March 16, 2014
As most of you know that I’m in Tokyo, so today is Sunday. Sunday, for me, is a day of reflection, but I suspect in Japan it is just another work day. On March 16, 1968, it’s the anniversary of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war. Forty-six years ago, the world at least changed in the U.S. for the worst. It was a shock to one’s system to realize that evil can occur in any country or culture. It is just not a national issue, but also how one looks at the or perhaps better stated ‘their’ world. What makes a group of U.S. soldiers commit murder on innocent villagers. Not only the male adults, but the aged, the women, and of course the children. What makes a soldier put a group of these people in a hut, and shoot them in the head. Or launch a live grenade in a space full of people. Was it out of fear, or nerves? How can one order a village to be wiped out, including the food supply there as well as every living animal? Yet after the investigation, they found one soldier, guilty of the crime. Eventually he was sentenced to life, but alas, he was let go within a couple of years.
By a weird coincidence, the Nazi SS doctor Josef Mengele was born today, the same date as the My Lai massacre. He had an obsession with twins from the concentration camps, and committed unthinkable experiments on them. He was also nice to the children at the camps, but within hours he could have those kids killed without giving a second thought. It was pointed out that when he experimented on living people, he would whistle a melody. History doesn’t know the song, and perhaps that is all for the best. He killed countless people, perhaps it is a good thing that we are spared to know the song or classical piece.
As I write this on a very sunny chilly morning in Tokyo, I think how is it possible for me to write a horror narrative that actually took place. Jean-Luc Godard has mentioned that it’s impossible to film the Holocaust because the images are too unspeakable. Alain Renasis by passed that by making his “Night and Fog” into a work of memory, which made the horror even more intense and disturbing. Famously, Jerry Lewis tried to film an aspect of the Holocaust in his unreleased film "The Day The Clown Cried." It doesn't work, because the imagination fails to grasp such horror. Even looking at a picture of Mengele and Second Lieutenant William Calley, who was responsible for the massacre at My Lai, is obscene to me.
Oddly enough, Calley was not admired by his troops. It has been noted that he had trouble reading maps and compass. A must for a person in his position, yet he had no trouble following orders to kill an entire village. The dispute is who gave the orders. Calley claimed he got direct orders to do the massacre from Captain Ernest Median. The confusion is between the wording of the actual order. According to Captain Median, he ordered that all Viet Cong soldiers are expected to be killed, but Calley read this order as killing all the Vietnese in the village. A misunderstanding of the wording of an order? Captain Median was acquitted, but Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor. This caused a great deal of debate in the United States, where many felt that Calley was a scapegoat, or the fact that he was the only one convicted in the crime. Some even saw him as a hero! Ironically the most interesting defense came from Commanding Officer Chae Myung Shin, who was in the South Korean Vietnam Expeditonary Forces. He commented that "Calley tried to get revenge for the deaths of his troops. In a war, this is natural. ”
Nevertheless evil is evil. Dr. Mengele disappeared to South America after the war, and Calley ended up paroled by President Nixon. Calley at the time served under house arrest for three and a half years. On August 19, 2009, he spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus. He was quoted as saying:
“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry....If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them—foolishly, I guess. ”