My Lai, a hamlet in South Vietnam, was the scene of the My Lai massacre of 16 March 1968, when US troops murdered several hundred villagers, men, women and children and committed multiple rapes. The massacre prompted worldwide condemnation and reduced support for the Vietnam War in the United States.
The massacre, as reported by a South Vietnamese army lieutenant to his superiors, was an "atrocious" incident of revenge. US forces deliberately murdered approximately 400 civilians, shortly after a firefight with Viet Cong troops who had mingled with the villagers on March 16, 1968. Many troops present that day protested and did not take part in the event.
According to University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Doug Linder:
- GIs joked that "anything that's dead and isn't white is a VC" for body count purposes. Angered by a local population that said nothing about the VC's whereabouts, soldiers took to calling natives "gooks." (source)
After the event, the U.S. Army conducted an investigation and concluded there had been poor training in the Laws and Rules of Engagement, poor discipline and poor leadership up to the brigade commander. American 2nd Lieutenant William Calley was convicted in 1971 of premeditated murder in ordering the shootings and initially sentenced to life in prison, but two days later, President Richard Nixon ordered him released from prison. Calley served 3 1/2 years of house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benning, Georgia and was then ordered freed by a federal judge.