Charles Richardson writes:
It seems to have received no coverage in the Australian media, but the
death on Saturday of Hugh Thompson, in a Virginia hospital at the age
of 62, should not be allowed to pass without comment.
Hugh Thompson was the hero of the My Lai massacre.
In March 1968 he was an American helicopter pilot in Vietnam, when he
observed US troops systematically killing unarmed civilians in the
village of My Lai. He landed, intervened, and succeeded in stopping the
massacre and evacuating some of the wounded, although not before
hundreds had been killed.
At Thompson’s direction, his crew trained their guns
on the American officers to prevent further killing. Later he testified
at the trial of Lt William Calley, who was convicted of murder for his
role in the massacre, although he was released after only a few years.
My Lai came to symbolise the
evils of the American involvement in Vietnam, and no doubt played a
major role in the decline in public support for the war.
For this heroism, Thompson was treated as an outcast
by the military, and received death threats after his return to the US.
Only in 1998, 30 years later, did he receive appropriate recognition
with the award of the Soldier’s Medal, the highest available award, by
For more about Thompson, read his obituary in The New York Times and this longer report from AP. At a time when our leaders assure us that the military can do no
wrong, we need the example of people like Hugh Thompson more than ever.
And a note for Cold War ideologues: yes, I know that
the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese committed worse atrocities. But
I don’t believe in moral equivalence. It’s not a surprise when
communists massacre people, but those who are supposed to be on our
side should be held to higher standards.