Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Lai Documentry on PBS's "American Experience"

I have recently started a course in Vietnamese and am trying to find a balance between studying, working, and blogging so I haven't really had a chance to publish anything for a while...

That being said, I have recently seen a documentary on PBS that I found to be moving and informative about the killing of hundreds of unarmed people in the village of Sơn Mỹ located the Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam in March 1968.  This event later became known as the My Lai massacre.

The story of the killings and the subsequent cover-up is an interesting narative beginning with the naivety and idealism of the troops, progressing to the hell of war and My Lai and ending in the cover ups and the very slow delivery of (some) justice.  Writer/director/producer Barak Goodman skillfully lays out this interwoven story in his 90 minute documentary “My Lai" for PBS's documentary series "American Experience."

This complex and emotional documentary not only tells the story of American soldiers involved (Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division (the Americal Division)) but also explores the nature of combat and it's psychological toll in Vietnam. The documentary also presents the bad intel that led to the events of My Lai, damning problems in the command hierarchy (leading all the way to a two star general) and the command's cover up, and the following political and judicial repercussions in the US. 

The film consists of archival footage as well as new or never made public material.  For example, the film team obtained home-movie footage of Charlie Company during its training in Hawaii and non-combat deployment as well as film shot in the My Lai area from the helicopter of Hugh Thompson, the American pilot who intervened to save some of the villagers from the massacre (who, along with crew was much later awarded the Soldier's Medal, the highest honor a soldier can receive for an act of valor in a non-combat situation). 

Remarkably, the filmmaker even obtained exclusive interviews with several soldiers from Charlie Company.  In many of the interviews with the solders of Charlie Company, the soldiers seem to be defending their actions.  They cite such reasons as they were following orders, they were given intel that everyone in My Lai was known to be the enemy, and that they could find fault with the system of war more than with themselves.  However, their emotions give an impression of deep personal hurt and remorse.  The filmmaker also obtained interviews with survivors of the massacre in the Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam.  It is painful to hear how they describe the My Lai massacre; many of them were only children at the time and saw their entire families killed.  

The film has been justifiably nominated for three Emmy nominations.



  1. AV...I finally got a moment to review the film, but can't bring myself to watch the whole thing. I want to say, let's pray/hope that atrocities like this don't happen again...but they will and they are.

    Thanks for bringing the film to my/our attention.

    I wish you well in your VN language studies...you are a brave man!

  2. Going to watch it now. Thanks so much for the info.


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