tv 1968 My Lai Massacre CSPAN April 8, 2018 6:25am-8:28am EDT
their position about this? one would think they would be deeply concerned about the killing of up to 500 civilians. well, the fact is that was not true. the local district chief and province chief, after allegations came out, conducted what they said was investigation and basically said, look, there's just vc in that area, and if you have allegations of a massacre, that's vc propaganda. i mean, they kind of wrote the whole thing off. you have to understand in this checker board sort of war situation, place like that eastern district has the name on operational maps, sort of term they used pinkville, it was a red area, had not been under government control forever, so the government didn't feel any particular obligation to the civilians who lived there and in fact a number, i have this letter, a number of south vietnamese senators wrote to
nixon in december of 1969, said please, mr. president, do not pay attention to the allegations, it is all fake news. they didn't use that term, but that was what they're basically saying. it is vc propaganda, is simply going to undermine american support for south vietnam at a critical moment. oh, and what about the way massacre, right? south vietnamese were upset, as you would imagine, of the 3,000 civilians vietcong killed after way, and in 1969, a lot of the bodies were uncovered. it was very much in their conscience, you can't trust the vc. in a sense, there was political pressure from the south vietnamese just to move on. >> this question, was the my lai complex in a free fire zone? goes on, ends up asking the larger question is there a problem with corporate culture and loose roe.
you can further define that as command climate, the search for the body count. i address that to the entire panel, as well, whoever wishes to comment. >> fred and i have had this conversation a couple of times. the unique thing was, there were free fire zones then, they were pretty normal, they played a role in this case. the reality is you would i won't say never see that again but i can't imagine the circumstances where i as legal adviser outside of pure, unpure competitor fight where i would look at a commander and say that's even remotely a good idea. and i don't think i would find a commander who thought it was a good idea to be honest with you. so what i submit to you is at the time there may have been a cultural problem with it but i
don't think that's the same challenge today. fred? >> for those of you who study military history, you know there are various types of strategy. we like a maneuver strategy, for example. we talk about counterinsurgency. west moreland is pursuing attrition strategy. if you know military, you know the idea of attrition is the enemy will give up if we just kill so many of him that he finally doesn't have any people left and he gives up. there's nothing fundamentally wrong with attrition strategy. we used it in world war ii, but what is your metric then for measuring success in an attrition strategy. it's a body count. so i believe as a military historian that a contributing factor is the attrition strategy and the idea that success on the battlefield or success in a
military operation is measured by how many bodies you have. presumably, these are all the enemy. but the problem in vietnam is unless you're fighting the north vietnamese, no one is wearing a uniform. how do i really know if this is the enemy? i'm not saying it necessarily meant you're inflating body counts, although that certainly happened, but i think a contributing problem here is this emphasis on body count as a reason for success and so after my lai, for example, it is trumpeted as a big success because so many of the enemy have been killed. we never would today look at body count as a metric. general berger, i think would agree that commanders today
would be appalled if you suggested body count was a metric for success. >> if i could add a couple things to that. for example, i found the 11th infantry brigade newsletter for this period that has a news feature on the my lai operation. and it talks about how they came in and killed 182 vietcong soldiers and captured three weapons. ok. were they sharing the three? i mean, similar problem, in the delta with general uel, killing a lot of folks, not finding a lot of weapons. now i argue in my book that westmoreland actually had a more nuanced approach to war.
