Was My Lai a war crime?

Status
Closed
Jul 2015
87
Australia
#1
If My Lai was a war crime why didn't the United Nations get involved? Only Lt Calley was sentenced and released after 3 yrs. Why were the rest of the soldiers on trial acquitted?

Most of the soldiers including Calley said they were only following orders but this is not an accepted excuse in war crime trials.

Was this a miscarriage of justice?
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,579
#3
If My Lai was a war crime why didn't the United Nations get involved? Only Lt Calley was sentenced and released after 3 yrs. Why were the rest of the soldiers on trial acquitted?

Most of the soldiers including Calley said they were only following orders but this is not an accepted excuse in war crime trials.

Was this a miscarriage of justice?
The ICC wasn't established until 1998. The US, China, Israel, Iraq, Libya, Qatar and Yemen have refused to sign on.

Prior to it UN commissions were purely ad-hoc formations. And for the duration of the Cold War it was deemed impossible to reach any kind of agreement on how a court should function, so no such initiatives. The ICC only came about because the Cold War ended.

Otoh the US army instituted the Lieber Code as early as in 1863.
 
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stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,343
Las Vegas, NV USA
#4
It was a war crime, or rather over 500 war crimes because that's the number of innocent women, children and old men who were killed. In addition many women were gang raped before being shot or bayonetted to death. One person, Lt William Calley, was convicted on 22 counts of murder. He faced life in prison but was pardoned by President Nixon. Ernest Medina, in overall command at the scene had charges dropped. Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson testified he saw Medina shooting an unarmed woman. Medina said he thought she had a grenade. Thompson was a helicopter pilot who flew over the scene and landed. He ordered his crew to shoot the next soldier who tried to kill a civilian. This effectively ended the carnage.

The UN has no power to prosecute.

My Lai Massacre - Wikipedia
 
Last edited:

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,080
Dispargum
#5
Most of the soldiers including Calley said they were only following orders but this is not an accepted excuse in war crime trials.
Actually the precedent set at Nuremberg that 'following orders is no excuse' has been weakened in the years since then. The famous Milgram Experiments (where test subjects thought they were administering electric shocks to people who gave the wrong answers to test questions) proved that disobeying orders is actually quite difficult to do. No army encourages its soldiers to disobey orders. The trend in recent years has been to punish only the one who gives the orders.
 
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Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
34,593
T'Republic of Yorkshire
#7
Actually the precedent set at Nuremberg that 'following orders is no excuse' has been weakened in the years since then. The famous Milgram Experiments (where test subjects thought they were administering electric shocks to people who gave the wrong answers to test questions) proved that disobeying orders is actually quite difficult to do. No army encourages its soldiers to disobey orders. The trend in recent years has been to punish only the one who gives the orders.
I thought it was the "Yamashita standard" that was overturned, in that the commanding officer "should have" been aware.
 
Jul 2016
9,562
USA
#8
If My Lai was a war crime why didn't the United Nations get involved? Only Lt Calley was sentenced and released after 3 yrs. Why were the rest of the soldiers on trial acquitted?

Most of the soldiers including Calley said they were only following orders but this is not an accepted excuse in war crime trials.

Was this a miscarriage of justice?
What jurisdiction would the UN have? Are they going to threaten war against the US to get him, because the US does not turn over anyone to the Hague. And the UN, especially then, was the US.

It was a miscarriage in that he was pardoned. But there was some cause, because US public opinion was claiming he was a scapegoat and his sentence was too harsh. It wasn't, I think he should have been shot immediately upon being found guilty. The problem was he should NEVER have been allowed to command a platoon, he should never have received the orders he did from his company commander (who should have gone down just as hard, but was found not guilty, another miscarriage). His battalion and brigade commander both also gave out orders that alluded to Calley doing what he did, and they didn't go down either. The whole damn chain of command should have burned, and since they didn't that was a chief reason Nixon pardoned him. The Army was clearly not going to go after the other criminals, his immediate chain of command who'd essentially gave orders to commit mass murder, so Calley was a scapegoat. Just one who was also guilty as sin and should have been put down like a mad dog.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,080
Dispargum
#9
I thought it was the "Yamashita standard" that was overturned, in that the commanding officer "should have" been aware.
I can't speak to the Yamashita standard. It's not the same thing as "I was only following orders."

The Yamashita or Medina standard applies to the officer giving the orders. Denial of the "following orders" defense applies to the men carrying out the orders. I was only answering why Calley's men were not convicted. Since Nuremberg military courts have more sympathy for the "I was following orders" defense.
 
Jul 2015
87
Australia
#10
What is the US Army's official position on My Lai? Do they recognize it as a War Crime? Is it seen as a grave miscarriage of justice?

Should an official apology be made to Vietnam and reparations made to the descendants of the villagers?
 
Status
Closed