
parents. They were all shot after the GIs were "done with their
business." This was only one of many. Most of the murders were
conducted, BY ORDER OF OFFICERS, to round-up the families from their
homes, forced into ditches, and shot. Women dove to cover their
children. Later, children just old enough to walk crawled out from
under their mutilated mothers' bodies, only to be shot as target
practice by the GIs. It is later estimated that approximately 500
civilians were murdered, and (probably) no VC were in the area.
I could go into detail about the killing. However, most of the
book was devoted to the time before the massacre, and afterward. The
officers and GIs of "Charlie Company" were introduced in the beginning
of the book: the officers had been social outcasts all their life (LT.
Calley & Medina). Both had decided to devote their life to the
military. The GIs were selected for "Charlie Company" specifically
because they had all scored too low on the initial exam to be put into
a regular battalions.
After the massacre, nothing was done. As a matter of fact,
"Charlie Company" was praised for having the "most kills" in one day.
By late 1969, most of the GIs in Charlie Company were civilians again,
and a few began to tell what they had seen (and participated in). A
Government Investigation was called against Lt. Calley (who ordered,
and participated in the murders). Some of the photographs from the
massacre were published. You wouldn't believe what the civilian
response was! The overwhelming public response was to drop the
charges; they thought that there was nothing wrong with the massacre,
OR they didn't believe it really happened. As a matter of fact, Lt.
Calley had become a hero as an AMERICAN! There was a hugely-supported
donation drive to pay for Calley's legal fees.
The final outcome: nothing. Calley was demoted to a Army "Office
Job" after the murders were proved. The soldiers of Charlie Company
went on with life, most of whom are/were suffering mental disorders
from the scaring event. Calley's officer above him (who REALLY gave
the initial orders) was never investigated, though it was proven that
he also participated in the massacre.
The author, Seymour M. Hersh, wrote (I read that book 3 years ago), which
is credited with having a major influence on this country's decision to
stop production of biological weapons. Mr. Hersh began his journalism
career as a police reporter for the city news bureau in Chicago, and
later covered the Pentagon for the Associated Press. Mr. Hersh was
press secretary for the Senator Eugene McCarthy early in his campaign
for Democratic Presidential nomination. He won a special George Polk
Memorial Award in February, 1970, and the Worth Bengham Prize in March,
1970, for his reporting on the My Lai 4 massacre. He is married and
lives in Washington, D.C.
As I have read 2 books by this man, I feel that he provides some
really good, controversial information. He has obviously done a lot of
studying. From the information I could find on him, I cannot determine
if he has had any past occurrences that motivated him to find out about
atrocities of war. However, he may be like me .... and has a bit of
compassion for others, and hates to see others hurt by unnecessary
In the preface of this book, Mr Hersh made a point to outline his
sources. Everything in the book is a compilation of quotes from
different people who participated in the massacre, and people who saw
it. He published letters written by the GIs after the massacre (some
of them I had seen in Zinn's book too!). He printed public opinion
polls of the time, and generally avoided printing his own opinion.
However, as any book written, he definitely projected the event as a
negative occurrence; but, with as little of his own printed opinion as
Also at the end of the book, there is a notes section. If a quote
or fact was really in question, he has all of his sources are listed.
This was a good-read. A very serious situation was wrote about,
in a way that there was nothing but quotes and facts presented. At the
same time, it was INTERESTING! I was able to read half the book in an
afternoon easily! However, the only thing I would change, if I wrote
the book would be the EMOTION behind it. I have studied the Vietnamese
culture myself from other books ... I want to know how THEY feel and
believe. This side was not presented; but, because of personal
knowledge, his information was very useful.
Without a doubt, I would recommend this book to anyone who
supports wars or the Army in general. Too many people are isolated
from what war IS, and how it effects civilians. Perhaps it would force
today's ignorant people to THINK about our recent "police action:"
DESERT STORM. For some reason (the Media), nobody thinks that anyone
DIED! I love the last line in the book:
"The people didn't know what they were dying for, and the
guys didn't know why they were shooting them."
Quote: Carter, Soldier in Charlie Company.
"For complete summary and analysis of literary works, please visit