it was not just attrition, not just body count, but things like weapons and chew his and rice and all the other things that go into war. one of the things struck me as bizarre about the operation, if indeed medina and callie and the rest told men before the operation, the idea was to go in there and burn down the houses and kill the livestock, right there, you would have went, wait a minute. that was not normal. ok. there were operations where like an operation in triangle, you would go in there, cordon the place off with south vietnamese forces, separate out the potential bad guys, evacuate the civilians to another safer location, and then you would burn down the houses and not kill the livestock. you would take the livestock away and give them to the people who owned them or give them to
someone who could use them. you only burned or destroyed rice if you couldn't haul it out. these are resources. so to go into a village without any plan of resettling them and say we're going to burn down the houses and kill livestock, it was not normal. it just wasn't. the other point about the operation, apparently, this was done. it wasn't written down. there was no operation, no fragos. just we're going to do this and that and the other thing. when they planned the artillery preparation, they often would use artillery to, as a shield to kind of drive it. the artillery bombardment was right on the western edge of the village. they never went to the south vietnamese district chief for permission. there are free fire zones in vietnam, but not when there's an actual village that does not
count. it does not count. so right there off the bat, someone should have been thinking, wait, this is not smelling right. >> i think you're right, but i think you have to have the intonation to smell before you do anything, because the first thing that should have happened was the 128, 182 weapons and 128 to 182 bodies, that should speak volumes to anybody who really cared about that. i would like to ask a question here, and the lawyers can hold forth. 79 hours in deliberation. i could remember, i have a friend in the audience here, we were second lieuten nlts. i don't think they should have spent five minutes deliberating on callie, so why 79 hours? do you have any theories? >> there were a number of imponderables.
how many did he kill? how many should we find him guilty or killing? did he do it at all? also, before i was a lawyer, i was a juror. we have to stay in a long time. have you got another cigarette? a lot of that went on. so there's no telling why, in my estimation, there's no telling why they took that long. you never know what the dynamic is in a jury. you know, every jury is unique. so who knows. these were six combat experienced officers. five had been in vietnam, one had seen combat in world war ii. and it's really hard to say why they might have taken that long, but i'll bet we would be very surprised. hey, did you see that on tv last night? that might have taken a couple hours. but you know, they realize that the eyes of the nation were on them. all of the reporters were in the room, and they realized this is not something we can make a snap judgment on. >> one of the other things to remember is there's no forensic evidence.
there's no csis coming in with forensic pathologists who say i examined these bodies and i could prove this is how the person was killed. there are no bodies. they are gone because it was covered up for a year. every piece of evidence you might expect to see on television is gone. so all you have is witnesses who are saying, well, i saw callie do this and that, and shot this person and shot this person. but i think gary is exactly right. he was charged with killing 109, but the panel came back and found him guilty of killing 22. so i think you're exactly right. all of whom are unidentified. there are no names. so i think that it took a while to sort through which witness really got it right, who can we really trust. then i agree with you, hey, we're not just going to come back in five minutes. we have to make it look as if
we're serious about this. i'm not suggesting it was easy, because i think someone must have said, well, are we really going to find him guilty of premeditated murder? how about manslaughter? could we go with manslaughter? or negligent homicide? i mean, so i'm sure there was discussion about that. >> the word about military juries. if i was charged with a serious crime, i would rather be tried by a military court any day. that's because your jurors are, unless you're requested by the accused, your juries are college trained individuals, officers trained to obey officers. when they get the instructions from the judge, i want you to consider this, you should not consider this, military juries do it. i think military juries, for example, i watched the o.j. simpson trial. i remember the lady who was placed on the jury late in the game.
she was asked if she read the newspaper. yes. what do you read? the daily racing forum. that's the kind of jury sitting for o.j. simpson. you don't get that in the jury. you get excellent jurors in the military. next question, how important was it in the massacre, and were other journalists important? [laughter] >> notice how i passed that ball down the line here. >> there actually is a reporter in the montgomery, alabama, newspaper who broke the my lai story the day before hirsh did. and they only found out about it because somebody called him in montgomery and said they prefer charges at ft. benning against this lieutenant by the name of callie. hirsh, who became quite famous, won a pulitzer, still writes for the new yorker, he broke the
story the next day. hirsh is really famous because he got the interview with paul meadlow. and it was meadlow's interview in which meadlow admitted to murdering all the villagers in my lai that really broke the story open. and then hirsh was very smart. he pursued the story. he followed what pierce was doing. he wrote a number of books about the massacre, cover-up was one of them. and yes, i think you can't underestimate seymour hirsh's power in making sure that the story stayed alive. >> i should just say, i talked to seymour hirsh last week. as i invited him to come. and he basically said, you know, i don't go to my lai things, which i understand. it might become a bit of a
circus. if he did. but i'm looking forward to having a nice long chat with him. he has an office downtown here. and so i sent him a copy of my book and said, yeah, let's have tea. i hope to have a bit of a conversation. but yeah, he impressed on me, i said what could i say on your behalf? and i think the thing that really stood out for him is, as some of the comments were earlier, there were some really, really dark stuff that happened in my lai that not everyone knows about. you know, the sexual offenses, for example, really bone chilling. even now, aren't widely known. he said, if you ever go through and read all of the six volumes of all the testimony, it will, yeah, it will make your hair stand on end.
so there's a really great summary report of the peers inquiry that's 400 pages long, that we're going to be posting on the website. but there's a lot more, if you really want to get down into it and read the testimony, there's a lot there. >> ok, this sort of speaks to the earlier topic of leadership. the question is did callie lead his platoon into my lai or lose control of his platoon and they were essentially leading him at that point? it's addressed to carl. >> well, i don't think was callie leading his platoon? yes, he was. the platoon entered the village. and it's callie who is the trigger, who is the metamorphosis that stops the guarding of the civilians and begins their killing.
there were some soldiers in the platoon who refused to follow his orders to execute the villagers, to kill them. but most did. so yes, callie was leading. he was recognized as the man in charge. and that's why my lai happened. callie had said we're not doing anything other than safeguarding these civilians and we'll take them and move them to another location, i don't believe we would be sitting here today. it would have never happened. let me go and make one more comment about the trials. after the second enlisted soldier was acquitted at trial and the defense was i was following orders, the army pretty much concluded that with the draftee army as it then existed, it was very unlikely to
get a conviction of a junior enlisted soldier who raised the defense of superior orders. and that's probably true, i think, maybe the cases should have been tried anyway, but as professor correctly says, the army really didn't have the stomach to follow through with these prosecutions. >> he asked what happened to general pierce? >> i know he never made four stars. >> well, there are many who believe that it cost him a fourth star. he was a phenomenal leader. westmoreland westmoreland, he believed westmoreland chose him to lead the inquiry precisely
because he was not a west point graduate. westmoreland didn't necessarily think a west point grad wouldn't do a good job, but he was afraid that there might be some criticism that west pointers might protect their own. of course, this is a myth. it would never happen. but having said that, that was a joke. [laughter] pierce is a ucla rotc product. and phenomenal career as professor solis says. he had been in burma, decorated with a silver star at least twice. and i think that pierce was so hard hitting and so critical and so right in what he did that he
like hugh thompson is another one of the real heroes here. did it cost him a fourth star? there's no way to know, but there's some people who believe it did cost him the fourth star. >> just to get another, you know, comment to emphasize what i think is a really amazing quality of the pierce inquiry. it is an absolute first-rate, unsparing investigative effort. they went to extraordinary lengths to get it right, to get the facts. and to call things out. and even if you just read the 400-page summary, you will be, i think, really amazed. in the photos i had running before the presentation, those all came from the pierce summary report.
the fact they were able to pinpoint through all of the interviews the precise movements of each squad and platoon through my lai and get a timeline that made sense shows you the extent to which they want to get the facts. >> the my lai inquiry available on amazon. every time i see one, it says like new, i buy it. i got three or four. and the trial, the court-martial of lieutenant callie, you have these two books. you have most of my lai. >> ok, this is for general berger. how is the my lai massacre legacy set the standard for non-military paid security forces, and when they act outside of the law, should they be tried under civilian or ucmj law? >> fred is whispering in my ear, easy question. thank you. wow. 3:30.
>> out of time, sir. >> i need a phone call. not an easy question. difficult problems, it goes back to the comment about the only sovereign who could have tried many of the soldiers who left would have been the south vietnamese had there been an interest. we often find ourselves as we craft our stratus agreements or letters of agreement or whatever document we go into a country with, wrestling through many of those issues. those are issues judge advocates wrestle through with their commanders and with their counterparts and whatever that nation may be, assuming that our presence is permissive. vastly different set of circumstances when it's a non-permissive environment. when we're there under some sort of agreement with the host nation, then that's something we try to work out ahead of time. is it going to be first crack,
does that go to the host nation in terms of the right to prosecute, or does it fall on us under the military territorial jurisdiction act? we can try those folks. sometimes easier said than done. we can bring them back, and there have been trials in the federal court system back here in the u.s. as well. there are venues. there are multiple venues, as a matter of fact. there are three or four different courses of actions right there, all of which can be pursued.
but there are challenges. some of it gets caught up in contractual issues. were they within the scope of their duties? generally not, but that can often be raised as a defense. so you'll see many of these cases linger, both as civil litigation, as criminal litigation, and again, in any of the different venues. the tough thing, something we try to wrestle with ahead of time so we're not rakting but have a plan in place, but it doesn't always work out perfectly. >> i think general berger would agree that today's prosecution, prosecutorial system in the military isn't the my lai system. my lai changed everything. it was my lai that generated the attention in the military for the law of armed conflict to be taught in an effective way. and today, we don't have the problems with jurisdiction that we had in 1971, 1972. so we see trials of individuals who, i remember the one in riverside, where there were three marines who had shot two prisoners, and they had gotten out of the marine corps to enstate in the reserves. one was a sergeant in the riverside police department. they charged him with the murders in hudson, thank you, afghanistan. so today, it's not the problem that it used to be.
and the military is very effective, in my opinion, today in seeing that criminality is prosecuted to the full extent it should be. >> ok, the next two are connected, and they're for general berger. he might really want a phone call after these. [laughter] the first question, given ongoing problems in the armed forces of sexual assault and abu ghraib, why should we believe the problem is solved? the second question sort of amplifies that perhaps. what threat do you think there may be in overtraining commanders and soldiers and then them becoming complacent? i'll take the second one first. >> we'll start with overtraining and complacency. i have yet to meet a well trained soldier who felt that one, he or she was too well trained, or that the multiple repetitions were anything other than a greater degree of precision and perfection. we get better at doing things by doing them. that is the simple reality. and when we need to be able to do things instinctively under adverse conditions, we need them to happen based on how we train. and so i would submit to the questioner that simply doesn't happen.
weren't a good soldier that they would be short for our army. as to the question on sexual assault and do i think with the scope of the problem as alleged, do i think our prosecution or our system is fixed? i would tell you, i think we do a very good job. we take all of those cases that civilian authorities won't take. we take the cases where alcohol is involved, that a civilian prosecutor wouldn't touch. we take the case, we take the hard cases. do we win every case? we absolutely don't. but we take the cases in an effort to try to achieve justice for victims. and without sounding like a series of talking points or without sounding glib, the simple reality is, there is a demonstrated body of data that shows that we try the hard cases. you're not going to win the hard cases. if you have somebody who is a prosecutor says first rate prosecutor, i have never lost a case, the simple adage is you have never tried a hard case. and so we're not going to win them all. there are a number of things that point positively to where we have gone. our special victim council programs, our ability to provide counsel to the accused, not the government prosecutors, not the defense counsel, but individual counsel for the accused to help them through the process has been extremely powerful, extremely well appreciated by our victims. and has added a third party with standing before the bar. incredibly unique in our justice
system here in the united states. but all the services do it. and that's been a powerful multiplier. i think we have made significant strides. we often see the data will say, well, you have increased reporting. well, increased reporting means more people feel comfortable. so whether you want to say a very popular hashtag lingo of me too, right, that's increased reporting. that's victims who feel comfortable, who feel the system will be responsive to their allegations, who feel that they will get their day in court. and whether that's a day actually in court or whether that is simply the services they need to recover and somewhere in between, i think we do a great job with that. we're not perfect. again, we're an organization of human beings. but we try to only make a mistake once and learn from it. >> we should recognize the extreme difficulty in proven some of these sexual offenses without fresh complaints. as a prosecutor, i dreaded 20
years ago, but so much worse now when you have a victim who comes forward and says six months ago. six months ago is an extremely hard case to prove. you have no physical evidence. you have no contemporaneous evidence you can see. all you have is, as they say, he said and she said. that's really a damn hard case to prove. and the military takes them on all the time. >> thank you. i have been told by our monitors here we have time for one more question. this one is a bit philosophical, which is probably presented to the wrong guy here. but the question is, where are these american soldiers now? does it serve public interest for them to share their stories publicly to bring healing and/or closure to the events of my lai. i'll address the entire panel here.
