Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Face Of Evil

At the time we met and shook hands, nervously standing around him like celebrity watchers, William Calley was about 25 years old. He was medium height--5'7" maybe--with close-cropped dirty blond hair. There was nothing about the man to cause you to notice him. Except the guards sitting with him at the downtown disco in Columbus, Georgia. They were noticeable. They were packing heat. As Infantry Officer Candidates we were trained to notice things like that--Colt .45's. Great stopping power. Low muzzle velocity, but knock-down power for sure. Calley had guards because he was under house-arrest at the time for a little action in some no-name ville in Vietnam. My Lai. If you're my age those 2 words--My Lai--conjure up worlds of sadness, grief and horror. They encapsulate the late 60's feel. The dirty underbelly of our foreign policy in Southeast Asia.
My Lai, a small village suspected of harboring VC fighters. Of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Bill Calley's company had been taking daily losses in and around My Lai. Sniper fire. Booby-traps. Ambushes. Every day Calley's troops came under enemy fire and at a certain point they put their humanity down and strapped on the bloody mask of Terror. Hard to imagine from 8,000 miles away watching the war on TV. Hard to understand the heat and exhaustion from constant humping the bush, no sleep, night ambushes, bad food, terrible water, wet feet, wet everything, jungle rot, carrying 40 lbs of gear, digging defensive positions every night, 2 hours on/2 hours off. Blood on your fatigues from your buddy who was med-evac'd out yesterday with a serious chest wound from a sniper located somewhere over toward that village. Every day.
There were several layers of command that day flying in circles above Lt. Calley as he approached the village. Immediately above Calley was his CO, a captain. Above him was a major. I don't know where the chain of command stopped, but the order came down to 'kill everything that moves'. Try this on: you're 23, in command of maybe 30 ragged, armed boys who have just about had it with the war, the gooks, the filth and they're ready to collect the death-price for their fallen comrades. You're also exhausted and frustrated and scared. Kill Everything That Moves? Are you sure, sir? Try to imagine that moment. I know to a certainty that I would have followed those orders. I would have violated my moral code and walked around my conscience without a second thought. Lt William Calley did.
I think it was a chopper pilot--a Warrant Officer--or maybe a photo-journalist who came upon the aftermath while the smoke still hung in the air over the bodies of the 200+ women, children, and old folks--grandmas and grandpas. The young men, of course, not at home. They were in the jungle preparing the next ambush or booby trap. This witness took photos because he knew no one would believe the extent of the evil that had been done that day. Imagine an infant's body torn in half by automatic-weapons fire. Laying alongside its mother and grandmother, mixed in with the village livestock. Pigs and chickens. Dogs. Babies. Women. 218. 234. I don't remember the exact number. Kill Everything That Moves. Roger That. Wilco.
   So, one Saturday night in 1971 in Columbus, Georgia in a disco, we stood around Lt William Calley and shook his hand. We were with him. We knew he had been offered up as the fall guy. We knew we would have done the same thing and I think we were thanking him for doing it so we wouldn't have to. I think back to that night--that moment--when we came face-to-face with Evil. With a mass-murderer. A baby killer. And he looked just like me.

1 comment:

  1. Oh My God. No wonder Dick Cheney had better things to do with his time than something as downright foolish as the army.