Peter Bourne is unique among American psychiatrists in having had the opportunity to investigate the basic-training as well as the combat experience. The special nature of both, he tells us, contribute directly to My Lai.
Peter G. Bourne, M.D.
"American boys would never do something like that," was the response of many people in the United States to the first reports of the My Lai massacre. Obsessed with the inviolate image of the all-American boy, the notion of wholesale wanton murder of women and children posed an irreconcilable contradiction that was intolerable for many people. This cognitive dissonance was dealt with in a variety of well-recognized and by now all too familiar mental maneuvers. One segment of the population denied the validity of the reports, saying that there was no real evidence that the massacre had taken place, although clearly there was. Others argued that it was best to ignore any such incidents because publicizing them only provided comfort to the enemy. A variation on this theme was to respond to accounts of American atrocities by talking only of Viet Cong atrocities, as though this both explained and justified acts by Americans. A further group sought to reidentify or relabel the victims in such a way as to make their slaughter more acceptable. They were really Viet Cong; women and children in the village had previously thrown grenades and shot at GIs, or constant enemy attacks had been mounted from this village--all were statements without foundation that were used to justify what had occurred. Perhaps the most bizarre rationalization of all is that some of the men at My Lai had smoked pot the night before the massacre, and that this was responsible for their acts.
Some members of the peace movement have also been guilty of not facing the real issue. In completely absolving the individuals actually involved and in placing the blame exclusively on the policymakers and field commanders, they have ignored