>> ok. according to the source of all knowledge, which is either wikipedia or google, callie is still alive. he was born in 1942, so he's 75, 76. he lives in gainesville, florida. he has never apologized or admitted responsibility. he still says he was following orders. he did at a kiwanis club luncheon, i think a kiwanis club, might have been rotary, some years ago, said he was sort of sorry for what happened at my lai. i think that's about it. ron ridenouer is dead. he died in his 50's while playing handball. very sad. hugh thompson has passed away, as have the two crewmen who were with him on the helicopter. they're also both dead. samuel died five or six years ago.
earnest medina, i believe, is still alive. paul meadlow is still alive, and that's a very interesting story. meadlow, the one who admitted to killing all of the villagers at my lai, the following day, my lai stepped on a, meadlow stepped on a land mine and it blew his foot off. and he insists that that was god's punishment for what he had done at my lai the day before. he is still alive. he lives in indiana. the last time i checked, many of these people, because it's been more than 50 years ago have passed from the scene, so certainly, i think, it probably would be a good idea if they wanted to talk. but that's not really up to this panel. >> i would just simply add that as a learning organization, with or without those soldiers' presence, we know their stories.
we know most of show less text joseph berger the facts. we won't know why it took 79 hours in the deliberation room. we won't know why they did some of the things they did. but we've got enough to learn the lessons, and i think that's the more critical piece. yes, there is a fascination that would follow from having their physical presence here and their participation, but i don't think it's at all necessary for us to move forward. >> if i could just make a few observations about my experiences overseas. i went to afghanistan, kandahar province in march 2010. the 5-2 stryker brigade. it was a kill team that was operating at the time. sergeant was sort of the ring leader. and basically some thrill kills that came to light a couple
months or two after i came home. it was ironic because, when it first came to ramrod, the 2-1 headquarters, i walked in the s-2x shop, and they said, oh, the one guy said oh, you're here for the other guy, literally, no. ok. so at the time, they were investigating these killings at the time. and it came out later. so i tell you what really impressed me was the commander, everyone else, is how seriously, i didn't know about the investigation, but how seriously they took any allegation. i remember one of the afghan contractors apparently got shoved by an american soldier. the battalion commander just read the riot act. you do not do that. he was serious. the second vignette was when i
went to camp eric john in september, october of 2014, when the isil situation was beginning to heat up over there. the general was a three star who was essentially running the war from a camp in kuwait. the last person he would look at before he gave an order, literally, there were times when we were looking at a satellite feed of an individual isil soldier somewhere out in iraq, and general terry was going to give the order for a drone to drop a bomb or an f-18 or whatever. the last person he looked at was the jag. if the jag said no, it wasn't going to happen. every level, they were, you know, minding their p's and q's, and it was very impressive. i think that, again, whatever the individuals that may be with us from my lai, i think we have learned a lesson. in many ways.
i think let's not forget. >> this sort of brings us to the end of our session. i would like to thank the panel of my learned colleagues for sharing their experiences and knowledge. but also i would like to thank all of you who came out today. this was an ugly day in the history of the u.s. army and the united states of america, but it's one that we should never forget to make sure that it never happens again. thank you. [applause] >> interested in american history tv? visit our website.
schedule,ew our tv preview upcoming programs, and watch college lectures, museum tours, archival films, and more. american history tv at c-span.org/historytv. >> tonight, south carolina republicans discuss their friendship and time in congress. they are interviewed by jim demint. >> one of the things i enjoy trey,having dinner with rarely is the occasion that someone doesn't stop that is not from here and thanks him for his service. this is just a fun experience. it is also meaningful and significant to look into his cranial cavity about the perspective he takes on really important issues. you find very quickly