Topics

My Lai Revisited: 47 Years Later, Seymour Hersh Travels to Vietnam Site of U.S. Massacre He Exposed

March 25, 2015
Story
WATCH FULL SHOW

Guests

Seymour Hersh

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New Yorker magazine.

Fifty years after the U.S. ground invasion of Vietnam began, we look back at the 1968 My Lai massacre, when American troops killed hundreds of civilians. Journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story of the massacre and cover-up, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his work. But Hersh never actually went there — he interviewed soldiers stateside. Forty-seven years later, he recently traveled to My Lai for the first time, which he documents in a new article for The New Yorker, "The Scene of the Crime: A Reporter’s Journey to My Lai and the Secrets of the Past." Hersh joins us to discuss how he exposed the massacre nearly five decades ago and what it was like to visit My Lai for the first time.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Fifty years ago this month, 3,500 U.S. marines landed in South Vietnam, marking the start of the U.S. ground war in Vietnam. The date was Sunday, March 7, 1965, the same day Alabama state troopers beat back civil rights protesters in Selma. By 1968, the U.S. had half a million troops in Vietnam. The war continued until April 1975. Some scholars estimate as many as 3.8 million Vietnamese died during the war. Up to 800,000 perished in Cambodia, another one million in Laos. The U.S. death toll was 58,000.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most horrific massacres of the Vietnam War took place in the village of My Lai. On March 16, 1968, an American contingent of about a hundred soldiers, known as Charlie Company, attacked a village of civilians. Women were raped. Houses were burned. Up to 500 villagers were murdered, most of them women, children and the elderly. The world did not find out about the massacre until November 1969. That’s when freelance journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story about the massacre and its cover-up after tracking down soldiers who took part. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his exposé. Seymour Hersh recently traveled to My Lai for the first time and writes about his trip in the new issue of The New Yorker. His piece is titled "The Scene of the Crime."

Seymour Hersh, welcome back to Democracy Now! What was it like to go to the place that has defined so much of your life, 47 years after the massacre?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, you can’t imagine. I mean, it’s a very—it’s not creepy. It was just inevitably moving. I fought it off. I’ve been—I only went, to be honest, because my family, my wife, my children, even my dog and my cat, I guess, and the gerbil, all wanted me to go and been nagging me for 20 or 30 years to go, to go see where it started. And so, I finally did go. I had been invited by the government officially years ago to come, but...

And it was hard. It was hard to see the ditch. It was hard to see how so many American boys could do so much and how it could be so thoroughly covered up by the government, not only up until the time I wrote about it, but even afterwards. There were investigations that couldn’t cope with the reality, which is—one of the realities, as you mentioned in your introduction, is, as you said, one of the massacres was, even on that day, the same unit, the same—it was a task force with three companies, Charlie Company, led by the infamous William Calley, who of course was one of six or seven officers on the ground, but he was the fall guy. They did the killing in My Lai. But less than a mile or two, maybe a mile and a half, away was another village called My Khe, where the same task force with a different company went in and executed 97 people. So, the Army, when it began to look seriously into what I had written about, discovered the second massacre, in their own interviewing, and, of course, just couldn’t cope with it. They simply buried that fact. So, My Lai, yes, it was terrible. It was much worse than other incidents. But incidents killing 60, 100, 120, there was just much too much of that during the war. Really bad leaderhip.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sy Hersh, the irony is that you were not one of the combat reporters in Vietnam at the time, yet you ended up breaking perhaps the biggest story of the Vietnam War. And you talk in your piece about how you initially found out about the massacre and how you began to track down the story. If you could talk about that?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, it was one of those—if you remember, Richard Nixon came to office, defeated Humphrey in 1968. Humphrey would not go against the war, Lyndon Johnson’s war, his president’s war. He was the vice president. Nixon won by claiming he had a secret plan to end the war. And by the middle of 1969, or late 1969, it was clear his secret plan was to win it—not end it, but win it. And so, antiwar feelings were getting high. And I got a tip from—there were a lot of desertions, a lot of trouble inside the Army. Also, there were hearings and investigations, particularly one particular hearing in Detroit, Michigan, where a group of GIs, even a year earlier, 1968, had gone public with story after story of horrific incidents taking place. And I had read all those things. I was—you know, I guess I believe you can’t really write if you don’t read. And I knew how much there was an underbelly of very ugly stuff in that war that wasn’t being reported.

