Just Following Orders

mylai -my-lai-massacre-cultural-revolution

Included in the slaughter are children, even babies. Believe it or not this massacre was once believed to be “communist propaganda”

Christine and I were watching a documentary on My Lai, a village in South Vietnam, where American soldiers committed a massacre on innocent civilians. Over 500 innocent men, women and children were brutally slaughtered and raped and blown apart by what they once perceived to be peaceful soldiers (at least according to the initial thoughts of some of the survivors in the documentary).  According to one Vietnamese website…

“The soldiers had raped women and killed almost all of the residents of the village: 503 civilians, including 182 women, 172 children, 89 men under 60 years and 60 elderly.” *

When compared to the roughly 2 million innocent civilians killed in the Vietnam War, 500 innocent civilians may seem like nothing to some. What makes this case different is that this was premeditated murder, planned by Captain Ernest Medina and carried out by soldiers “just following orders”.

I understand that the U.S soldiers during Vietnam were scared. Who wouldn’t be? To my knowledge they were not used to the kinds of guerilla warfare tactics used against them, the terrain, the climate and so on. What sticks in people’s craw the most though is the fact that innocent children and babies were among the dead, their limbs blown off and so on. Not only were they innocent, they were literally completely incapable of doing the U.S soldiers any harm. In the documentary it seems that these babies and children were referred to as “communist sympathisers” (can you imagine the public reaction if American or British babies were considered  capitalist sympathisers and therefore worthy of being killed? Crazy).

baby

North Korean propaganda poster. Some still think this is purely anti-american propaganda. Others feel that with the very real event in My Lai, in South Vietnam, where innocent toddlers were slaughtered, these are more than mere propaganda posters.

In an atrocity like this, it is to be expected that a lot of the soldiers will say they were just “following” orders, and this is precisely what happened. They opened up with automatic fire on innocent people because their superiors told them to. Following orders, it seems, is what makes a “perfect soldier” and the same holds true today. Nowadays we, who are not soldiers, may call them “sheep” (because, as any sheep farmer will tell you, sheep are well-known for following the one sheep that thinks, for better or for worse, for its own self). Sheep by their very nature will “follow the leader”, which is why the name “sheep”, when referring to followers, works. That in itself does not make the sheep fundamentally “stupid” or “dumb”, though stupidity can indeed play its part too. Rather, it makes them vulnerable and scared, cowardly even.

A word on sheep. Sheep are very nervous animals, and they also like to stick around in groups. I know this because i grew up on a farm. They are much different than cattle, more nervous. Because of this nervousness, their only real courage shines through if they are cornered individually, for example for shearing or administering medicine to them. They will do everything in their power to escape, even lunge towards you. I feel the reason is because they hate being singled out. Sheep are social creatures and need to be with other sheep.

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At first i thought “what they hell was Esquire thinking back in the 70’s” but it’s quite clear when you think about it. Here is a classic piece of American propaganda. Lt Calley was charged for murdering 22 of the hundreds of innocent civilians yet here he is, pictured with what appears to be Vietnamese children. This poster seems to be saying “SEE, I REALLY DO LOVE VIETNAMESE KIDS AFTER ALL…I AIN’T THAT BAD HONEST” It all seems rather tasteless to me

Christ refers to himself as the good shepherd, and those who follow him are supposed to follow his examples of love, kindness and courage. Sheep need shepherds to protect them from the wolves, but the problem is that if the sheep have a corrupt, selfish or cruel shepherd, the sheep are in danger. Tragically the soldiers under Captain Ernest Medina were sheep without a real shepherd. Medina’s legal team even passed the blame onto the sheep who were “just following orders” thereby clearing himself of any wrong doing.

