[January 3, 2016] As luck would have it, I was reviewing some reading material and notes taken from my Infantry Officer Basic Course the other evening. In it I stumbled upon my study of the Mi Lai Massacre in Vietnam. I remember clearly how the course instructor had told us the shame it had brought upon the U.S. Army and that we should always remember what we do echoes across history.
Before I entered the military, my grandmother gave me something to think about. She told me to remember that what we do reflects on our family name. Fortunately, I took her advice and always tried to do the right thing but soon discovered not everyone thinks that way or does the honorable thing. What she told me in many conversations added up to the fact that what we in reality does echo across history.
The massacre at Mi Lai had promoted global outrage when it became public knowledge in late 1969. The incident was later called “the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War.”1 Much has been written about it and the long-lasting impact it had on the U.S. military as well as the men and women who served. The treatment of U.S. Vietnam veterans had always been disgraceful but the Mi Lai Massacre made America’s view of the Vietnam veteran tainted to this day.
There are many examples how a dishonorable act can follow one across history. A recent example: a few days ago the government of France opened access to Nazi-collaboration era archives.2 The Vichy regime had collaborated with the invading German military from 1940 to 1944. There are elderly men and women living today who will be affected by this and there will be shame brought upon many French families whose relatives were Nazi collaborators.
Leaders would be remiss if they ignored this fact. The reason I use military battles of the past and show respect for heroes in my leadership blog is my small way of remembering that actions do matter. If we lie, people will remember and trust us less. If we mislead others, it will be remembered. If we, in any way, violate the norms of our society, disgrace will be brought upon us, our families, and those we associate with.
What we do echoes across history. Just ask my grandmother.
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- War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam, Bernd Greiner, 2009.