My Lai 50th Anniversary – events, appeals, history, and legislation

The fiftieth anniversary of the My Lai massacre offers an opportunity to reflect on the Vietnam War and learn from it.

The Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee (VPCC) is organizing events in Washington from March 15-18. These include a vigil in Lafayette Square across from the White House on Friday, March 16, noon to 1:00 p.m., and lectures by diplomatic historian Howard Jones on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, and a screening of the film “Winter Soldier” on Saturday afternoon. Click for details here.

The VPCC has issued “A Public Appeal for Moral Responsibility” that calls on U.S. leaders and citizens “to take appropriate notice of the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre on March 16th, 2018.” The heart of the appeal states: “This anniversary is an occasion for our nation to begin to address the millions of deaths of innocent civilians during the American war in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos and to take responsibility for the ongoing humanitarian legacies from land mines, unexploded ordnance and the defoliant Agent Orange.” You can sign it here.

The steering committee of the Historians for Peace and Democracy (HPAD) has issued a short statement in support of the VPCC event, which reads in part:

The “My Lai: Never Again” appeal draws the right lessons from the Vietnam War, acknowledging the immorality of the war itself. An apology by the U.S. government to the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos is long past due. It should be coupled with generous humanitarian and medical assistance – reparation payments. We, the Historians for Peace and Democracy, thank the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee for keeping the war in focus, for nurturing our weak collective conscience, and for helping us do our job.

Veteran Doug Rawlings, co-founder of Veterans for Peace (VFP), has initiated an “Open Letter to People of Viet Nam” that pledges to “publicly confess our complicity in your country’s suffering” and “to make amends by supporting efforts to assist you in the healing of your land and your people.” You can sign it here.

James Swarts, a member of VFP and the HPAD steering committee, is helping organize a commemorative event in Rochester, New York. The local VFP chapter will hold “a solemn memorial in remembrance of the approximately 500 innocent men, women, and children massacred by United States Army soldiers at My Lai, Vietnam on March 16, 1968 . . . . Prayers and memorial remembrances will be given, along with implorations of forgiveness and reconciliation.” For more information, contact Jack Spula at

How did the U.S. get into the war in Vietnam? Were there any other alternatives? Indeed, there were. A principled critique of the war can be found on the “peace history” website sponsored by HPAD and the Peace History Society. Written by activist-scholars and HPAD members John Marciano, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and myself (Roger Peace) for the general public and students – teachers can assign all or part – the Vietnam War essay incorporates the best progressive scholarly research on the war and includes over 200 images. The website is an open public resource.

Those concerned about present applications may want to turn their attention to Senate Joint Resolution 54, “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.”

Introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders on February 28, 2018, the bill would direct “the President to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces . . . and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces has been enacted.” The intent of the bill is to restore the Constitutional authority of Congress to determine war and peace, and to prevent the “imperial presidency” from further expanding. The lesson of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is applicable here.