16.4.2008 Documentary and Discussion: 40 years since the My Lai massacre – any lessons learned?

The Ius Gentium association organized a discussion based on the documentary film on “40 years since My Lai massacre – any lessons learned?”

Even though the May Lai massacre happened 40 years ago, many of the issues are still very much present in the current world. In March 1968 a company of American soldiers got a mission to clean up a village called My Lai in South Vietnam. It was suspected that the 48th Battalion of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front was hiding in the area after retreating from the TET offensive in January 1968. Lieutenant-Colonel Frank A. Barker ordered the 1st Battalion commanders to burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells. As a result some 347 to 504 unarmed citizens of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), mostly civilians and majority of them women and children were massacred. It took a year before the incident made front page news in the USA in 1969. In the aftermath Second Lieutenant William Calley was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment, but was paroled immediately by President Nixon. The outcome of the My Lai court martial was a reversal of the laws of war that were set forth in the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals, which set a historic precedent, establishing the principle that no one may be excused from responsibility for war crimes because they were “following orders”.

The documentary on the My Lai massacre was followed by commentaries and discussion on what effect it had on other wars and whether some lessons could still be learned. The discussants were Juhani Kortteinen and Jarna Petman.