Hugh Thompson has died. Who was Hugh Thompson? A helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he intervened to stop the My Lai massacre.
Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta came upon U.S. ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai. They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pointed their own guns at the U.S. soldiers to prevent more killings. (AP via ABC).
I can only imagine how it felt to see your own countrymen engaged in such shameful behavior and to make the decision to intervene with the threat of force. I can only imagine how alone Thompson felt in the aftermath of My Lai. Thompson’s actions required courage at every step.
No, I don’t have any reason to believe that Thompson was a Methodist. I have no clue about his religious preference. The values of Honor and Duty, however, are important to all Soldiers, and should be doubly so for Soldiers of faith. As the Army’s keystone doctrinal manual says:
While the use of force is sometimes necessary for the common good, the authority to wield it carries a moral responsibility of the greatest magnitude.” (FM 1 ¶1-52)
The just use of force requires self-control and unit discipline. Surrendering to individual or group anger turns a unit into a mob, and war into murder. Letting passion rather than purpose rule the day not only harms the victims; it hurts the national purpose and causes lasting injury to the conscience of the perpetrators as well. The nation expects more from its service members, and our Lord certainly expects more from those who belong to him.
The vast majority of American service members are disciplined men and women of honor who do their duty under very difficult circumstances. Every once in a while, some may stray from the disciplined path of honor. When that occurs, we need men and women like Hugh Thompson to step forward. His actions exemplify the Army – and Christian – value of Personal Courage for the sake of others.
William Calley and Hugh Thompson both served in the same Army. I know which one represents the true spirit of the American Soldier.