During the My Lai Massacre, was it illegal to follow orders?

I'm writing an essay for my US History class and need to know. I know the troops are supposed to be able to distinguish ethical from unethical....but during this time, was it 'illegal?' In my paper I argued that it was more of a moral crime than a legal crime, but is this true? If they receive an order, even if it's unethical and followed it out, would that be deemed illegal during 1968? Maybe now, but in 1968 was it?


3 Answers

  • Will
    Lv 7
    10 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    It was illegal then and the commander of the platoon, 2nd Lt. William Calley, was originally sentenced to life imprisonment. But President Richard Nixon thought that massacres were a good thing, and commuted his sentence to three years house arrest.

    The hamlets of My Lai and My Khe in the village of Son My had a total of about 505 residents. This area was suspected of harboring a number of Viet Cong fighters, and a number of Americans had been killed or injured by the local VC during the Tet offensive a couple of months before. From Wikipedia:

    "U.S. forces planned a major offensive against those hamlets. Colonel Oran K. Henderson urged his officers to "go in there aggressively, close with the enemy and wipe them out for good." 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.

    On the eve of the attack, at the Charlie Company briefing, Captain Ernest Medina informed his men that nearly all the civilian residents of the hamlets in Sơn Mỹ village would have left for the market by 07:00 and that any who remained would be NLF or NLF sympathizers. He was also asked whether the order included the killing of women and children; those present at the briefing later gave different accounts of Medina's response. Some of the company soldiers, including platoon leaders, later testified that the orders as they understood them were to kill all guerrilla and North Vietnamese combatants and "suspects" (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells. He was also quoted as saying "They're all V.C. now go and get them" and was heard saying "Who is my enemy?" and added "Anybody that was running from us, hiding from us, or appeared to be the enemy. If a man was running, shoot him, sometimes even if a woman with a rifle was running, shoot her." "

    You will have to read for yourself the incredibly gory and disgraceful actions that went on that day. There were only 10 survivors, all rescued by medical helicopter units **ignoring armed threats from US troops**. All of the rescue personnel were later awarded the Soldier's Medal, the highest award the Army can bestow not involving direct conflict with the enemy.

    There is no accurate count of the dead, as many of the bodies were dumped in mass graves, only to be later properly buried by their surviving neighbors. The official Army news release initially stated that 128 Viet Cong and 22 civilians died in a fierce fire fight. But no one in those hamlets was ever found to have any weapons. There are 504 names on the memorial, almost all women and children. More than 30 babies were among those killed. Many of the dead, both women and children, showed signs of sexual assault before they were killed.

    Out of all that, only one person ever went to trial, and he served three years house arrest. Everybody involved in this was a disgrace to the flag and the uniform. Now, you tell me if this was "illegal" or not.

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  • 10 years ago

    Look up the UCMJ that was in effect at the time of My Lia. But also you must remember that these troops were under stress from fighting in a war and taking fire from buildings. A soldier has the ability to disobey any order that he/she feels is illegal. Killing of unarmed civilians is considered Illegal. Most of the solders in Calley's Platoon could use a defense of "I was only following orders" but Calley was convicted of not keeping control of his men and allowing the massacre to take place.


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  • ecker
    Lv 4
    3 years ago

    in accordance to the regulations of engagement and what's uncomplicated legal floor interior the protection rigidity - as defined interior the conflict crime tribunals after WW II - interior the scientific care of civilians, it unquestionably exchange into not in basic terms incorrect...yet criminally so. victims - unarmed civilians, none of "military" age and no sign of weapons interior the hamlet - sexually abused, crushed, tortured, and bodies mutilated is a protection rigidity that not in basic terms lacks self-discipline, yet isn't something below a roving band of terrorists. And in lots of techniques, the canopy-up exchange into in basic terms as worse via fact the crimes against humanity.

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