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My Lai Provides Unbiased Overview of a Somewhat Forgotten Tragedy This book was reviewed as part of 's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the bookMy Lai can be viewed as a tragic on two levels one the events comprising My Lai itself and two its rather suppressed place in modern American history Seemingly lost between the magnitude of World War II atrocities and recent events such as Abu Ghraib My Lai appears to be nothing than a nasty footnote of a war that most Americans would rather forget altogether While the specific who did what aspects of My Lai will never be fully understood William Allison provides a well rounded educational summary of the tragedy with MY LAI AN AMERICAN ATROCITY IN THE VIETNAM WARMy Lai refers to the murder of possibly 504 Vietnamese citizensnon combatants including women children and the elderly by American soldiers specifically Charlie Company of the Americal Division on March 16 1968 as well as the subseuent investigation and attempt to prosecute those involved The incident's impact was profound as it fueled the escalating anti war sentiment in the United States by symbolizing everything that was deemed wrong about the Vietnam War and the men fighting it baby killers Further the Army's failure to follow up on initial reports of the killing and its fumbling attempt to successfully prosecute anyone responsible other than a single low grade officer hinted a high level cover up The entire situation was a clouded mess and remains such to this very dayWith MY LAI William Allison provides a rather succinct overview 134 pages of events leading up to the massacre the massacre itself and its aftermath As part of the Witness to History series of books it reads as a simple unbiased presentation of facts and I never felt it steering me to favor any particular side of the story The first chapters provide readers with some critical background information about the state of the war in Vietnam at the time mainly the response to the Tet Offensive the composition of the US Army and specifically the events Charlie Company faced prior to March 16 While this information is not presented as an attempt to excuse eventual wrong doing it clearly identifies plausible contributing factors such as Charlie Company men being killed by snipers mines and booby traps inducing ragerevenge Allison's detailing of the massacre itself which comprised a series of separate incidents is thorough blunt and disturbing I had seen some of the standard pictures of My Lai over the years but never knew the details until I read Allison's book the details shocked me The book somewhat grinds to a crawl describing events following the massacre starting with the military's rather sluggish reaction to reports of the incident despite repeated pleas from eyewitnesses Most readers will be amazed that it took over a year before the details of My Lai became public even though the visceral nature of the massacre was thoroughly documented by a photographer When the wheels of military justice begin to move enough time had passed to make prosecuting the perpetrators almost impossible Fading memories insufficient evidence conflicting interpretations of orders finger pointing and excuses all factor as issues hampering the process In the end only one individual Lt William Calley is ultimately held accountable for his actions at My Lai Allison's closing chapter that places My Lai into historical context and illustrates some of its long standing impactI found MY LAI as a concise and well sourced study of a seriously understated tragedy in modern American military history I was only vaguely familiar with the subject matter prior to reading Allison's book and while 134 pages does not allow for an all inclusive account it does provide an effective education on the subject matter I finished the book realizing that all the facts will likely never be known confined only in the memories of the individuals that were involved This book definitely stirred a desire to delve deeper into the subject matter Liked that while the author did not take a stance he was able to describe how others felt and thought about what occurred at My Lai This was a good cronology with than 25% of the book being devoted to the bibliography The writer acknowledges the Zeitgeist I appreciate that even though some will not acknowledge that the horrific events occurred as those who are too horrified to acknowledge the holocaust there are plenty who were there who do acknowledge and even appologize for the events of March 16 1968 and much The book was extremely technical filled with Army gargon and loaded with acronyms The author does a good job by writing out the words directly after using an acronym I learned a lot and understand why many of our men who served in Vietnam do not speak of what they did and others exaggerate where they were and what they actually did Enough of the mysterygetting it out and telling the truth is the only way to live life fully One of the curious conseuences of the My Lai massacre was that hawks of the right and peaceniks of the left agreed on the cause it was the warThe sensible middle which includes most professional military people think this is nonsense It was murder pure and simple done by murderers The peculiar stresses of That War unuestionably were a factor they allow but scores of thousands of GIs faced similar stress without slaughtering civiliansThe sensible middle is closest to the truth but there are two systemic failures that make us search for larger meaning The first is that the episode did not become public until a year and a half after it happened The second is that there was only one conviction of 1st Lieutenant William Calley who served just three and a half years of confinement in his apartment before walking freeProfessor Allison finds no sinister conspiracy in these failures He attributes them to negligence incompetence failed and contorted memories lack of witnesses and politics most Americans thought Calley was a victim and should be freedThis excellent book is not a work of original research but a crisp meta digest of the large existing literature It seems to be designed as a kind of case study for college classesTwo million Americans served in Vietnam over ten years The bulk of the killings at My Lai were carried out by a dozen members of a single renegade platoon Maybe it was statistically inevitable that a combination of fear exhaustion bad leadership and bad intelligence would operate in a uniuely toxic way on one tiny subset of the warrior population But that should not lead us into such idiocies as the shuddersome Ballad of Lt Calley to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic or Duke Professor William Chafe's ignorant proclamation that My Lai was the ultimate conseuence of the American venture in VietnamMichael Belknap a law professor who wrote the definitive history of the Calley trial much cited by Allison once told me that in his years of research the Americans angriest about the atrocity were professional soldiers Ponder that This work has the benefit of being a recent retelling of a distant but important event in American history I'm researching a possible book on the WWII Yamashita case on command responsibility implicated in the My Lai trials 32 years later so I do have some familiarity with this incident and the relevant military law I can tell you that the author has done formidable research on the My Lai event and trials judging by his bibliography Suggested Further Reading in which he found intelligently all the important and relevant sources on My Lai and related matters Today this My Lai research has the benefit of the archives now on the internet that previous My Lai authors might not have had so a new 2012 work is dueAs the author noted the books archives and other resources on My Lai are as Mr Allison puts it overwhelming and it is praiseworthy that he has told the story of the atrocity the aftermath and the trials in 134 pages and even touches on recent events in the Ira war albeit briefly This work is thus a good concise introduction to a very large and murky event one that affected the course of the Vietnam War While he finds no major new revelations about this dreadful event he does provide a concise and clearly written account an executive summary On March 16 1968 American soldiers killed as many as five hundred Vietnamese men women and children in a village near the South China Sea In My Lai William Thomas Allison explores and evaluates the significance of this horrific event How could such a thing have happened Who or what should be held accountable How do we remember this atrocity and try to apply its lessons if anyMy Lai has fixed the attention of Americans of various political stripes for than forty years The breadth of writing on the massacre from news reports to scholarly accounts highlights the difficulty of establishing fact and motive in an incident during which confusion prejudice and self preservation overwhelmed the troopsSon of a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War—and aware that the generation who lived through the incident is aging—Allison seeks to ensure that our collective memory of this shameful episode does not fadeWell written and accessible Allison’s book provides a clear narrative of this historic moment and offers suggestions for how to come to terms with its aftermath Challenging to read at times because of both the subject matter and the necessarily technical level of details A disturbing look into the human psyche and the conditions that can lead ordinary people to commit atrocities I had little knowledge of the My Lai massacre before reading An easy read with coverage of the event itself and the aftermath A sad true story in American military history Can't believe I spent so many years reading books about the Holocaust trying to see why Germans were so different swayed by the lure of evilwhen the truth is it's in all of us

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