The standard explanation for the My Lai massacre, considered “the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War,” is that the U.S. soldiers fighting in Quang Ngai province were victims of circumstance.
The mental and physical strain of such brutal, unrelenting guerilla warfare fomented an “atrocity-producing situation.” The view of the perpetrators of the tragedy simultaneously being the victims has been popularly accepted and depicted in films such as Platoon, Born on The Fourth of July, and The Deer Hunter.
After scouring through 8,000 pages of perpetrator testimony and 5,000 pages of official documents, historian Marshall Poe arrived at a different conclusion, which he meticulously delineates in his new book, The Reality of the My Lai Massacre and the Myth of the Vietnam War.
The soldiers who carried out the atrocities on the morning of March 16th, 1968, were not unthinking animals, overtaken by mob mentality and no longer able to decipher right from wrong.
They were told by their superiors to completely raze the village and kill anything that moved, as the military intelligence told them only Viet Cong sympathizers remained.
Marshall Poe (PhD, University of California, Berkeley) is the founder and editor of the New Books Network (NBN), a consortium of author-interview podcast channels dedicated to public education. Dr. Poe taught history at Harvard University, New York University, Columbia University, and the University of Iowa.
He served as an editor and writer at The Atlantic magazine, and his previous publications include ‘A People Born to Slavery’: Russia in Early Modern European Ethnography, 1476–1748, The Russian Moment in World History, The Russian Elite in the Seventeenth Century, A History of Communications, and How to Read a History Book.