And so, when I got a tip in 1969, late 1969, I was a freelance writer. I had worked for the Associated Press, etc. And I had learned—I had covered the Pentagon for a few years and learned sort of OJT on how the war was being driven. Promotions in the war by 1966 and '67 were being driven by body count—how many could you kill? And inevitably, the officers and soldiers, eager to get more deaths, more killings, would stop differentiating in many areas, particularly the areas in Vietnam where My Lai took place—Quang Ngai, Quang Tri, Quang Nam—sort of areas known to be heavily engaged and committed to opposition to the South Vietnamese government. We called them Viet Cong. They weren't really—many of them were not communist, per se; they were nationalists against the war. But nonetheless, we carried the war—we were carrying the war very hard to them.

So I knew all that. So when I got a tip from a lawyer, named Geoffrey Cowan, at the time, he was just involved in antiwar issues, working in Washington, that he had heard something about a massacre, I went looking. And there’s—you know, I was a soldier, I was in the Army, and I covered the Pentagon. And there is an enormous streak of decency and goodwill among many officers. And I’ve always—I always say this about the American intelligence community, too. Don’t write them off. There’s a lot of people with a lot of high integrity. And there was one day—I got nowhere on this story. And one day I was in the Pentagon, rolling around, I guess; I was going through the legal offices. The fact that officers had been detained by the Army on the suspicion of mass murder was not part of the record. I actually had run across Lieutenant Calley’s name, but I was told he was a—he had shot up a bunch of prostitutes in a bar in Saigon or something like that. Whoever told me that, that’s what he believed, that’s what he was told. But it wasn’t true. I didn’t know that.

And anyway, I ran into a colonel I knew, I had known when I was in the Pentagon earlier, who had just been promoted to general. And he was limping. He had been shot in the war. And I just started talking with him about it, teased him a little bit about taking a bullet to make general. You know, the black humor always is very big in the military. And then I said, "What’s this about some guy shooting up a lot of people?" And the colonel, soon to be a general, slammed his hand against his wounded knee, the knee in which he had a bullet while in Vietnam, and he said to me, "Oh, Hersh," he said, "that guy Calley didn’t shoot anybody higher than that." And at that moment, at that moment, I knew I had a story, that there was something there, something big. So I just kept on going.

I eventually found the name of Lieutenant Calley’s lawyer. I eventually got to the lawyer. I eventually got to Calley. And it was interesting, because I had heard so much about Calley. And I had actually seen by then a charge sheet accusing him. The Pentagon had initially accused him of something like 109 or 111, the killing of—get this—Oriental human beings. That was the initial charge sheet, as if 10 whites equaled one Oriental, or 12 blacks equaled one—I wasn’t sure what the number was. But believe me, they got rid of that as soon as I went public with that word. They took it out of the charge. It was a very interesting sort of notion, the notion of racism that’s so dominant in that war, as it is in all wars, I guess. You have to dehumanize the other person.

And from there, I did see Calley. I expected to see, as I wrote—as The New Yorker said, I expected to see Satan, and instead I found this five-foot-six, obscure college dropout whose only job had been—the only thing I could find about him, he had been a switchman one summer while in school for a railroad—a small train company in Florida, and forgot to fill a switch, and there was a collision, and he got fired. That was it. But into the Army he goes, and becomes an officer, and wasn’t liked by his troops, but made up for his incompetence and other issues by being very aggressive with killing. And—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sy, you pieced together, though, the—not only did you talk to Calley, but you talked to Private First Class Paul Meadlo about his involvement in the My Lai massacre. In 1969, Meadlo agreed to talk to CBS’s Mike Wallace on national television about what happened that day.

PAUL MEADLO: Well, I might have killed about 10 or 15 of them.

MIKE WALLACE: Men, women and children?

PAUL MEADLO: Men, women and children.

MIKE WALLACE: And babies.

PAUL MEADLO: And babies.

MIKE WALLACE: Why did you do it?

PAUL MEADLO: Why did I do it? Because I felt like I was ordered to do it. Well, at the time, I felt like I was doing the right thing. I really did.

MIKE WALLACE: You’re married?

PAUL MEADLO: Right.

MIKE WALLACE: Children?

PAUL MEADLO: Two.

MIKE WALLACE: How can a father of two young children shoot babies?

