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FOUR HOURS IN MY LAI by Michael Bilton

FOUR HOURS IN MY LAI

The Soldiers of Charlie Company

By Michael Bilton (Author) , Kevin Sim (Author)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-670-84296-6
Publisher: Viking

 Brilliantly realized study of the infamous Vietnam War atrocity in which US soldiers burned a Vietnamese village to the ground, shot the livestock, raped the women, and drove 400 men, women, and children into a ditch to slaughter them with machine- gun fire. Bilton and Sim (Women at War, 1982)--who co-produced an Emmy-winning TV-documentary on My Lai--begin by speaking with Varnardo Simpson, gunner with Charlie Company, 1969; for 20 years he has imprisoned himself in a tiny shack, tortured by memories. Through extraordinary research, the authors go on to discover the sad fates of several of Simpson's fellow vets; talk with Vietnamese survivors of the bloodbath; reveal facts cloaked by the Army's court-martial system; expose White House machinations to obscure ``a grave breach'' of the 1949 Geneva Convention; and document a coverup involving dozens of officers right up to the rank of major general. Only one soldier was court-martialed for the massacre: Lt. William Calley. And, as the authors explain, initial public outrage gave way, apparently as the result of manipulations by Richard Nixon, to the sentiment that Calley was a martyr: When the soldier was convicted of premeditated murder, Nixon ordered him released from Leavenworth. By the authors' account, there was only one hero at My Lai: young helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson. Seeing Charlie Company driving children to the killing ditch, Thompson landed in front of troops, trained his machine guns on them, and rescued the children. In a supreme irony, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross: his sound judgment ``had greatly enhanced Vietnamese-American relations in the operational area.'' Thompson threw the decoration away. Savagery, the authors declare, has been endemic to every American conflict: in 1902, US troops in the Philippines slaughtered ``goo-goos'' indiscriminately; in WW II, soldiers sent their girlfriends Japanese skulls. But why is it continually repeated? ``Massacre has a short shelf life,'' say Bilton and Sim. Essential for the war scholar's bookshelf; for the generalist, a profoundly moving human document. (Eight pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)