NEWS OF THE SLAUGHTER of civilians at My Lai 4 hamlet in March 1968 outraged the world, and the Nixon administration's attempt to conceal the report of the Peers commission which investigated the deaths deserves similar condemnation.
In his book Cover-up, Seymour Hersh has presented an analysis of the testimony of the officers and men of the American Division who were connected with the events at My Lai 4. For anyone interested in how the Army functions and how it investigates itself. Hersh's book is required reading.
For high officers of the Americal, the fear that publicizing the deaths of women and children at My Lai would ruin their careers stimulated them to stay silent. When Colonel Henderson asked General Koster, commander of the Americal, why the general had countermanded the colonel's order to have troops return to count bodies during the afternoon of the day of the killings, Koster answered that he did not think it was so important to find out how the "twenty" died. The number was actually between 200 and 400.
For lower-ranking officers and enlisted men, a stream of medals rewarded their gallantry against the unarmed civilians--thereby buying their silence as well.
Consider, for example, the case of helicopter pilot Thompson, who landed his craft in the midst of the slaughter by the Americal and who had his machine gunner train his weapon on Lietenant Calley. Calley was made to abstain from shooting 10 women and children whom Thompson whisked away to safety in his helicopter. Even though he had initially filed a report with superiors which condemned the killings, Thompson submitted another statement that the rescued civilians were hiding in a bunker "located between friendly and hostile forces engaged in a heavy fire fight." Thompson won the Distinguished Flying Cross, even though he had to invent the "heavy" fire fight to do so.
HERSH shows clearly how the self-serving attitudes of the Peers commission members mirrored those of the officers and men of the Americal. Peers would not allow Vietnam war opponents to testify, and one of the commission members--who went out of his way to self-righteously upbraid the officers of the Americal--is now himself accused of "failure to comply with written directions in connection with the murder in 1969...of at least five Vietnamese prisoners and electric torture of a sixth."
Typical of the coziness among high-ranking officers in the army was the pardoning of General Koster by General Seaman, the commander at Fort Meade, Maryland. Seaman's pardon forgave Koster on the basis of the "fact" that everything Koster had done, including not reporting the massacre to his superiors, was "understandable" given the circumstances.
Even while the Peers Commission was still conducting hearings into the massacre at My Lai 4, the army hushed up a massacre on a somewhat smaller scale at My Khe 4 humlet. Since the Nixon administration and the Army have taken such a lax attitude toward justice in the cases of Vietnamese civilians slaughtered by U.S. troops, it will be interesting to see just what course "justice" takes in post-Vietnam war America toward the Americans.