PAUL MEADLO: I don’t know. It’s just one of them things.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Private First Class Paul Meadlo. But in your article, you talk about the enormous resentment and conflict that existed between Meadlo and Calley, who gave the orders.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, my god, yes. Paul Meadlo was interesting, because I had been on the story for weeks. I couldn’t get anybody to buy the story. It was just something that you just weren’t going to—no newspaper was going to do. I went—I had actually had a commission from Life magazine, and I was a freelance writer. And I had been in print with a lead article in The New York Times Magazine a couple of months—a couple weeks earlier even, so I wasn’t unknown in the press world. But nonetheless, nobody wanted to be the first to break that story, so we set up a little—I went to a little antiwar news agency called Dispatch News Service, and they handled the stories. And amazingly, they just—they took off. And I began to—as you said, I went from Calley—I wrote a story about Calley, and then I went and began to find people, kids who were involved, with the help of a wonderful soldier named Ronald Ridenhour, who’s now passed away, but Ridenhour was one of the few people who knew about My Lai and tried to do something about it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, we’re going to ask you, Sy, to tell us the story of this massacre and the cover-up—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: —from the day that Charlie Company went into My Lai. Seymour Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New Yorker magazine. His piece is titled "The Scene of the Crime." Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Pinkville Helicopter," written and performed by Thom Parrott. Pinkville was the U.S. Army codeword for the village of My Lai. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Sy Hersh. Seymour Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who wrote his piece for The New Yorker magazine called "The Scene of the Crime," returning to My Lai 47 years after the massacre took place. Sy Hersh, piece it together for us. Tell us the day Charlie Company moved into My Lai. And then what happened?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Boy, that’s the real thing. You know, what I did about the story, about what happened that day, the massacre, about which—you know, they just murdered everybody, a lot of rapes, terrible stuff. But then what I did is, because I was so aware of how much had been covered up and how deep it went—the institution—that I ended up writing—spending another year and a half seeing more people and writing a second book. I wrote a book called My Lai 4 right away, but a second book called Cover-up, because the institution was so corrupt.

At the time of the massacre, this was going to be a big operation, and everybody thought, boy, we’re going to get—there was very bad intelligence. The intelligence was a Viet Cong battalion was there, the 48th, I think, and our boys were going to go in and kill them, and there was going to be a big ambush. And, of course, when we went in, there was nothing but women and children. The intelligence was lousy, as it always was. And they murdered everybody. They had been told to kill everybody you see. God knows what the real reality was, whether that was actually what—what happened, they went out of control, as they had many times before.

But, what I learned was that this was the big deal for the whole division. Charlie Company was attached to a task force, that was attached to a battalion, that was attached to a division. You know, we’re talking about 20,000 men, led by a major general named Koster. And that day, Koster, his deputy, another general named Young, a colonel who was in charge of the regiment to which the task force was attached, a battalion—colonels, generals, lieutenant colonels, majors were flying above, and I can just tell you from what I know, you had to understand, when you saw that village, with pits full of bodies, you knew there was something horrible that happened. They all knew it. They all covered it up. Actually, what they did is they reported to headquarters that that day had produced a great victory, that they had killed 128 Viet Cong with only three weapons captured—I mean, which was a flag in itself.

And that story about the victory at Pinkville, which was pink being red for communists. The village was seen as a pro-communist—which it was—pro-Viet Cong. But there’s still—innocents are innocents, women and children. And in any case, that story about the massacre ended up on the front page of The New York Times, and the lead general of the war, General Westmoreland, sent a personal letter of commendation to General Koster, who by the time I was writing my stories was commandant of West Point, the great, elite military training institution, the college for young officers in New York. And so, it was just one huge, from the top to the bottom, cover-up. Westmoreland himself was very concerned about war crimes, about being responsible for war crimes. The whole thing was simply—even though they did look at My Lai, and they did an investigation, the Army set up an investigation—why Congress allowed the Army to do that, I don’t know. They did their own investigation, that seemed honorable. It looked very hard at My Lai, looked very hard at Calley. And it did punish some of the senior officers, including General Koster, with demotions and charges of dereliction of duty, but we’re talking about massive misprison of, what, 400 felonies?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what happened on March 16, 1968?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, sure. They went in in the morning, a group of boys—and you’ve got to give them credit. You know, they toked the night before, and they did their whiskey the night before. They had their—you know, their drugs. But that morning, they got up thinking they were going to be in combat against the Viet Cong. They were happy to do it. Charlie Company had lost 20 people through snipers, etc. They wanted payback. And they had been taking it out on the people, but they had never seen the enemy. They’d been in country, as I said, in Vietnam for three or four months without ever having a set piece war. That’s just the way it is in guerrilla warfare—which is why we shouldn’t do it, but that’s another story. And they went in that morning ready to kill and be killed on behalf of America, to their credit. They landed. There were just nothing but women and children doing the usual, as you said in your intro—cooking, warming up rice for breakfast—and they began to put them in ditches and start executing them.

