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Seymour Hersh and The My Lai Massacre

Page history last edited by John Purcell 15 years, 6 months ago

Seymour Hersh was born on April 8, 1937, in Chicago to Polish and Lithuanian immigrants.  His parents' strong belief in American democracy would influence his muckraking style of journalism.  In 1958, Hersh graduated from the University of Chicago. In 1959, after dropping out of law school, he began working for the City News Bureau of Chicago. He would become a correspondent for the Associated Press in Chicago and Washington in 1963.  Hersh interviewed U.S. Army Lieut. William L. Calley after a tip in 1969, which lead to the discovery of the killing of South Vietnamese civilians by troops under Calley's command in March 1968. The incident that would become known as the My Lai Massacre.


My Lai was believed to be a Viet Cong stronghold and a company of U.S. troops went on a search-and-destroy mission into the area.  No Viet Cong troops were found, though U.S. troops killed most civilians in the area. Two-hundred to 500 civilians are estimated to have died in the massacre.  At first, high-ranking soldiers covered up the incident. However, after Hersh's investigative reporting,  Lieut. William L. Calley was charged for his part in the massacure. 


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed Hersh’s series of articles covering the My Lai massacre, a region that would be known as Pinkville.  On November 13, 1969, the first of three pieces were published. There were an assortment of factors that Hersh reported were not in dispute:  “The Pinkville area, about six miles northeast of Quang Ngai, had been a Viet Cong fortress since the Vietnam war began. In early February 1968, a company of the Eleventh Brigade, as part of Task Force Barker, pushed through the area and was severely shot up.”


Hersh’s second piece, “Hamlet Attack Called ‘Point-Blank Murder,’” dipped into the events that occurred at Pinkville. Sgt. Michael Bernhardt, Hersh’s main source, accused Calley of murder. Bernhardt  told Hersh: “We met no resistance and I only saw three captured weapons. We had no casualties. It was just like any other Vietnamese village—old Papa-san, women and kids. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive. The only prisoner I saw was about 50.” Pictures were taken by Army combat photographer Ronald L. Haeberle showed  piled-up corpses.  These pictures, according to Bernhardt, proved that it couldn’t have been an artillery strike or crossfire that killed civilians.



The last and third piece, “Ex-GI Tells of Killing Civilians at Pinkville,” quotes 22-year-old Paul Meadlo’s account of massacre. Meadlo, Eleventh Infantry Brigade commander, was also under investigation. Calley ordered Meadlo to shoot the civilians; he complied. Meadlo describes troops shooting 25 to 50 civilians in a ditch and then throwing hand grenades into “hootches,” or thatched huts.  Meadlo told Hersh, “We saw this woman walking across this rice paddy and Calley said, ‘Shoot her,’ so we did. When we got there the girl was alive, had this hole in her side. Calley tried to get someone to shoot her again; I don’t know if he did.”


In 1971 Calley was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. Three years later, he was paroled, but Hersh's report had by then contributed to growing domestic opposition to the Vietnam War.  

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Related Links:

For more information on Crusading and Investigative Journalism

Seymour Hersh on The Internet Movie Database

Amazon.com's list of Seymour Hersh Books

CNN's "'Blood and fire' of My Lai remembered 30 years later"

Time Magazine's 1969 article "The My Lai Massacre" 


  1. dailyfortyniner. "Hersh1final.mp4." YouTube. 17/Oct./2008 (accessed 27 October 2008). <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOBA3YBoajU>.
    • Hersh giving a speech at California State University Long Beach in which he discusses the My Lai massacre.  He describes the execution of citizens and how the main "shooting men" were white soldiers.  Non-white soldiers were described as shooting to appease "whitey," but not trying to kill any civilians. 
  2. Hersh, Seymour M. My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath. New York: Random House, 1970.
    • This book is based on Hersh's reporting on the My Lai massacre.  He interviewed nearly 50 members of Charlie Company about the massacre.  Not only does he explore how it happened, but also why it happened.
  3. Hersh, Seymour. "The My Lai Massacre: Seymour Hersh's Complete and Unabridged Reporting for the St. Louis Post Dispatch." Candide's Notebooks.  <http://www.pierretristam.com/Bobst/library/wf-200.htm> (accessed 5 November 2008).
    • This website includes three of the original articles Hersh wrote on the My Lai massacre during November 1969.  The first article covers the accusations toward Lieutenant Calley murdering 109 civilians.  The second article deals with members from platoons at the massacre and how they described it as a “point-blank” murder.  The last article has an ex-GI, Paul Meadlo, describing the massacre and how he went about his orders to attack civilians.
  4. "Seymour Hersh." Encyclopedia Britannica 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (accessed 27 October 2008) <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1010527/Seymour-Hersh>.
    • This article gives a brief summary about the life of Hersh.  It describes his early work on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and how it was similar to his later stories on torture by the American military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.  The article notes his influence in reporting Watergate and his later contributions to The New Yorker magazine.
  5. Streitmatter, Rodger. Mightier Than The Sword: How the New Media Have Shaped American History. 2nd ed. CO: Westview Press, 2008.
    • There is a brief summary about essential details on the My Lai massacre. It gives statistics on the estimated number of citizens killed and mentions Lieutenant William Calley's conviction on charges relating to the massacre.
  6. http://www.nmsu.edu/~ucomm/Releases/2005/March/hersh_seymour.jpg
    • This is an earlier picture of Hersh to be used as multimedia support.


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