In the aftermath of the My Lai disclosures in November of 1969 we came together on several occasions to discuss the significance of the event. We had been familiar with the United States' widespread commission of war crimes in Vietnam, but My Lai brought the issue before the public, at least briefly, in decisive and dramatic fashion. This book represents our joint effort to contribute to an American response to the awesome fact that war crimes have been and are being committed in our name. Indeed, it is increasingly plausible to join with Jean-Paul Sartre and others in conceiving of the entire war--or any massive counterinsurgency campaign by outside forces relying upon modern weaponry--as one all-embracing war crime.
We believe that all societies have the capacity to commit and authorize war crimes or other varieties of atrocity. But certain situations and pressures heighten this potentiality to such an extent as virtually to drag human beings across a threshold of inevitability. We write with a particular concern for the GI, who is being compelled to serve in the nation's armed forces under circumstances of severe danger and stress, and whose unseen, distant commanders and political leaders order him into situations where the commission of war crimes is a normal incident of military behavior. We are disturbed that some GIs politically and legally vulnerable to prosecution will be punished solely to shield both our leaders and the general citizenry from any shared sense of responsibility for the course and conduct of the war. These GIs are being prosecuted mainly to sustain an image of self-righteousness and decency on the part of those who have initiated, planned, and are continuing to carry out the vicious tactics of battle that have long been a daily part of this war.
We offer this book in the conviction that the struggle for moral clarification on the broadest basis is crucial for America and Americans, and that the issue of war crimes confronts each of us with a