Calley’s company—Calley had a platoon. There were three platoons that went in. They rounded up people and put them in a ditch. And Meadlo was ordered by Calley. He was among one or two or three boys who did a lot of shooting. There was a big distinction, basically, between the white boys, country boys like Paul Meadlo who did the shooting, and the African Americans and Hispanics, who made up about 40 percent of the company. In my interviews, I found that distinction. Most of the African Americans and Hispanics, that was Whitey’s war. The whole thing was Whitey’s war for them. And they did shoot, because they were afraid that their white colleagues might shoot at them if they weren’t participating, but they shot high. One guy even shot himself in the foot to get out of there. I mean, we had that going on, too, above and beyond the normal stuff.

The other companies just went along, didn’t gather people, just went from house to house and killed and raped and mutilated, and had just went on until everybody was either run away or killed. Four hundred and some-odd people in that village alone, of the 500 or 600 people who lived there, were murdered that day, all by noon, 1:00. At one point, one helicopter pilot, a wonderful man named Thompson, saw what was going on and actually landed his helicopter. He was a small combat—had two gunners. He just landed his small helicopter, and he ordered his gunners to train their weapons on Lieutenant Calley and other Americans. And Calley was in the process of—apparently going to throw hand grenades into a ditch where there were 10 or so Vietnamese civilians. And he put his guns on Calley and took the civilians, made a couple trips and took them out, flew them out to safety. He, of course, was immediately in trouble for doing that.

It was just the instinct to not do the right thing. You know, the thing that you discovered about Vietnam was, there was no such thing as a war crime. It just didn’t exist. The idea of a war crime didn’t exist. There were violations of rules and things you did wrong. And one of things that emerged in Vietnam—a defense to, let’s say, rape—would have been what they called the MGR, the Mere Gook Rule: It was just a gook. I’m not exaggerating. It was that terrible, that racist. You talk about number of deaths in Iraq, and the number is staggering, but we usually talk in Vietnam—we don’t get within—we talk—is it one or two or three million civilians and innocents killed between the North and the South?

Since the war ended—and this is something I discussed in the piece quite a—not a bit anyway—100,000 people had been killed in the North alone, what used to be North Vietnam, in areas around Hanoi and some of the areas in northern South Vietnam, Quang Nam again, Quang Tri. A hundred thousand farmers, and mostly children, more than 40 percent of them children, had been killed by unexploded ordnance, bombs, cluster bombs, that had been in the ground, that were triggered inadvertently by plowing or just kids playing around in a field. A hundred thousand since the war ended. The casualties—anyway, you get me going—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Sy, I wanted to—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sy, I wanted to ask you, as much as you have written about My Lai and the events of that period, when you returned on your trip, you learned even more. And you specifically spoke with Pham Thanh Cong, the director of the My Lai Museum, a survivor of the massacre. I want to turn to Cong in his own words when he spoke with Al Jazeera about what happened to him in the morning of that massacre.

PHAM THANH CONG: [translated] I survived. The corpses of my mother and youngest sisters and brothers covered my body. I was wounded, but at 4:00 p.m., I was rescued by other villagers.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you also, in your piece, talk about a returning soldier who had participated in the massacre and the encounter between him and Cong.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, one of the things that struck me was, the Vietnamese—as you know, Vietnam now has become a major tourist center for Americans. It is a beautiful country—Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh. It’s a beautiful country, very welcoming to Americans. They have a saying in Vietnam, you know, that the past is the past, we have to look forward. And as you know, Vietnam has been embroiled with wars with the Chinese and others for many—for a thousand years. So, another group of invaders come, and kill and be killed. But, of course, it isn’t that simple.

