2013 Distinguished Lectureship in American History & Culture
“My Lai: An American Atrocity in Vietnam”
With William T. Allison, Ph.D.
Held Thursday, April 11
The My Lai Incident
On March 16, 1968, the men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai, located in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, where the Vietcong were deeply entrenched. Numerous members of Charlie Company had been maimed or killed in the area during the preceding weeks. The agitated troops, under the command of Lt. William Calley, entered the village poised for engagement with their elusive enemy.
As members of Charlie Company entered the village, they began shooting, and before long they had massacred over 300 apparently unarmed civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had never been a report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them in a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.
Word of what had occurred in My Lai did not reach the American public until November 1969, when journalist Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with a Vietnam veteran, Ron Ridenhour. Ridenhour learned of the events at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Before speaking with Hersh, he had appealed to Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to investigate the matter. The military investigation resulted in Calley being charged with murder in September 1969.
At his trial, Calley testified that he was ordered by Captain Ernest Medina to kill everyone in the village of My Lai. Still, there was only enough photographic and recorded evidence to convict Calley, alone, of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was released by President Richard M. Nixon in 1974 (PBS Series My Lai)
About the author
William T. Allison, Professor at Georgia Southern University, earned a M.A. from East Texas State University in 1991, and a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University in 1995. Dr. Allison’s primary academic focus is on U.S. Diplomatic and Military History. Since graduating from BGSU, Dr. Allison has authored or co-authored a combination of 16 book and magazine articles on this subject.
During the 2012-2013 academic school year, Dr. Allison has served as the General Harold K. Johnson Chair in Military History at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Previously, he served as a Visiting Professor at the U.S. Air Force School for Advanced Air and Space Studies, and at the U.S. Air Force War College. Dr. Allison also serves on the editorial advisory board for the Journal of Military History.
This program is made possible, in part, by the Ohio Humanities Council with support by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities, or of the Ohio Humanities Council.