Saturday, August 22, 2009

A musical footnote: The Battle Hymn Of Lt Calley

I first came across this track a couple of decades back on the NME's Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die compilation, which gathered Vietnam-era tracks from both sides of the American political divide. It's by a chap called Terry Nelson, a US disc-jockey who rushed in to the studio in 1971 to churn out a patriotic song in support of Lieutenant Calley. Calley was the soldier who ordered the My Lai massacre - and the only US soldier convicted for his part in the crime.

The conviction wasn't popular - as many as three out of every four Americans felt it was the wrong verdict. Nelson's record put words into Calley's mouth, with a lyric that actually does manage a riff based on "I was only following orders":

All stirring stuff. The only problem is that it turns out Calley won't be trying to justify himself when he gets to the entrance of the afterlife. William Calley has apologised for his actions:

There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry....If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them — foolishly, I guess.

I guess Nelson at least got the "following orders" part right after all. I wonder if Nelson (if he's still with us) would like to record a more accurate version?

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