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The My Lai Incident

The My Lai incident has indeed left more questions than answers in people’s minds. Imagining the scenes that are described in the My Lai massacre is heart-wrenching. Vietnamese citizens who previously acted as spectators to the ongoing war found themselves suffering for sins they did not understand. Everybody who was involved in this atrocity seemed to point his/her finger in a different direction when the investigations began. The soldiers pointed an accusing finger to their superiors while the superiors blamed top military bosses. However, the whole incident left marks on the characters of the soldiers, commanders, photographers, the military complex, and the United States government. Apart from the soldiers that stood their ground and defied orders to shoot innocent civilians, all the other parties would have a hard time distancing themselves from the massacre.

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Military protocol dictates that soldiers should obey all orders that are given to them by their superiors. In fact, all those serving in the military take an oath to this effect. Therefore, denying an order from a superior is a punishable offense in the military. Sometimes soldiers find it hard to maintain a balance between obeying their moral compasses and their superior’s orders. When an order was issued to ‘sanitize’ My Lai village, most soldiers found themselves in a moral dilemma. Depending on the action the soldiers took, it would either lead to the end of their careers or leave them with deep emotional wounds. It is for this reason that the soldiers acted divisively. Some were strong enough to obey their morals, while others chose to act robotically and eliminate innocent women and children. The results of their actions are shivering to this day. After a day’s work for the soldiers, more than five hundred innocent civilians lay in a trench lifeless.

The details of this atrocity are still well preserved through the pictures taken by an army photographer who usually accompanied the troops. Many of those who get a sneak-peek of the photographer’s work on that day find it hard to believe he was not a party to the massacre. His photographs give an almost factual account of what happened on that fateful day. When he was questioned about his role in the massacre, he responded by saying that he found it necessary to keep doing his job. In addition, he claims that his powers at that time were very limited. Without his contribution, it would have been almost impossible to prove the My Lai massacre happened. Therefore, his courage throughout the whole ordeal is very commendable. However, none of his actions point towards an effort to squash the massacre. Military photographers have the difficult task of slowing down the fast and unprecedented events that transpire on the war front. The situation, as presented in their still photographs, is quite different from the hectic situation in many war zones. Ethically, military photographers are not surcharged with any humanitarian duties. Their work is to take the story home, and it is important they do this without supporting either of the warring parties. Ron Hearberle’s work was done within the confines of his call of duty.

There are no reasons that can be provided to justify the My Lai massacre. The incident revealed the structural weaknesses of the military organization and the hard choices soldiers have to make in the battleground. In the end, the photographer who stayed within the confines of his job description opened the world’s eyes.

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"The My Lai Incident." StudyCorgi, 25 Feb. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "The My Lai Incident." February 25, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "The My Lai Incident." February 25, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "The My Lai Incident." February 25, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The My Lai Incident'. 25 February.

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