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Posted by on Jan 14, 2012 in Guest Contributor, Society, War | 15 comments

The Pee Lai Massacre in Bullet Points

Your news media at work: first, obtain the authentic photo of the actual story;
THEN black out anything in the photo that would actually show anything;
THEN slap your video logos and bumperstickers all over it.

• You know what I’m talking about.

• No army that ever marched didn’t have douchebags like these. You know these guys. And so do I.

They were the dumbasses who put the frog on the train tracks; who shot a rabbit and then kept shooting until they were out of ammunition and beer. They were the guys who came out of high school with no prospects, or military service was their only path to college. They were jerks, sure, but they were part of the American landscape. What they did was wrong, but we really need to grow up and understand that just because you’re an American doesn’t mean that everything you do is right, or just because you’re a capitalist doesn’t mean that everything you do is automatically beatified and blessed by the Ghod of the Almighty Dollar.

• How we handle the incident will tell the world more about who we are than these jerks will.

The thing that makes democracies admirable and currently hip is that we deal with crimes, not as a President-for-Life dictator, with a show trial, foreordained and tightly scripted, but a real adversary trial, with the opportunity for a defense, AND the added advantage of filling weeks of talking head shows on the not-quite-state-controlled media.

Since I won’t be serving on the jury, I can state my prejudgment here: it was a stupid thing to do, but there are rules against doing it in the military because such stupidity too often costs human lives, needlessly. That kind of stupid behavior can be dominoes to murder and that’s why it’s a straight up violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

If these dorks get a fair trial and a fair sentence, that will be in keeping with our idea of Who We Are, and, more importantly, what the World thinks about Who We Are. If we let them off easy ‘cuz (insert defense here), or needlessly crucify them to palliate ruffled foreign feathers, etc. that may tell us Who We Are in a way that we probably don’t quite want to accept. That is the nature of trials: everyone is on trial.

Here’s an excerpt from a military trial a few years ago. (I’ll give you the link at the bottom):

Capt. John Riesenberg, assistant government trial counsel, told the jury that their sentence should be aimed at stopping other first sergeants and soldiers from doing what the Company A soldiers did.

Send a message to the world that this is an army that recognizes that it is different, that American soldiers just don’t do this. They don’t execute detainees in the middle of the night by shooting them in the back of the head when they are bound and blindfolded and dump their bodies in a canal,” he said….

• Do the Afghans know that douches like this exist?


• What’s astonishing is that we still don’t.

That’s NOT a “Duh.” When the wars began, it was tantamount to treason to suggest that any American soldier would, at any time or for any reason, do anything stupid like that. In fact, the last time such images showed up on the internet, the web site operator was bullied out of business and the images of “crispy critters” from Iraq (that looks a lot like that urination video, come to think of it) vanished from sight as much as the collective memory of the internet would allow.

Or that trial I cited above.

• What did we expect when we stupidly went to an “all Volunteer” army? That the best and brightest would volunteer?

Another of Tricky Dick Nixon’s evil legacies, along with “The Postal Service®,” Amtrak™, it’s the All-Volunteer Army±.  We have seen how the horrors of our longest wars have been hidden from us, as a steady stream of coffins has come back from the Middle East, and we have learned to tune it out, as we learned to tune out homelessness since it showed up in Modern America in 1983.

And, considering that I was born on the fourteenth anniversary of the LAST TIME AMERICA EVER DECLARED WAR (on Hitler and Mussolini), we now have undeclared wars fought around the world by unknown soldiers. And if that smacks more of the French Foreign Legion than the United States of America, well, it ought to.

• Or kids with zero prospects out of high school.

The problem with the “All Volunteer Army” is that the society is insulated from the effects of war. Draft a couple congressman’s kids, and you get closer scrutiny of the war. If things turn inhuman, craven politicians and mouthpieces say, “Hey! They VOLUNTEERED!” Thus is “stop-loss” neatly rationalized. At the beginning of the wars, a lot of average Joes signed up, for the same reasons they signed up after Pearl Harbor. But the wars dragged on, as forgotten legionnaires trek the far corners of the globe for reasons of empire, and forgotten goals of statecraft. The armed forces have had horrific problems in retaining qualified officers.

And the last time that the United States of America declared war was on December 11, 1941. (When it was still called the “War Department.”)

• You can tell they’re not that bright, just from them being stupid enough to video it, and then someone in their penumbra posting it on YouTube.

Again, duh.

• Now, we will witness the whole breast-beating and the public example-making, as has been necessary since ancient Greece.

There is a reason for the ceremony and ritual of the courtroom, of the trial. Each time it is practiced with fidelity, we either renew our commitment to justice, or we betray our attempts to foil justice. This is a necessary adjunct to a civil and democratic society, and, even held in a military court, an important guarantee of the rights of the accused, and the just punishment of guilt by society.

Statue of Justice outside Bexar County Courthouse,
San Antonio, Texas

• Which is why I call it the Pee Lai Massacre.

We went through an infamous ritual many years ago called the “My Lai Massacre.” You might recall that John Kerry was loudly denounced after his Vietnam service, because he and other Vietnam veterans were revealing incidents every bit a horrific as Pee Lai, and to the order of My Lai, in which an entire village was taken and executed:

The My Lai Massacre was theVietnam War mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968, by United States Army soldiers of “Charlie” Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the Americal Division. Most of the victims were women, children (including babies), and elderly people. Many were raped, beaten, and tortured, and some of the bodies were later found to be mutilated….  [Wikipedia]

And the America Right or Wrong crowd was out there to screech that Calley was a noble American soldier being scapegoated, etc. etc. Only then, they didn’t have Fox News (and, increasingly, CNN*) for a megaphone.

CNN political analyst Dana Loesch celebrated the U.S. Marines who appear to have urinated on the bodies of dead Taliban members during her radio show on Thursday.

“Now we have a bunch of progressives that are talking smack about our military because there were marines caught urinating on corpses, Taliban corpses,” Loesch said during her radio program on FM News Talk 97.1. “Can someone explain to me if there’s supposed to be a scandal that someone pees on the corpse of a Taliban fighter? Someone who, as part of an organization, murdered over 3,000 Americans? I’d drop trou and do it too. That’s me though. I want a million cool points for these guys. Is that harsh to say? Come on people, this is a war. What do people think this is?”

The My Lai massacred

• Who will be “Lt. Calley”?

For various reasons, Lt. William Calley became the poster boy for Apocalypse Now-style excesses of our long national nightmare in Vietnam. He was eventually convicted, served time, and now runs a jewelry store near an army base in the South.

While 26 US soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses for their actions at My Lai, only Second Lieutenant William Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but only served three and a half years under house arrest…. [ibid.]

In certain circles, the recriminations and rationalizations continue, just as there are those, like Ann Coulter, who argue that the McCarthy Era and Vietnam were good and noble and honorable endeavors.

Just as there are still those who call the Civil War “The War of Northern Aggression.”

Second Lieutenant William Calley

• We’re about to find out.

You heard it here, first.

I seem to recall that the entire Rightie Blogosmear rose up in 2007 against a lone soldier in Iraq who anonymously chronicled such behavior.

Because, as we were continually screeched by the Industrial-Military-Media Complex:  NO AMERICAN SOLDIER EVER DOES ANYTHING BAD EVER.

His name was Scott Thomas Beauchamp.

His sergeant is now serving a sentence for murder, for execution-style killings.

• That link I promised you at the top is to the Stars and Stripes story about his conviction: NCO gets life for slaying Iraqi detainees.


h/t Mac M.


A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.

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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • SteveK

    Thanks Hart for another apropos and on the mark post.

    When a nation trains it’s ‘grunts’ to be either ‘the quick or the dead’ and, from the start, works to remove personal values from the equation what do (or should) they expect?

    As usual, and unfortunately, those don’t agree with what you write won’t comment because you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    And, as usual, most of us who agree with you won’t comment because why write when Hart’s ‘right’… Generally we remain silent, too.


  • Allen

    In June 1859, the Swiss businessman Henry Dunant traveled to Italy to meet French emperor Napoléon III with the intention of discussing difficulties in conducting business in Algeria, at that time occupied by France. When he arrived in the small town of Solferino on the evening of 24 June, he witnessed the Battle of Solferino, an engagement in the Austro-Sardinian War. In a single day, about 40,000 soldiers on both sides died or were left wounded on the field. Henry Dunant was shocked by the terrible aftermath of the battle, the suffering of the wounded soldiers, and the near-total lack of medical attendance and basic care. He completely abandoned the original intent of his trip and for several days he devoted himself to helping with the treatment and care for the wounded. He succeeded in organizing an overwhelming level of relief assistance by motivating the local population to aid without discrimination. Taken From Wiki-

