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Best of Slow Journalism: The scene of the crime

AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

The My Lai massacre of March 1968 was one of the most unfathomable horrors of the twentieth century. American soldiers from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, descended on the northern Vietnamese village on My Lai believing they had encountered a group of Viet Cong troops or sympathisers. Instead they found a “peaceful village at breakfast”. Disregarding all human decency, the soldiers, led by William L Calley, went on a spree of rape, pillage and murder, and destroyed much of the village.

The massacre was kept firmly on the down-low by US authorities until word of it reached young reporter Seymour Hersh, now a five-time Polk award winner and an icon of investigative journalism. For The New Yorker, he returned to the scene of this devastating crime from 47 years earlier, which he had uncovered as a young reporter.

Hersh retraces how he originally came across what became a “pivotal moment in that misbegotten war” and also takes us on a journey as he travels to My Lai for the first time. It is a deeply personal account and Hersh places himself firmly at the heart of the story: “Now, forty-seven years later, the ditch at My Lai seems wider than I remember from the news photographs of the slaughter: erosion and time doing their work.”

Hersh not only examines the legacy that the massacre has left behind but also makes some fresh discoveries. In doing so, he pays heed to the idea that news stories are never quite at their end.

Read the full article here.

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