Uncovering My Lai: Determining Innocence and Guilt

by Brittney Switzer
Faculty advisor: Dr. William Feis

On March 16 of 1968 a unit of the United States Army, known Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 23rd Infantry Division, entered the hamlet of My Lai in South Vietnam. They were informed the village would be a hot zone filled with Viet Cong communist guerrillas. During their short time in the hamlet, anywhere between 107 and 500 Vietnamese civilians were massacred.

When the news of the massacre broke in March 1969, a majority of the American public placed their support behind the soldiers of Charlie Company than against them. It was argued by the media that they were innocent because they were caught in the middle of a controversial war in which they had watched several of their comrades die at the hands of the Viet Cong two days prior to My Lai. The men admitted the shock of the days before My Lai led to their destructive actions. They admitted they had lost their ability to differentiate between the Viet Cong communist guerrillas and the Vietnamese civilians. They had been filled with rage and hatred.

Every member of Charlie Company alleges to be following orders and doing as they were told by their superiors. There is no way to confirm or deny this fact. The men became guilty of following orders and trusting their comrades and superiors. Judgment became impaired with emotion. The young men of Charlie Company made the decision to continue their massacre even after finding no weapons in the village.