Blogging As Cooperative Free Association

Links are the currency of blogging. We're fortunate these days to receive a fair number of them, for which we're thankful. But once in a while, a link stands out, a link from another blogger who takes your story, and spins it into something of his own inspiration, something you'd never think to write, or something you simply couldn't write.

I was especially thankful, therefore, to receive a link this morning from Unwashed Advocate, in which the author riffs on my trifle about yet another overbroad law aimed at the Westboro Bigot Church, to tell the little-known history of William Calley after My Lai, the disgusting fashion in which high government officials pandered to Calley's fan club, and the author's meeting with one of the jurors at Calley's court martial: I give you Calley Revisited.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. Waldo says

    An interesting story. My Lai was well before my time although I was a little familiar with the story. I knew Nixon had commuted his sentence and had the vague notion that it the most conservative elements of American society were supportive of Calley. However, I had no idea Jimmy Carter was such a supporter. That seems so out of character from my impression of Carter, who I greatly admire for his post-Presidential work. I wonder whether he was just playing politics (I don't think any successful politician is above that) or if it was a sincerely held belief that Calley did not deserve punishment. And, if a sincerely held belief, I wonder if Carter still feels the same way today.

  2. AlphaCentauri says

    As I recall, Calley's defense was that he was carrying out orders, so many people objected that no more senior officer was under indictment. It was part people who believed the Viet Cong had no scruples and that there was no such thing as a civilian in that war, but it was also people who felt there was injustice that he was the only one convicted. But I was a kid at the time, so mostly what I remember was that sappy pop song celebrating Lt. Calley as a hero.

  3. En Passant says

    Blog at the link:


    Dispatches from Bat Country, where proper medication is optional.

    Hmmm. Bat Country. Popesignal, a mitre spotlight in the sky. Could there be a pattern here?

  4. Waldo says

    Well, I did a little googling about Calley and Carter. From my cursory searching, it looks like AlphaCentauri has a good memory. Seems like Carter believed Calley was a scapegoat. Even if Calley was following orders (this seems to be a highly contentious issue), I don't see how he deserves any sort of support or exoneration. I'll chalk this up as a black mark for Carter, either for pandering to his constituents or getting too caught up in times to make a good judgment.

  5. John B. says

    What happened at My Lai is basically unspeakable. That is why relatively few details are ever given about the event. There just aren't words to describe what happened. "Atrocity" only scratches the surface.

    Last year the Library of Congress released the US Army C.I.D. investigation's records. There are a lot of documents and no real easy way to shortcut through the material:

    One of the difficulties the investigators had was in grasping the scope of what had actually happened. It was too much to believe–until they discovered that photographs had been taken.

  6. John B. says

    Just for the record, Calley was most definitely not a scapegoat. He had the rank and responsibility on the ground to stop what happened and could have chosen to not participate in it. The link leads to an anecdote about one of the jurists who served for Calley's court martial. His reaction to Nixon's pardon of Calley makes sense and it is the only reaction that makes any sense at all.

  7. AlphaCentauri says

    Unspeakable, yes. Unfortunately, people need to talk about stuff like this. When we invoke Godwin's law to avoid seeing any parallels with history, we miss the chance to learn from it. Maybe Hitler was uniquely evil. Maybe he's in a special category with Pol Pot and a few others. But no one who presides over mass atrocities could do so without the assistance of a lot of other well-armed people, as well as the implicit consent or apathy of a lot more. Rather than comparing people to Hitler or criticizing anyone for making comparisons to Hitler, we need to make comparisons to the average German citizen or the average German officer, who stood on the side of law and order when it was the wrong side to be on.

    Most people don't know the full details of what happened at My Lai, nor do they know the details of what happened at the Washita River a hundred years earlier. Nothing was learned.

    Of course, some people do know, but they consider such events perfectly acceptable based on Biblical precedent (see the Book of Joshua).

  8. Narad says

    mostly what I remember was that sappy pop song celebrating Lt. Calley as a hero

    I don't know that I'd call it a song.

  9. Piper says

    OT, but Narad's default avatar icon after bouncing to the video and back kind of looks like a confederate flag on first glance…

  10. John Pomeroy says

    AlphaCentauri… "I just noticed that the wikipedia article on the Washita River massacre makes no mention of…"

    So there's your chance to edit the article and add the information.

  11. says

    Or any other information you might enjoy adding, including that the massacre was in fact perpetrated by the My Little Ponies. Bless Wikipedia.

  12. Gavin says

    Generally in the military you follow orders while you like them or not and expect your senior who issued the order to take a fall if it turns into a legal problem. Disobeying an officer's command is taken deadly serious in the military.

    It doesn't exonerate what he did, but it does indicate that the brunt of the sentence should have fallen on his superior's head and not his own if he really was ordered to do this.

