Volume 16, Issue 2, Fall 2002
Sounds of Silence
In this article, I suggest that exclusive attention to questions of individual moral responsibility for the killing of Vietnamese civilians in raids on My Lai and Thanh Phong (March 16, 1968, and February 24.25, 1969, respectively), while important, may serve only to silence equally important ethical questions like: Are these cases genocide and mass murder? What does the response or lack thereof of the American government and public to these events tell us about our quest for justice? If we cannot ascertain a reliable account of the facts, does this relegate such actions to meaninglessness? What role does memory play in our representation of horror as well as our memorializing the past? Do we have to be both victims and executioners or can we, in Albert Camus.s words, become “neither victims nor executioners”? My point is that the relevance of this issue is less about returning to the past and assigning guilt and moral culpability and more about the pragmatic-ethical concern of addressing the conditions that make such actions possible.