And of course the notion that survivors would always do interviews—and Cong often did, himself. By the way, there’s a marvelous picture of him. If you take a look at the photo in The New York Times, a photographer named Katie Orlinsky got a photograph of him, and in his face you can see it all in that photograph. You can see it all, all that pain. But in his conversation with this American soldier, named Schiel—soldiers were always welcome to come to the My Lai Museum. They get thousands of tourists a day. Many Americans do come when they’re in the country, to go see what happened and go to look at the photographs they have, and the graves and the site. And this particular soldier, Cong began to talk to, and he discovered that he had been actually at My Lai. His name was Schiel, from Michigan. Just another guy, wrong place, wrong time. And if it hadn’t been for the war, I’m sure he would have been fine, not going around killing people, as he ended up doing.

And so, Cong discovered he was somebody that had actually been there, the first time he had ever met somebody—he had been head of the museum for a couple of dozen years at the time. And he couldn’t get the soldier to acknowledge anything. He wouldn’t acknowledge shooting anybody. And Cong actually got mad. And he was talking to me about it, how mad he got, too. And, yes, we do, we do, we do turn the other hand, we learn to live with the past, but this case, he really wanted this young man to express some contrition, some sense of guilt, and not to say, "I don’t remember." And he got very angry. And I was happy to see it, in a way. It was a real thing. I’d been hearing so much in Vietnam—I had been there for a few weeks already. I was there two weeks on this trip. I had heard so much about this notion of turning the other cheek. You can’t really not live with something like that. It is in your face. It’s in the face of other survivors that one sees, too, from the village.

We just can’t—history—you know, things recede with history, but not for me, and not for many people in Vietnam. I understand that for the modern generation—you know, I remember growing up as a kid in the Second World War. The First World War was, you know, about fields of poppy and Ernest Hemingway and ambulances. So, we don’t really pay much attention to the history. But this history is pretty acute, because it does tell us about the present. We fought a war in a society where we didn’t understand the culture. We didn’t have any respect for the culture. We didn’t know the language. Our soldiers were trained incredibly poorly. The discipline was terrible. The lack of—the small-unit leadership was disgraceful. I think the Army came out of this war in terrible shape. I’d like to think it’s in better shape now. I don’t know. Many bad things still happen in the wars we’re in now in Afghanistan. As you know, I wrote about Abu Ghraib for The New Yorker a decade ago, and what happened there was very eerily similar—you know, the contempt for prisoners, the contempt for people whose societies we don’t understand.

And so, I’d like to think that, you know, just to take what I learned from Vietnam and put it into the modern context, we have been fighting the war on terror since 9/11, you know, 13, 14 years now, with drones and soldiers, and it’s only gotten worse. The fundamentalism and the hatred of America has gotten more acute. And maybe we ought to think that there’s other ways to conduct ourselves when we have opposition like we do in this case of religious opposition and opposition to our way of life and our notion of democracy. I’d really like to think that maybe we can learn something. Instead what we seem to be doing is spreading into the use of drones, so we have not even any direct responsibility, no soldiers engaging, no chance for a—you don’t have a Meadlo anymore, but you also don’t have any chance for collective guilt and collective understanding of what we do.

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, I wanted to go back to Paul Meadlo. If you could talk about what happened on March 16, 1968, between Lieutenant Calley, the other soldiers, and particularly Meadlo, as you describe so poignantly in the piece, standing at that ditch? Meadlo was actually playing with the children he would then gun down?

SEYMOUR HERSH: He and another soldier from Texas had been asked by Calley—they had no idea what Calley’s intent was. Paul Meadlo was a kid. You know, he had been married young. He was from New Goshen, Indiana, from a farm family. His father worked in the mines on the border with Illinois. And they were very close to the border in New Goshen, near Terre Haute. He was a farm kid, into the Army, trained to be a killer. His brother told me when I was doing interviews for this piece—I talked to his brother, Larry, who lives near him, and said Paul was the—he couldn’t skin an animal after shooting them when hunting. He didn’t like the sight of blood. The last person that should have been drafted, but he was drafted, and he went.

And that morning, Calley ordered Meadlo and others to collect a group of women and children. They had 40 or 50, perhaps more, some old men, mostly women and kids. And Paul and the other guys, Calley said to watch them. And so they did what kids, American guys, will do: They passed out candy. They were horsing around with the kids, playing with the kids. They told the people where to sit. And Calley came back and said, you know, in effect, "What are you doing?" He said, "I told you to take care of them." He said, "Well, I am." He said, "No, I want them killed."

