The ‘My Lai Massacre’ Narrative in American History and Memory: A Story of American Conservatism

Title: The ‘My Lai Massacre’ Narrative in American History and Memory: A Story of American Conservatism
Authors: Stewart, Eric
Date: 2015
Abstract: This thesis uses the referent “My Lai Massacre” to refer to the mythic memory of what happened in Son My on 16 March, 1968. It argues that it is a fitting name for the way it captures the ethnocentrism of the memory in the name by perpetuating an American misnomer rooted in ignorance. It also singularizes the scope of horrors of the day, and fails to differentiate ‘the massacre’ from the domestic turmoil with which it was conflated. The My Lai Massacre narrative as it currently exists in American history and memory is ‘exceptionalist’ in that it incorporates and excludes story elements in such a way that casts it as a highly exceptional occurrence. The main argument of this thesis is that American history and memory of the ‘My Lai Massacre’ have, to a large degree, been defined and shaped by conservative influences. In the time since the news of the atrocities became public this has manifested itself in a number of way and is not confined to conservative histories of the war. Despite the hold liberal orthodox scholarship has on the history of the war, there remains within it, this thesis argues, a conservative trend regarding the massacres in Son My. Reactions, explanations, and rationalizations that appeared in early conservative responses to news of the massacres have survived into a wider ideological spectrum of Vietnam scholarship and memory than that from which it came. Although it seems at first consideration an unlikely event from which a usable past might be constructed, the My Lai Massacre does get used in a didactic manner. This thesis examines some of the most prevalent ways the memory of My Lai functions as a usable past. The My Lai Massacre has been incorporated into a number of ‘lessons of the past’ that tend to be derived from conservative narratives of the war.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -