The story by Evelyn Theiss of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer has been online since Friday and I can't stop wondering how Vietnam will react to it. The headline: "My Lai photographer Ron Haeberle admits he destroyed pictures of soldiers in the act of killing." The story also ran on the Ohio paper's front page. Unless I'm Googling wrong, America seems to have shrugged off or simply missed this brand-new footnote to 1968's slaughter of hundreds of men, women, and children by U.S. soldiers.
More than one year following the massacre, just after investigative reporter Seymour Hersh broke the My Lai story, Time used the words "obviously spurious" to swat away comparisons to Nazi atrocities. But the magazine allowed that the massacre "sears the generous and humane image, more often deserved than not, of the U.S. as a people."
As recently as September, Thanh Nien — "the flagship publication of the Vietnam National Youth Federation" — wrote this about My Lai: "The villagers have learned to cope with their deep scars and continue living life, but we all know that their hatred surely is not gone yet."
That may be accurate. It may not be. It may reflect the views of the average person in Vietnam. It may not.
Vietnam ranks 178th in the world for press freedom, according to Freedom House's "Freedom of the Press 2009" report. That puts Vietnam way down on the report's lowest rung in the "not free" category.
Vietnam's government, meanwhile, is fending off claims that it is blocking its citizens from using Facebook. According to a Saturday story by UPI, the "Facebook connectivity issues come after Vietnamese authorities requested citizens to only write about personal concerns online, and had several bloggers and online journalists arrested."
So it is perhaps pointless and even callous to hope that someone living in Vietnam will see this and post a comment below — about My Lai, about the new revelation by The Plain Dealer, about the state of press freedom in Vietnam.