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 and coordinator of these worship resources

Second Saturday in Advent

“We are only syllables of the Perfect Word.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”Matthew 11:19

merton1Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemene in Kentucky, died on this date in 1968. In his life, he worked for peace and prayed and argued for an end to war. “Instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and women and love God above all,” he wrote in Seeds of Contemplation. “Instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.”

Merton was electrocuted by a faulty wire on a fan in his room where he was attending an international meeting with Eastern and Western contemplatives in Bangkok. His body was shipped home on a military transport plane alongside the bodies of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Merton would have appreciated their common lot.

One man who knew Merton described him as a “merry monk,” like in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He recalled Merton’s bright, inquisitive eyes, filled with humor…more like a “chip monk” one person told me. Though he was a cloistered contemplative, and at times tried to be a hermit, Merton kept up a lively letter writing exchange with atheists, artists, communists, bohemians, women, poets, Buddhists, and radicals. In Merton’s life, “wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Christmas Eve is less than two weeks away. Who will sit at your Christmas table?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent

Our friends over at Radical Discipleship are hosting a Lenten journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech. Last autumn I was asked to make a contribution and it was posted yesterday.

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent
By Rose Marie Berger, a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.–Martin Luther King Jr

Between the first and second sentence of this paragraph, Brother Martin fully entered into his “vocation of agony.”

Between these two–the first, where he holds America accountable to the ideals of her founding and the second, where he begins his sharpest theological critique to date–King “sets his face like flint” (Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7) toward the center of military empire: Washington, D.C.

The Riverside speech launches the next phase of King’s ministry. Now he will address the mechanism of empire–not just its bitter fruits. Now he will hold America accountable not only to her founding ideals but to God.

In that space between “the present war” and “America’s soul,” an assassin snicked his soft-nosed bullet into a 30-06 rifle.

King names America as “Hope-Destroyer;” Vietnam is what the Prophet Jeremiah calls a “high place of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings” (19:5). … [read the rest at Radical Discipleship]

Jim Douglass: A President Assassinated by the National Security State (Part 5)

The most important book for any American to read is JFK and the Unspeakable: Who Killed Him and Why it Matters by James D. Douglass.

Douglass’ investigation into the secret papers finally released during the Clinton era begin to uncover a deadly “family pattern” of behavior in the highest levels of political power. Now, Douglass has written an important article for Tikkun magazine that looks at how the pattern is being repeated again between President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and Afghanistan.

Below is Part 5: A President Assassinated by the National Security State

Also in September, JFK initiated a secret dialogue with Fidel Castro, through U.S./UN diplomat William Attwood, to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations. Kennedy’s first back-channel representative in that dialogue, French reporter Jean Daniel, was actually meeting with Castro on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, when they heard the news that, as Castro said, ” changed everything.” The U.S.-Cuban dialogue died in Dallas.

On October 11, 1963, JFK had signed National Security Action Memorandum 263. It ordered a U.S. troop withdrawal from Vietnam — bringing home “1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963” and “by the end of 1965 … the bulk of U.S. personnel,” an order that President Johnson quietly voided. The Vietnam War was reignited in Dallas.

President Kennedy’s courageous turn from global war to a strategy of peace provides the why of his assassination. Because he turned toward peace with our enemies, the Communists, he found himself at odds with his own national security state. Peacemaking had risen to the top of his agenda as president. That was not the kind of leadership the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military-industrial complex wanted in the White House. Given the Cold War dogmas that gripped those dominant powers, and given Kennedy’s turn toward peace, his assassination followed as a matter of course. Given what we know now, there can be little doubt it was an act of state. –James Douglass, from JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable