The My Lai courts-martial are the stories of two tragedies growing out of American involvement in Viet Nam. One was the massacre by United States soldiers of as many as 500 unarmed civilians-- old men, women, children--in My Lai on the morning of March 16, 1968. The other was the cover-up of that massacre.
U. S. military officials suspected Quang Ngai Province as being an enemy stronghold. The U. S. targeted the province for the first major U.S. combat operation of the war. Military officials declared the province a "free-fire zone" and subjected it to frequent bombing missions and artillery attacks. By the end of 1967, many dwellings in the province had been destroyed and nearly 140,000 civilians left homeless. Not surprisingly, the U. S. operations led some within the native population of Quang Ngai Province to distrust Americans. In some villages, children hissed at soldiers and adults kept quiet. But the situation was complicated. Other natives detested North Vietnamese Army regulars, and in some native villages, children would gather around American jeeps and try to sell Cokes or offer to polish boots. Soldiers entering a village didn't know quite what to expect.... Continued