    Henry Dunant started a movement and changed the world. Not by much, but ever increasing. Practicing Mercy Humanity Respect and Law can lead us one day to end man’s greatest inhumanity; the self destruction of the human species. It is not a peace-nik movement with signs, demonstrations, or slogans. It is an awakening, a dedication, a learning, a service, a sacrifice, it is secular and it is non-secular. It is a seed planted in the minds of men for a harvest of tomorrow. It is a war against war itself based on common sense. A nation that boldly or arrogantly describes itself as noble cannot deny Mercy, Humanity Respect and Law as it’s basic conduct in war. This is something we can grab onto as people. The idea that there is nothing more noble to fight for, as a soldier, or, just as an individual, than to fight for an end to the bloodshed. The simple idea, that if you do not have to harm, don’t. Punish those that do.

    Or nation put it’s name on the Genève Conventions, ratified by Congress. Our military is one of the noblest in history, it states that it’s endeavor is to put itself out of business. I am very proud of that statement. I, a veteran, say to our national leaders and our military: Then prove it! Uphold the ICRC. Seriously embrace the noble value they teach. Actively work to find ways to instill these noble ideals into America’s Military. Invite the ICRC, make them welcome at every opportunity. Lead the world to peace.

  • The writer definitely has anger issues against the military. His/her logic is seriously flawed.

    Actually I think there is too much uproar about these Marines. I definitely agree it was stupid act but a serious crime. The taliban soldiers were already dead. This is nothing compared to the My Lai Massacre were innocent civilians were killed. You have definitely turned the logic circuits off when you wrote this column. The operators of this website should seriously consider you right to post comments.

    You are against a volunteer army because you think the soldiers are stupid because anyone who joins must be stupid. I know many people who are members of the armed forces (including some of my 5 children). Didn’t the My Lai Massacre happened during the draft days. If you were a professional soldier, would you want draftees in the unit who didn’t want to be in the military?

    You probably call the soldiers dumb because the enlisted men for the most part didn’t attend college (their choice). I call college students (or grads) that spent over $100,000 for a degree (like sustainability) that can’t get a job (and pay back the loans), the real DA’s.

  • zephyr

    The “my country right or wrong” mentality has been with us a long time, my first acquaintance with it came during the Vietnam years when it acheived a prominent role. Near as I can tell it requires bypassing a portion of the brain involved with critical thinking ability. Of course not everyone cares to be burdened with thinking, especially if they believe there is precedent for an easy exemption – in this case an imagined and twisted sort of patriotism.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    @ Hart
    First a disclaimer:

    If I have misunderstood some of your (bullet) points, I guess it can be chalked up to me being one of those “kids with zero prospects out of high school” who volunteered for serving in the “all Volunteer Army,” an army where we “stupidly expected” that “the best and brightest would volunteer.”

    Second, my total agreement with some other bullet points that I believe I do understand:

    That what those Marines did is a stupid thing.

    That hopefully the UCMJ will take care of them and their stupidity.

    That it is absolutely wrong to “celebrate” and in any way justify this horrific act.

    That every Army has some bad apples (You call them “douchebags”)

    That not having the draft does insulate society from the effects of war, and that if some of these politicians’ kids were drafted and hauled off to Iraq and Afghanistan and face the same lot that so many thousands of our “volunteers “have faced, perhaps things might be different in the area of undeclared and unnecessary wars.

    But just as I have been called to task for calling our troops “heroes,” I cringe when I hear or read blanket statements about how stupid or unprofessional our troops are, how much of an “embarrassment” the U.S. Marine Corps is, or how “criminal” our military are — and I will dispute those statements every time.

  • She, HART, painted all soldiers with the same brush as the Marines that GOT caught pissing on the dead taliban soldiers. 99% of the soldiers follow the UCMJ and are honorable. She hates the military who protect us daily. She should ask herself why Barack is still fighting in Afghanistan? Why do we want to send our soldiers to get killed for a bunch of ignorant citizens in Afghanistan? I don’t support that.

    There are some very evil leaders in the world and the USA military protect us.

    Barack terminated Osama and I support his actions. Osama was not only responsible for 9/11 but he was also a murderer of innocent muslims using suicide bombers.

