My Lai incident

My Lai incident mē lī [key], in the Vietnam War, a massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers. On Mar. 16, 1968, a unit of the U.S. army Americal division, led by Lt. William L. Calley, invaded the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai (more correctly, Son My), an alleged Viet Cong stronghold. In the course of combat operations, unarmed civilians, including women and children, were shot to death (the final army estimate for the number killed was 347). The incident remained unknown to the American public until the autumn of 1969, when a series of letters by a former soldier to government officials forced the army to take action. Several soldiers and veterans were charged with murder, and a number of officers were accused of dereliction of duty for covering up the incident. Special investigations by the U.S. army and the House of Representatives concluded that a massacre had in fact taken place. Of the many soldiers originally charged, only five were court-martialed, and one, Lt. Calley, convicted. On Mar. 29, 1971, he was found guilty of the premeditated murder of at least twenty-two Vietnamese civilians and sentenced to life imprisonment. His sentence was later reduced to 10 years, and in Sept., 1974, a federal district court overturned the conviction and Calley was released. The My Lai incident aroused widespread controversy and contributed to growing disillusionment in the United States with the Vietnam War. The U.S. army formally released a report on its investigation of the incident in Nov., 1974. In 1998 three U.S. soldiers saved Vietnamese civilians during the massacre were honored with the Soldier's Medal.

See R. Hammer, The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley (1971) S. M. Hersh, Mylai 4 (1970) and Cover-up (1972) W. T. Allison, My Lai (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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