American Experience | My Lai
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Watch Friday May 1, 2015 at 9pm on WORLD.

What drove a company of American soldiers — ordinary young men from around the country — to commit the worst atrocity in American military history? Were they “just following orders” as some later declared? Or did they break under the pressure of a vicious war in which the line between enemy soldier and civilian had been intentionally blurred? Today, as the United States once again finds itself questioning the morality of actions taken in the name of war, director Barak Goodman focuses his lens on the 1968 My Lai massacre, its subsequent cover-up and the heroic efforts of the soldiers who broke ranks to try to halt the atrocities and then bring them to light.

On March 16, 1968, a company of American soldiers entered the village of My Lai, located in Quang Ngai Province in central Vietnam. Frustrated by their inability to directly engage the enemy and emotionally devastated by the ongoing casualties their unit had sustained, the men had been told that this was their chance finally to meet the Viet Cong head on. By the end of the day, they had shot and killed 507 unarmed and unresisting men, women and children, none of them apparently members of the enemy forces. Most of the survivors hid under the dead bodies of their families and neighbors. The incident, subsequently known as the My Lai Massacre, would only come to light more than a year later, when shocking photos of the atrocities were splashed across the pages of national newsmagazines and the evening newscasts, further eroding public support for the war in Vietnam.

“My Lai” features the first-ever in-depth interview with Aubrey Daniel, the prosecutor in the subsequent case against Lieutenant Calley, as well as testimony from several members of Charlie Company who have never spoken on film before, including Thomas Turner, Thomas Partsch, Joseph Grimes, John Smail, Gregory Olsen and Lawrence LaCroix. The film also reveals the remarkable story of Hugh Thompson and his fellow flyers in the 123rd Aviation Battalion who witnessed the massacre from the air and risked their careers and lives to help the villagers. Also included are interviews with Vietnamese survivors of the massacre and never-before-heard audio recordings made by the original Pentagon investigating team, led by General Raymond Peers, as well as never-before-seen footage shot by the soldiers of Charlie Company itself.