So I went home and talked to my friends and my relatives and all of my people who I thought had been my mentors. They all, almost to the person, said, 'Shut up. Shut up. This is none of your business---leave it alone.'" - Ron Ridenhour.
We think we are a moral people, a nation with principles and integrity. But Ron Ridenhour came home from Viet Nam aware of an awful atrocity that had been committed by U.S. soldiers and he asked his friends and relatives what to do and they did not say, speak up, report it, let justice be done. They had been to the parades and monuments and speeches and dedications, and they all knew that all of it was a lie. Freedom? Democracy?
Ridenhour ignored his friends' advice and followed his own conscience and reported what he had heard to his congressman, among others. Eventually, at the insistence of Morris Udall, an investigation was initiated and the My Lai Massacre was exposed.
How does a soldier decide if the orders he has received are lawful or not lawful? From the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, 1971, the United States vs. William Calley:
 The acts of a subordinate done in compliance with an unlawful order given him by his superior are excused and impose no criminal liability upon him unless the superior's order is one which a man of ordinary sense and understanding would, under the circumstances, know to be unlawful, or if the order in question is actually known to the accused to be unlawful.
 Colonel William Winthrop, the leading American commentator on military law, notes: ... Where the order is apparently regular and lawful on its face, he [the subordinate] is not to go behind it to satisfy himself that his superior has proceeded with authority, but is to obey it according to its terms, the only exceptions recognized to the rule of obedience being cases of orders so manifestly beyond the legal power or discretion of the commander as to admit of no rational doubt of their unlawfulness. ... Except in such instances of palpable illegality, which must be of rare occurrence, the inferior should presume that the order was lawful and authorized and obey it accordingly. ... Winthrop's Military Law and Precedents, 2d ed., 1920 Reprint, at 296–297.
The Remarkable Lt. William Calley apparently massacred more than 500 civilians all by himself. No one else has ever been convicted of participation in the My Lai massacre.
Calley, nevertheless, was only charged specifically for the deaths of 109.
What is the punishment for 109 counts of murder? This is America, the land of law and order, remember? This is the bible-believing Godly nation of belt-buckle blustering bible-thumping believers... The nation that believes justice should be swift and true.... the nation that sentences drunk drivers to life in prison, and video-tape thieves to 30 years, and charlatans to 144 years...
So what should be the sentence for 109 cold-blooded murders?
Three and one half years of house arrest.
And then there was an outcry from the Christian community and our evangelical leaders that this sentence made a mockery of the lives of those innocent Viet Namese civilians....
Well, no, not that I remember. I think most of our evangelical leaders were actually calling for Calley to be pardoned. After all, you know, boys will be boys.
I'll bet you didn't know
Hugh Thompson, Larry Colburn, Glenn Andreotti. You probably don't know their names. I didn't know their names, off hand, until just recently.
Hugh Thompson was a warrant officer and helicopter pilot in Viet Nam in 1968. He happened to be flying over My Lai at the time of the massacre. When he realized what was going on, he lowered his helicopter between William Calley and several women and children and demanded that he stop the killing. Calley was a Lieutenant, and Thompson a mere warrant officer. Calley stopped, for the moment, and Thompson was able to evacuate several women and children. When Thompson returned to his base, he demanded the someone intervene to stop the slaughter. Nobody did much of anything.
It's human nature that today we all know the names of Mark Spitz and Jessica Simpson and Michael Jackson and Regis Philbin.... but I'll bet most people could never tell you who Hugh Thompson is.