Military Law Review
The spring of 1993 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the My Lai massacre and is an appropriate time to reinforce the lessons learned from the event. Each and every grave breach of the law of war represents a horrible scar on the credibility of the American military, as well as the civilized democracy it protects. In this context, My Lai stands as the greatest emblem of American military shame in the twentieth century. Nothing provides a greater vehicle for inculcating the necessity for strict adherence to the law of war than the lessons from the massacre at My Lai.
While American troops were involved in several cases of unlawful killings of unarmed civilians during the Indo-China War, by far the most violent, and hence the most infamous, of these incidents was the massacre at My Lai. Here, under the direct supervision of several company grade officers, American troops murdered well over 200 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians. The murdered consisted primarily of women, children, and old men.
While the massacre at My Lai cannot be undone, in developing a methodology for preventing future atrocities, the images and horror of My Lai illustrate perfectly the need for abiding by the law of war. From its engagements in Grenada in 1983, to Panama in 1989, to Kuwait in 1991, the United States military can take full credit for its commendable record in adhering to the law of war largely because of its commitment to institutionalizing the lessons learned from My Lai. Accordingly, every American soldier must understand the significance of the My Lai massacre and steadfastly keep it in the forefront of his or her awareness.
Jeffrey F. Addicott and William A. Hudson, Jr., The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of My Lai: A Time to Inculcate the Lessons, 139 Mil. L. Rev. 153 (1992).