By Camille Russell
Fifty years ago, at the height of the American war in Vietnam, an event known as the My Lai Massacre took place in a small village in Vietnam. U.S. troops killed unarmed women, children, old people and animals in a bloodbath that lasted several hours and involved four platoons—about 150 American soldiers. Women were raped, houses burned, food supplies destroyed and people were forced into a ditch and executed.
The details of the massacre were published a year and a half later by Seymour Hersh, an independent investigative journalist, in a cable filed through Dispatch News Service and picked up by more than 30 newspapers. The American public was shocked. The event was pivotal in shifting public opinion of the U.S. war in Vietnam from support and apathy to opposition.
It was not only the horror of the event that shocked the public but also the realization that our boys, our military and our government perpetrated these atrocities. The American people could no longer truthfully view themselves as a moral force for good in the world.
On March 24, the My Lai Memorial Exhibit (www.mylaimemorial.org) will be in Fresno for the third stop in a nationwide tour. The traveling exhibit was created by artist Mac MacDevitt and the Chicago Chapter of Veterans for Peace.
The exhibit will be at the offices of FIRM (Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries) at 1940 N. Fresno Street in Fresno from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Since 1994, FIRM has been a welcoming home to immigrants in Fresno. From its inception, FIRM has supported immigrants from Southeast Asia whose journey to the United States was necessitated by the war in Vietnam and its impact on surrounding countries.
“The Vietnam War has been the source of so much pain and hurting for many of the people we serve every day,” notes Zack Darrah, executive director of FIRM. “We are honored to be part of this.”
MacDevitt, an artist and the exhibit lead, says that “the Pentagon is spending $63 million to glorify our unnecessary, unjust and immoral military actions in Vietnam and in our continuing wars today. Our Memorial Exhibit honoring the Vietnamese who died in their American War is a strong, antiwar response to the Pentagon’s campaign. Our goal is to travel the country with the My Lai Memorial Exhibit to fulfill the Veterans for Peace mission—to seek justice for veterans and the victims of war, expose the true costs of war and to work for peace.”
At the Exhibit
Area 1: Exhibit Panels— Informational panels help you to humanize and understand the Vietnamese as a people and the impact of the American War on families, the land and their way of life.
Area 2: Interactive Touch- Screen Simulation—Place your-
self in the “sandals” of a Vietnamese farming family in a village where military activity is intensifying. You become aware of the difficult choices and painful consequences faced by Vietnamese families.
Area 3: Interactive Sculptural Collage Building and Dialogue—At the heart of the exhibit is a unique artistic process to create sculptural collages. Dialogue with a trained mentor and connect what went on in Vietnam with your life today. How do we use violence in our society and in the wars we engage in today?
Area 4: Take Action Kiosk—Provide support to organizations that are actively engaged in remediation efforts in Vietnam. Learn about local organizations that promote peace and oppose war and violence as a means to resolve conflict.
Area 5: The Sharing Wall— Digitally share images of personal collage art and commentary with other exhibit participants and post on your social media.
Visitors may come when they can and stay for as long as they wish.
If the My Lai Massacre had been an isolated incident during the war in Vietnam; if the U.S. military hadn’t tried to cover it up; if officers topping the chain of command had been court martialed; if the United States had joined an international effort to abolish war and weapons of war; and if we weren’t continuing to spend billions and billions on war, the preparation for war and its consequences, there would be less need to reflect on what happened at My Lai.
However, U.S. wars rage on supported by our two major parties. The stories of people around the world whose lives and lands are destroyed by U.S. weapons and U.S. personnel continue. A Jan. 24, 2018, article in The Nation reported that “the United States has approximately 800 formal military bases in 80 countries.”
If we truly want a better world, the implications of warfare and our responsibility for perpetuating it must be faced. U.S. residents have not experienced war on our soil since the Civil War 150 years ago. Media coverage of current wars is limited and one-sided. The My Lai Memorial Exhibit provides an opportunity to consider what it is like to experience war on one’s land and in one’s community.
Experiencing the My Lai Memorial Exhibit helps us pause, be more informed, reflect and invites us to act.
Veterans for Peace–Fresno Chapter and Peace Fresno are taking the lead in organizing this event. Additional support has come from the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Community Alliance newspaper, the Central Valley Progressive PAC, FIRM and individuals.
Camille Russell is Peace Fresno’s vice president for publicity, a founding member of Peace Fresno and a retired teacher. She understands that social change is possible but only when we work together. Contact her at camille. email@example.com or 559-276-2592.