January 07, 2006

RIP Hugh Thompson, Hero of My Lai

via Unfogged, Hugh Thompson has died. As a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he saw U.S. soldiers massacring unarmed civilians at My Lai, and landed his helicopter between the soldiers and civilians to stop the massacre.

In this 1998 chat (via), Thompson tells what happened:

That was two times we'd asked for help and got people killed. Shortly after then, we saw some Vietnamese who had just made it to a bunker and were hiding inside the bunker. On the other side of the opening, we saw the American forces coming toward them. We just kind of figured those people were dead in about 15 seconds if we didn't do something. That's when we elected to land the aircraft between the American forces and the bunker.

That bolded quote is the essence of heroism for me. As Mad Mike says, too often we treat as heroes people who kill people, instead of people who stop killing. From the BBC:

Mr Thompson was shunned for years by fellow soldiers, received death threats, and was once told by a congressman that he was the only American who should be punished over My Lai.

I can't help thinking that if people like Thompson were held up everywhere as exemplars of heroism, the world would be a much better place.

Posted by Matt Weiner at January 7, 2006 02:15 PM