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Two Mass Murderers, Two Very Different Stories and Much Hypocrisy

William Calley and the alleged Pan Am bomber were both convicted of mass murder. Yet Calley's recent appearances have provoked no outrage. Why the double standard?

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Butchery in the Mekong Delta

A few weeks after McNamara's death, Julian Ewell, a top Army general who served in two important command roles in Vietnam, also passed away. For years, the specter of atrocity had swirled around him, but only among a select community of veterans and Vietnam War historians. In 1971, Newsweek magazine's Kevin Buckley and Alex Shimkin conducted a wide-ranging investigation of Ewell's crowning achievement, a six-month operation in the Mekong Delta code-named Speedy Express, and found evidence of the widespread slaughter of civilians. "The horror was worse than My Lai," one American official told Buckley. "But… the civilian casualties came in dribbles and were pieced out over a long time. And most of them were inflicted from the air and at night. Also, they were sanctioned by the command's insistence on high body counts."

As word of the impending Newsweek article spread, John Paul Vann, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was by then the third-most-powerful American serving in Vietnam, and his deputy, Colonel David Farnham, met in Washington with Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland. At that meeting, Vann told Westmoreland that Ewell's troops had wantonly killed civilians in order to boost the body count -- the number of enemy dead that served as the primary indicator of success in the field -- and so further the general's reputation and career. According to Farnham, Vann said Speedy Express was, in effect, "many My Lais."

A Pentagon-level cover-up and Newsweek's desire not to upset the Nixon administration in the wake of the My Lai revelations kept the full results of the meticulous investigation by Buckley and Shimkin bottled up. The publication of a severely truncated version of their article allowed the Pentagon to ride out the coverage without being forced to convene a large-scale official inquiry of the sort which followed public disclosure of the My Lai massacre. Only last year did some of the reporting that Newsweek suppressed, as well as new evidence of the slaughter and the cover-up, appear in a piece of mine in The Nation and only in the wake of Ewell's death was it mentioned in the Washington Post that a long-secret official Army report, commissioned in response to Buckley and Shimkin's investigation, concluded:

 

"[W]hile there appears to be no means of determining the precise number of civilian casualties incurred by US forces during Operation Speedy Express, it would appear that the extent of these casualties was in fact substantial, and that a fairly solid case can be constructed to show that civilian casualties may have amounted to several thousand (between 5,000 and 7,000)."

A year after the eviscerated Buckley-Shimkin piece was published, Ewell retired from the Army. Colonel Farnham believed that the general was prematurely pushed out due to continuing Army fears of a scandal. If true, it was the only act approaching official censure that he apparently ever experienced, far less punishment than that meted out to al-Megrahi, or even Calley. Yet Ewell was responsible for the deaths of markedly more civilians. Needless to say, Ewell's civilian slaughter never garnered significant TV coverage, nor did any U.S. president ever express outrage over it, or begrudge the general his military benefits, let alone the ability to spend time with his family. In fact, in October, following a memorial service, Julian Ewell will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Chain of Command

In his recent remarks, William Calley emphasized that he was following orders at My Lai, a point on which he has never wavered. The Army's investigation into My Lai involved 45 members of Medina's company, including Calley, suspected of atrocities. In a second investigation, 30 individuals were looked into for covering up what happened in the village by "omissions or commissions." Twenty-eight of them were officers, two of them generals, and as a group they stood accused of a total of 224 offenses. Calley, however, was the sole person convicted of an offense in connection with My Lai. Even he ultimately evaded any substantive punishment for his crimes.

 
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