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An Army Journalist Testifies Before the Peers Commission

Peers Commission investigators asked Jay Roberts, an Army journalist who accompanied photographer Ronald Haeberle on the My Lai operation, to explain why the massacre had occurred. Roberts was a veteran journalist, and My Lai was not his first assignment. Nonetheless, Roberts had written a completely sanitized version of the events at My Lai, despite having been a first-hand witness to the massacre.

Q:    I would like to ask you two questions, Mr. Roberts, that are very germane to this investigation that we are conducting. The first question is, why did this thing happen?

A:    Well, that’s a very difficult question and I have pondered since this thing was brought out in the press. I think basically it was a reaction to frustration by these people that were in this operation. I don't think that they had orders to go in there and shoot women and children. I think they had orders to go in there and clean out this VC nest, and I think that they expected to have a lot of resistance and to be really in a heavy fire fight. They had been in the same area two other times in the past 2 weeks, and they really had been in a lot of trouble. I think the press brought out the fact that they had a little memorial service for one of their people who was quite well liked. It was rather an emotional little service and it probably helped to heighten their hatred for this area and the VC in this area. Plus the fact that any GI in Vietnam is in a frustrated situation. He doesn't know who to be friends with. Children coddle up to jeeps and drop hand grenades in them. You can't trust a child because anybody in Vietnam—because you don't know who your friends are. I think that these things were working on these people. The situation was right and they went in there to clean out this VC nest and some of the individuals among the group got carried away. In every large group you find some hostile people and some don't-care-type people, and I think the hostile people, the I-don't-care people did what was done there. It was just a bad reaction to these instances and the situation in Vietnam.

Q:    You also indicated in your earlier discussion that these pep talks that they received, did that also seem to add fuel to fire, so to speak?

A:    I think generally that that was a considerable factor. Also, the fact that they really had made no headway in the two previous engagements and the fact that they had taken quite a few casualties. The fact that this time they were going to be ready and go back in there; nothing was going to stop them, which is the type of thing that I would think would be a good way to brief guys when they're about to go into a heavy fire fight, where they would expect to have their friends dropping all around them. “Don't stop for anything. We're going to take this hill,” that type of thing, and that probably was the type of pep talk that I referred to earlier, although I don't know.

Q:    But the men were worked up to quite a high pitch?

A:    From what I understand, from what I had heard, they weren't going to be easily put down.

Source | [William Peers], Report of the Department of the Army Review, of the Preliminary Investigations in to the My Lai Incident, vol. 4, exhibits M-2, M-3, ([Washington, D.C.]: The Department, 1970), 9-11; from James S. Olson and Randy Roberts, My Lai: A Brief History with Documents, (Boston: Bedford, 1998), 54-55.
Creator | William Peers
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | William Peers, “An Army Journalist Testifies Before the Peers Commission,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed January 18, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/874.

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