My Lai Massacre in Vietnam: 50 Years Later

I was five years old when the people of a set of small villages in the My Lai region of Vietnam were massacred by U.S. soldiers. I don’t remember hearing about it or understanding what it meant until much later. However, I do remember driving with my parents to San Francisco to pick up my cousin who was returning from Vietnam where he served as a medic. He was not the same cousin I remembered from before. He was traumatized.

I am of the era where my older cousins and my high school teachers were veterans of the U.S. war in Vietnam. It colored everything they thought, did, felt. It set them apart from other Americans. In subdued desperation, all around us, the fought for their sanity and to make sense of hell. An impossible task.

Fifty years later, our U.S. wars are removed, sanitized. We don’t do “body counts.” We’ve outlawed frontline reporting. We have drones to kill for us. But the frontline soldiers still come back traumatized — and the killing of the innocent and guilty enemy is no less hellish.

I’m grateful to Ken Sehested for inviting me to submit a poem-prayer to this collection of worship resources produced for the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee to remember and repent what our war looked like on March 16, 1968. I invite you to use them in your personal Lenten reflections and with your community and Veteran’s groups.–Rose Berger

>>Those of us who worked on the My Lai Massacre 50th Anniversary resources share a belief that truth is found in many faith traditions. A list of relevant quotes from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is included. What we believe we all share in common is the longing and struggle for a world characterized by mercy, in turn mediating the demands of justice and the prerequisites of peace.

Those who planned the sample liturgy are Christians, and we write from our own experience; we do not presume the ability to leap from our context to construct a service incorporating the insights from other spiritual traditions. We recognize that honest interfaith engagement does not include abandoning our own confessional expressions, though it does mean holding such convictions with humility. Among other things, humility requires listening, the most penitential posture when approaching God, who always—always—calls to us from beyond borders and boundaries.

We trust that those who gather with us from other traditions, or of no particular religious affiliation, will participate as fully as vision and conscience allow. Even more, we hope that you may find some useful material in these resources (from which you are free to borrow and edit or adapt as seems appropriate) to develop a “Penitential Opportunity” service appropriate to your own tradition.

Included in addition to the liturgy are several supplemental resources: suggestions for additional music, litanies, and other readings; a meditation on the meaning of penitence, a theme integral to many religious traditions; a brief collection of historical facts to help in understanding the context of the My Lai massacre; a collection of quotes to guide deeper reflection and seasoned conviction; and a testimony from a volunteer in My Lai.

We recognize the pastoral challenge of getting local communities of faith to devote focused attention on an episode of brutality, 50 years past, in a place thousands of miles away, where few U.S. citizens have ventured to visit. This is particularly true in a culture in which communicating God’s promise, purpose, and provision is often confused with a desire to accentuate the positive.

The writing and compiling of these liturgical resources was done in anticipation of the Christian season of Lent, when penitence is a key theme, culminating in Easter’s hopeful promise of a redemptive future. This year the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is April 4, only three days after the church’s buoyant proclamation of death’s coming annulment. We seek prayers from every quarter to assist us in knowing how to seek the Beloved Community he proclaimed, and to live animated by Resurrection’s promise, in the face of the world’s seemingly endless confidence in what theologian Walter Wink called “the myth of redemptive violence.”<<–Ken Sehested, author and editor of prayerandpolitiks.org and coordinator of these worship resources

Sergeant Jackie Talks About the War

I’ve had some lovely email exchanges with Portland magazine editor Brian Doyle. He’s a thoughtful, thoroughly human writer (see his newest collection Grace Notes). Portland magazine is the wildly popular “alumni magazine” from the Catholic University of Portland (Oregon).

Last week I received a copy of Portland‘s Summer 2011 issue in the mail. Brian’s opening essay speaks volumes about thousands of war survivors in our country and in the countries of our “enemies.”

He writes, “Recently I met a quiet woman who didn’t say much but what she said was wry and pithy and direct, and after a while I asked if I could take notes as she talked, and she said okay, and this is most of what she said.”

My name is Jacqueline. You can call me Jackie. Until recently you could call me Sergeant. I am now retired from the service. I will be twenty-seven years old on Sunday, at fourteen hundred hours. I was a hematology nurse, I am in good health, considering. I have a dog named Gus. I live near the beach. I drink tea. I learned to love tea in Kirkuk. Some days we had tea ten times a day. We found a samovar and learned how to use it. There was a man among us who could play that thing like a guitar. It got so we couldn’t drink anything other than the tea he summoned from that samovar. He vanished one day when his truck was hit by the bandits. Another man took his place. He vanished too. I took his place. After a while I forgot everyone’s names. For a while I called people by their numbers but after a while I didn’t call them anything. That’s when I knew I had war sickness, big time. I never got hit by fire but pretty much everyone I knew did. For a while there I thought it was me, that as soon as I said hello to someone or shook hands or learned their names they were doomed, so I stopped touching people and learning names. You would think wigging out in the middle of a war would be bad but it’s just normal, No one talks about what happens to the people nothing happens to, but something happens to them, and no one talks about it. Probably because we don’t have any words for what happens. Wars kill words, but no one talks about that. …

Read Brian’s whole essay here.

U.S. War Vets March on Capitol Hill – 9th Anniversary of Afghanistan War

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans marched on Washington today to demand that traumatized troops not be sent back in to combat. After gathering outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, veterans and civilian members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Civilian Soldier Alliance, and Ethan McCord of the film Collateral Damage marched 6 miles to Capitol Hill to launch Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops.

During a press conference on Capitol Hill, veterans testified about their experiences being redeployed while traumatized and delivered a letter to government and military officials requesting an end to the deployment of traumatized troops. (See the article on CNN.)

“October 7th marks the 9-year anniversary of the Afghanistan War, the longest ongoing war in U.S. history. Pressure from fighting two wars has put enormous strain on U.S. troops, with multiple deployments leading to an explosion of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,” Iraq Veterans Against the War said in a press release.

“PTSD makes service members six times more likely to commit suicide. Instead of being treated, troops are often redeployed to combat while still suffering from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Military Sexual Trauma. Officials recognize that suicides and violent crimes are on the rise, with four decorated combat vets killing themselves at Ft. Hood in one week.”

Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops. Washington, D.C. 7 Oct 2010 by Rose Marie Berger

“I was denied treatment for the mental and physical wounds I sustained in battle, like so many others,” says Ethan McCord, a veteran whose unit was captured in the “Collateral Murder” video distributed by Wikileaks. “IVAW’s campaign is critical for soldiers because we are asserting our right to heal. Now, the government has a choice – will it recognize our right to heal, or deny it?”

Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops. Washington, D.C. 7 Oct 2010 by Rose Marie Berger

“Right now, 20 percent of our fighting force are being deployed on at least one psychotropic medication. These are common medications that are used for things like PTSD and TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury],” said IVAW member Jason Hurd. “I myself am a 100 percent disabled veteran with PTSD. The same medications that I’m currently on, things like Trazedone and things like Prozac, our soldiers are getting sent to Iraq and Afghanistan on these very same drugs, and I’m disabled. So, what does that say…?” Hurd served as a medic in Iraq.

Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops. Washington, D.C. 7 Oct 2010 by Rose Marie Berger
Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops. Washington, D.C. 7 Oct 2010 by Rose Marie Berger
Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops. Washington, D.C. 7 Oct 2010 by Rose Marie Berger

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