  • RP

    Most everyone will remember the US soldiers bodies being pulled down the streets of Mogadishu, the bodies of Americans hanging off bridges in Iraq or the beheading of a journalist by the Taliban. This was news and covered by the press the same as the marines are being covered.

    Our government will handle this issue the same as they have handled every military wrong-doing. These individuals will be tried by courts martial and given the proper sentence.

    Unlike the governments we are fighting that brutalized our dead and supported those actions.

  • Allen

    That’s are boys!

    Heh heh heh, great stories for the grand kids.

  • Allen


    You see those dead Vietnamese civilians up there? Calley got house arrest. Pretty much the same light sentence, if any, for every war crime “our boys” have committed over the last decade. Not to mention raping and murdering our own female soldiers.

    Our military is an out of control embarrassment.

  • Thank you Steve and Allen.

    Dorian and whomever else: I did not mean to disparage the US Armed Forces, although I DID mean to disparage the “all-volunteer” concept, which I thought was a bad idea when Nixon proposed it and I still think it’s a bad idea.

    And I have nothing but praise for our service academies. I know that our armed forces are among the most professional in the world, and please don’t think that I’m disparaging your service.

    But the army is fast becoming the last refuge of the kid with no prospects, just like it did in the empires of Greece, Rome and the UK, et al.

    The tripartite system is broken: Professional core, state militias (National Guard) and draft. But then, we don’t declare war anymore. And that’s disturbing.

    In retrospect, I should have added a disclaimer. But I’ve been connected, one way or another the military my whole life, and, like hospitals, I tend to forget to put in the “doctors and nurses are great” statement.

    Mostly because I have a hard time kissing ass.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thanks for your courteous reply, Hart.

    We’ll just have to disagree. It is my sincere belief that by and large — and in spite of some of these harrowing, isolated incidents which occur as an exception in any society or huge groups of people(even among Christians) — the U.S. military are the most professional and dedicated anywhere.

    And, that’s not “kissing ass,” as at my point in life I have no need to do such.

  • Allen

    Hart Williams

    “Kissing Ass”. In the military it means special privilege for those sucking up. When simple loyalty won’t get you what you want, super loyalty does. In the Marines, it could be a matter of life and death. I learned to respect impartiality in a leader, because I was shocked to see how often it didn’t exist. There is nothing lower than the “ass-kisser”.

    You can’t disparage the military, they do it to themselves.

  • Dorian: I fear that while I seem to understand what you’ve said, the converse isn’t necessarily the case.

    The Spartans had the best army around for centuries, but I don’t think we want to be Spartans.

    The British Empire had the finest army and navy in the world for a century or so, but that didn’t confer any social mobility, nor even decent living conditions.

    It is an old strain in Americanism that we distrust large standing armies. What I am concerned with is NOT the quality of our troops; but the devolution into a permanent warrior underclass whose loyalties are the service and not the country. This isn’t a new phenomenon.

    But, lately, we don’t seem to mind the trappings of militarism, as in the famous “Jet pilot” Bush appearance, which was the first time anyone holding the office had put on a military uniform while IN office since George Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion.

    The citizen-soldier of the old Savings Bond is what I prefer to the professional soldier of Rome.

    Nonetheless, my original point is that military conduct with regards to corpses has been subject to military law and stern regulation at least since Achilles dragged Hector’s corpse around the walls of Troy.

    @Allen: A lot of the problems of soldiers and with soldiers are as old as civilization. The types you speak of were doing the same stuff in milder form all the way back to the high school locker room. It may get more severe, but never more sophisticated.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Hi Hart:

    After re-stating my opinion — “conviction” is a better word — that what those Marines did is utterly despicable and wrong; that any large societal group has a few bad apples; that the UCMJ will take care of these specific few and that the U.S. military are the most professional and dedicated anywhere, I just want to say the following and will let it go at that.

    I get the impression that you may be conflating (or mistaking) the performance and capabilities of an army with what the leaders of such an army (i.e. the government) order such an army to do, or do with it.

    Of course, the Iraq invasion and occupation is a perfect example of such, and you yourself appear to intimate that with “lately, we don’t seem to mind the trappings of militarism, as in the famous ‘Jet pilot’ Bush appearance, which was the first time anyone holding the office had put on a military uniform while IN office since George Washington put down the Whiskey Rebellion.”

    Anyway, I enjoy your writings and respect your opinions.

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