Paul Meadlo, along with his division, was shooting at the civilians in the ditch in the Vietnamese town of My Lai. One Vietnamese mother, in an attempt to protect her son, tucked the little toddler underneath her, and the boy managed to avoid the gunfire. Toward the end of the afternoon, the men heard a noise, and saw the little boy climbing up through the ditch to run away.
Lieutenant Calley, a ranking officer at the scene, ordered Meadlo to shoot him. Meadlo couldn’t do it, staring at the child point-blank. Calley grabbed his smaller rifle and shot the boy.
The next day, Meadlo was walking on patrol, stepped on a land mine, and blew his right leg off at the knee. They called in a medevac, and as the chopper started to fly away, Meadlo began yelling: “God has punished me, and God will punish you,” yelling it over and over again.
This was one tale that Seymour Hersh told to a full crowd in Cahn Auditorium on Thursday, as part of a 90-minute lecture in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter reflected on misconceptions about the morality of war. Hersh, brought to campus for the 19th annual Richard W. Leopold Lectureship, is a renowned reporter and author on topics ranging from the Vietnam War to the most recent Abu Ghraib torture scandals.
“It’s misleading when we talk about bravery and heroism,” he said. “it distracts us from what war really is.”
Drawing parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, Hersh shared with the audience his deep well of knowledge, explaining problems that our country faces in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Afghanistan and here at home. He seemed sure that America’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are destined for failure: “We made people more afraid of us then they are of the Taliban…we are fighting against ourselves.”
He also discussed the effect the violence has on both the psyche of our soldiers and the victims they leave in their wake, saying that “soldiers are often just as much the victims as the people they shoot”.
Hersh went on to comment on the search for “the moral position of America,” combining jokes about “the reign of King George II” and “Condoleezza Rice, the desperate housewife” with a critique of the invasion of Iraq as one done with no regard for the destruction left behind.
Making wisecracks along the way, Hersh referenced back to his times as a police reporter in Chicago, when he would sit with the cops, watching stag movies and smoking “what we called maryjane” that the police had previously confiscated.
He wasn’t without advice to young journalists either. “Two things: Read before you write and get the hell out of the way of the story,” he said as he moved to the post-lecture reception. “Know enough to write it in such a way it comes across what you want to say… but you can’t do it without reading.”