And then Meadlo began following orders. He began crying. This is something I did not know until I revisited some of the investigations. I went and reread everything that the Army had done. I just had not read it all before. And I found other witnesses who testified at Army hearings. After my stories came out, there was a big investigation by a general named Peers. And there was another soldier, a New York kid. Naturally, a New York street kid wasn’t going to shoot, but he watched what happened. He testified about Meadlo beginning to cry. He didn’t want to do it, and Calley ordered him to. And he began to shoot and shoot. And they fired clips—I don’t know how many clips; he told me at one point five or six; he testified later about one, but he told me four, maybe five, clips—a clip in that rifle, an M1, has 17 bullets—into it, into the ditch.

And there was a horrible moment that got me, really got me. At some point, when they were done shooting, some mother had protected a baby underneath her body in the bottom of the ditch. And the GIs heard, as somebody said to me, a keening, a crying, whimpering noise, and a little two- or three-year-old boy crawled his way out full of other people’s blood from the ditch. It’s hard for me to talk about this. And right across what was—it’s now been plowed over, but it was a rice ditch. It’s now been paved over at the site. And I saw it all. I’d seen it in my mind, and I saw it visually that day I was there. And the kid was running away, and Calley went after it—Calley, big, tough guy with his rifle—and dragged him, grabbed him, dragged him back into the ditch and shot him. And that stuck in people’s minds.

That’s how I got to Calley. It was a repressed memory, what happened at that ditch. And as I was doing my interviews early in the story—I had written two stories for Dispatch. And the press, I will tell you, the American press, was—they were open to the story. They didn’t really get into it. They let me sort of run with it for weeks. It made me think, as I still do, that you can really do stuff if you want to do stuff. The American press, they may not be aggressive, but if you do stuff that they think is right, they will publish it. I’d like to think that’s still true. I mean, it happened in Abu Ghraib, and it happened in other stories I’ve written. There’s a lot of resistance to stories sometimes, but not in this case. It just seemed right. And anyway, soldiers had told me—finally, they told me about Paul Meadlo. And as I wrote in the piece, I was in Salt Lake City at the time I heard about him and what he did and what happened. I didn’t hear about crying, but I heard about his resistance and about the little boy. And I spent hours on a payphone. His name was M-E-A-D-L-O, and I knew he lived in Indiana. I called every major phone district, city, and got the chief operator and asked for Meadlo, finally found him.

And I asked—I got the house, and I called the house in New Goshen. And I asked—I knew he had had his—the next day, Paul Meadlo had had his leg blown off by stepping on a mine. And he kept on saying—as he was waiting for the helicopter to take him to a hospital, he kept on yelling at Calley, "God is punishing me! And God will get you, B! God will get you for this!" And they finally took him away. So, when I called his home, and I would ask—I got this woman, this old Southern voice, and I said, "Is Paul there?" And she said, "Yes," which was great. And I said, "How is his leg?" She says, "Well, you know, I don’t know." And I asked if I could see him. She said, "Yes. Ask him." She didn’t know. She didn’t know much about what happened. She knew something bad had happened. And I flew down there.

And I went—it took me a long time to get to New Goshen, Indiana. No GPS then. I mean, I flew across country all night, but I got there by afternoon to this little rinkety-dinkety farm full of—a farm with no man around, full of chickens, that were—chicken coops that were broken down. But she came out to meet me. And this is one of those moments you live for as a journalist, I guess. This woman, who really wasn’t really in the world, didn’t know much about what was going on. Paul hadn’t told her much. She came out to meet me, and I pulled in 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And I said, "I’m the"—I told her I was a reporter, and I said, "I’ve come to see Paul. Is he in?" She said, "He’s in there." She said, "I don’t know if he’ll talk to you, but he’s in there. He knows you’re coming." And then she said to me, this old woman, she said, in this tone of a voice, "I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer." And you can go a long time in this business without having a line like that played in your head.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Seymour Hersh, and end with a quote from your trip when you interviewed Nguyen Thi Binh, who headed the National Liberation Front delegation at the Paris peace talks in 1970s. She said, quote, "I’ll be honest with you. My Lai became important in America only after it was reported by an American. I remember it well, because the antiwar movement in America grew because of it. But in Vietnam there was not only one My Lai—there were many."

Sy Hersh, thanks so much for spending this time with us, for doing the work that you did 47 years ago and all of the work that you’ve done since. And I look forward to reading your next article, as well. Seymour Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New Yorker magazine. His piece is titled "The Scene of the Crime." He returned to My Lai 47 years after the My Lai massacre took place. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.


The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Email icon redDaily News Digest