War is a strange concept. It has rules. Certain populations are off limits, and certain acts are prohibited. And yet, the purpose of a war is to take human life on a mass scale. It seems inevitable, then, that lines become blurred, that war is the cause of (or sometimes a haven for) atrocity.
In his classic journalistic work, Seymour M. Hersh presents, in stark and disturbing detail, the events that became known as the My Lai 4 massacre – one of the worst events of the Vietnam war. An entire village – nearly entirly comprised of old men, women and children – was massacred in the course of a few short hours on March 16, 1968 by Charly Company, 11th Brigade, American Division. Hundreds of civilians were mowed down with machine gun fire, piled in ditches and shot at point-blank range. Thanks to Hersh’s unflinching research, and despite the army’s attempts at covering up the incident, this book brings the events of that day to light.
Though the book isn’t very long, it’s not an easy read. To be completely honest, I made it about halfway through and then had to stop because it was inducing nausea. It’s nearly impossible to bear witness – even at the remove of nearly 60 years and countless miles – to an atrocity of this magnitude without becoming sick to one’s stomach. But at the same time, it’s important to know what human beings are capable of.
I applaud Hersh for his diligent work, and for his writing, which makes the unbearable easy to understand, if not comprehend. His reputation as one of (if not THE) most influential and courageous journalists of our time is well deserved.
I’m glad that I managed to read as much of this book as I did – and I hope one day to be able to finish it. I recommend that you do the same. Just perhaps not today.
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