The argument is that as a soldier you are taught NOT to question orders. This is, some say, the perfect soldier. I understand this. The problem is that when you really DO need to question orders and you continue down this road of questioning nothing, there is a very real problem. As in the case of My Lai, this problem resulted in having children as young as three years old crawling through a ditch full of corpses crying for its mother, but.. “The soldiers were just following orders”. Should we be too surprised though? It is not unheard of that before a soldier even sees battle, he is indoctrinated, not unlike an initiation into a cult, and some of this includes cadence. Here’s an excerpt from one called “Napalm Sticks to Kids”

“I’ve only seen it happen twice,
But both times it was mighty nice,
Shooting peasants planting rice,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Napalm, son, is lots of fun,
Dropped in a bomb or shot from a gun,
It gets the gooks when on the run,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Drop some napalm on a farm,
It won’t do them any harm,
Just burn off their legs and arms,
Napalm sticks to kids.”

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnimvivi18.html

Occasionally I wonder if there is a correlation between this kind of brainwashing and soldiers wholose their minds. I could find a dozen stories of western soldiers ( you know, the “good guys”) seeing their enemies as “non human”. The following link, for example, tells the story of how Steven Green raped and killed a 14-year-old girl because he didn’t see her as human….and it’s at this point the sane person is supposed to think WHAT THE FUCK?….yes, what the fuck indeed! Green converted to Catholicism in prison though (One wonders how many Hail Mary’s he had to say to be forgiven?) This paedophilic disgusting excuse for a human, as you’ve probably guessed right, doesn’t think he deserves life imprisonment and is fighting it.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1340207/I-didnt-think-Iraqis-humans-says-U-S-soldier-raped-14-year-old-girl-killing-her-family.html

And for the pet lovers out there, who can forget David Mortari? Yes the arsehole made famous for throwing a puppy over the cliff to its death brings to mind the completely screwed up side of soldiers of “the free world”. I’ll cover this soon in a separate blog.

devil-card-cultural-revolution-tarot

Initially we weren’t sure how our American audience would feel about having an Uncle Sam like figure as our Devil card. If you’ve read this blog, i hope you understand the intent behind it. Our tarot is created from a Mao era Asian perspective

And yet even in one of the most horrifying of situations, the My Lai massacre, you have those soldiers, real, true heroes like Hugh Thompson jr, Lawrence Colburn, Glenn Andreotta whose efforts to end the massacre and rescue civilians will always be remembered. It takes courage to go against the majority. If not for the likes of Thompson and co, such military organisations would irredeemably be denounced and demonized by all people of moral standing the way the west has demonized communism. I think this is why the director Oliver Stone refers to whistleblower Edward Snowden as a hero. You may see him, like Donald Trump and many others do, as a traitor to the U.S, but regardless it takes courage to bring about transparency in government (something Obama claimed he WOULD do, but did not act upon). Stone, known for his movie “Platoon”, among others, casts Charlie Sheen in the role of the moral character who witnesses the horrible rape and slaughter of a village, not unlike My Lai. While Sheen’s character may not be a whistleblower, unlike Snowden, or Brian De Palma’s “Private Max Eriksson” (played by Michael J Fox) in Casualties of War, I feel that he represent’s Stone’s own feelings and experiences during his time in Vietnam. In the case of Michael J Fox’s character in Casualties of War, he plays the role of the moral soldier who refuses to take part in the rape of a young Vietnamese girl.

Hugh Thompson jr, Lawrence Colburn, Glenn Andreotta, who can be considered true heroes, made efforts to end the My Lai massacre and rescued some of the survivors, proving that even in the most notorious and shameful of events can produce amazing feats of bravery. These are perfect representations of people who broke away from the “only following orders” train of thought and followed their conscience.

Piecing together some of the pages in our Cultural Revolution Tarot scrapbook has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. When working on the pages for the Devil card, i first came across the massacre My Lai. I’d briefly commented on No Gun Ri and the North Korean propaganda posters that inspired our ideas for the Devil card imagery, but My Lai as an actual specific Vietnamese atrocity (most of us have at least heard of the dodgy dealings during Vietnam, even if nothing more specific) is relatively new to me.

*Vietnamese source http://vukienmdc.violet.vn/document/show/entry_id/2610920

cultural-revolution-technicolour-tarot

Here is the full Major Arcana collection from our Cultural Revolution Tarot (the technicolour version). To be taken to our store, click on the image

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