My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War by William Thomas Allison

William Thomas Allison is the latest military historian to offer his take on the still-controversial My Lai Massacre. Allison is certainly qualified to do so. A Professor of Military History at Georgia Southern University, he spent an academic year as a Visiting Professor at the U.S. Air Force’s Air War College and a term as a Visiting Professor of Military History at the Air Force’s School for Advanced Air and Space Studies. In addition to his position at Georgia Southern, Allison is the General Harold K. Johnson Visiting Chair in Military History at the U.S. Army War College. He’s also the author of a 2012 book on the Gulf War.

In My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 184 pp., $49.95, hardcover; $19.95, paperback), which was published in 2012, Allison provides a brief yet detailed look at the events before, during, and after what took place on March 16, 1968, in a small village in Quang Nai Province. A part of the “Witness to History” series, the book is aimed at today’s students, offering, Allison says, “a concise but thorough overview of the context, events, legacies, and principle sources” about My Lai, “in the hope of making them aware so that they, too, will remember.”

William Thomas Allison

His conclusion: exactly why the American troops under Capt. Ernest Medina and Lt. William Calley  ran amok at My Lai “will likely never be fully understood.” No “single thing caused My Lai,” Allison says, “just as no single thing caused the more recent atrocities committed by American military personnel in the Middle East.”

The book contains a very good account of the My Lai story. For the most part, Allison sticks to the facts, but he also offers some analysis, especially in recounting the tactics of the lawyers on both sides of the courts-martial of Calley and Medina.

–Marc Leepson

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