    In summary, the buck should have stopped a bit higher. It was this fact that led to people to get angry about him being scapegoated, because he was. His actions were undeniably wrong and he absolutley should have been punished for his crimes against humanity because he did have the authority on the ground. But due to the military's failure to hit high enough on the totem, we see one person not being pursued fully and another person's case being completely mangled.

    I can certainly understand why people would see this as a miscarriage of justice. Being that it is one.

  13. Gal says

    @Gavin: I wouldn't call it a miscarriage of justice. A lifetime sentence for Calley is entirely just. The fact that none of his superiors were jailed is probably unjust, but unless anyone can prove he was acting under orders, there's no way to go after his superiors.

    And what kind of kakamayme logic would lead anyone to think that leniency towards Calley makes up for his superiors going unpunished?

  14. Gal says

    Oh, sorry, from the tone of your reply I thought you were talking about the prosecution process, the fact that he was "scapegoated."

  15. Mark says

    @Gavin On orders… Not taking illegal orders is a duty, that's the big exception to the rule. Our code of justice only penalizes ignoring legal orders. If you're ordered to murder innocents, rape, or other high crimes then your obligation is to ignore that order.

    If you aren't entirely sure about the legality, you ask. If you are under fire or external duress and aren't sure, you act and ask later.

  16. Gavin says


    Oh, no doubt! I'm not saying he didn't break the law by any means at all! I'm only pointing out that the culture is to do what you're told no matter what and so, the individual doing the ordering at the top level should have at least gotten an equivalent sentence to his own if not worse for putting the whole thing in action.


    Yeah, I can see the ambiguity in my pronoun use. Sorry about that. The fact that he got off on such "technical" problems is SUCH a terrible circumstance. I can't imagine someone killing my loved ones and then getting off on a noob officer forgetting miranda rights or something.

  17. eddie says

    I didn't know much about My Lai. Now I do, and I'm stunned that I knew so little.

    Here is an interview with one of the three gunship crewmen who tried to stop the massacre and managed to save a dozen or so lives. I learned more from that interview than I did from Wikipedia.

    Here is a somewhat-scholarly article by the Chief Prosecutor of the My Lai cases, containing some explanations of why when so many people must have been guilty only one was ever convicted. I learned a good bit from that, too, most of it disappointing and depressing.

  18. markm says

    "I can't imagine someone killing my loved ones and then getting off on a noob officer forgetting miranda rights or something." This was equivalent to an experienced officer *deliberately* fouling up in order to throw the case. That is, a Congressional committee collected testimony from all the witnesses, and then refused to release the transcripts, so that the witnesses could not be called in a court-martial of Captain Medina or anyone else. (Calley had already been tried.) See WILLIAM GEORGE ECKHARDT's article, at the link provided by Eddie.

    From what I recollect hearing about that testimony, Medina may not have issued orders to murder civilians, but he'd have had to be as deaf and blind as Helen Keller to not know what was going on – and he neither acted to stop it until it was over, nor reported the atrocity to higher authority later. Both were his clear duties as a military officer.

    Failure to control his men makes a commander as guilty as they are. Without that testimony from the enlisted men that saw Medina walking past an ongoing mass murder, it might not have been possible to convict him for that. However, his own words as cited by Eckhardt should have been enough to convict him of failure to report about 100 murders; given the affirmative duties of a military officer, that made him an accessory after the fact.

    What Eckhardt doesn't mention is the differences in Calley's and Medina's defenses. Calley went with the JAG assigned to defend him; this lawyer did a good job *within* the system, and of course lost because his client was as guilty as hell under the law ("following orders" is no defense when the orders are so obviously illegal), *and* had let a press photographer take photos proving it.

    Medina sought F. Lee Bailey, who was the best-known civilian criminal defense lawyer in the country at the time – and I think simply the best if you were factually guilty and could get his services. Bailey was a radical and a publicity-hound. He made his money getting millionaire murderers off – or perhaps I should say *former* millionaires, after he was paid – and made the reputation that attracted such clients by "pro bono" work on high-publicity cases, often with a radical-left political tinge. So Bailey could collect his fee for Medina in publicity, but not by working within the system.

    Bailey made it clear that he would aggressively use a "just following orders" defense to subpoena the whole chain of command from Medina to General Westmoreland, and question them in the show trial of the century. Legally, this was bushwa – if orders for a massacre were proven to have issued from Westmoreland, all that should have meant under the law was that they'd have torn four stars off Westmoreland's shoulder and shoved him into the cell in Leavenworth next to Medina. But instead, the case against Medina somehow evaporated, and so Bailey could no longer show a reason for interrogating the higher-ups.

    I may have sounded too cynical about Bailey. He always did right by his clients as much as any lawyer could have, and that's what passes for legal ethics. If you're in *bad* trouble with the law and you're guilty, get a lawyer like Bailey unless you want to get all that you deserve (and maybe more). If you're in *bad* trouble with the law and innocent, you need a lawyer like Bailey even more. Not all of Bailey's clients came out as well as Medina, but no one can win against both the facts and the law every time…