Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hugh Thompson: A Belated Memorial Day Post

This is David Rovics' "Song for Hugh Thompson." Hugh Thompson was a warrant officer in the Vietnam War who interrupted the My Lai Massacre in part by having soldiers under his command point helicopter-mounted machine guns at fellow American soldiers who were murdering Vietnamese civilians.  Although most of the killing had already taken place, his actions saved around a dozen lives and may have forestalled later massacres.

My actual Memorial Day post included Billy Ray Cyrus' song "All Gave Some Gave All," which commemorates the physical courage of soldiers who went to war and those who did not return.

This song commemorates courage of a different sort.  Thompson certainly had physical courage--he returned to the military because he wanted to fly helicopters, even though there was a war on--but he had moral courage as well.  He ordered the soldiers under his command to fire on fellow Americans in defense of South Vietnamese villagers who might well have assisted the enemy and then walked out in front of them to confront  commissioned officers--who outranked him--over the massacre.  Not only was he going against the chain of command (something that military training is intended to prevent), but he risked being shot by his own men who might be outraged at what he asked them to do.

And Thompson's courage continued.  He threw away the citation the local military commanders gave him as part of the cover-up and testified before the Armed Services Committee, one of whose members actually tried to have him court-martialed for threatening other Americans.  He got all kinds of crap from ordinary people, including hate mail, death threats, and dead animals on his doorstep.

And although ultimately Thompson received the praise and medals he was due, all too often the good people do goes unacknowledged.

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