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The Whistleblower of My Lai

The massacre of over 500 innocent civilians by American soldiers in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968 was one of the darkest moments of the Vietnam War. The events of that day may well have gone unnoticed save for the actions of a young army helicopter pilot who, by happenstance, witnessed the killing in the course of a routine reconnaissance flight. Appalled by what he saw, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson attempted to intercede. Aghast at his inability to stop the slaughter he reported the massacre to military high command thus putting the incident firmly in army records. In November 1969 Seymour Hersh broke the story in his Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé, which shook the national conscience. Thompson’s refusal to remain silent about the massacre forced the military to conduct an inquiry and trial.

Among the generation that came of age during the 1960’s were four artists—David Harrington of the Grammy Award-winning Kronos Quartet, composer Jonathan Berger, novelist Harriet Scott Chessman, and singer Rinde Eckert—on whose lives the Vietnam War and its controversy left an indelible mark. Out of this concern they created a new music opera, with musician Vân-Ánh Võ, that explores the tragedy of My Lai through the perspective of Thompson’s naïve, heroically idealistic, ethical decision to act, and its consequences. The creativity of this artistic collaboration brings a whole new dimension of understanding of the Vietnam War and of Hugh Thompson that one cannot get from a traditional historical documentary. The intensity of the libretto, the power of the unique music, the focus of a haiku encapsulation of a specific story captures the essence of the tragedy of that war.

“This rare combination of documentary and opera provides a magnificent and heart rending account of four of the darkest hours in the Vietnam War. On March 16, 1968, reconnaissance pilot Hugh Thompson made a decision that shaped the rest of his life—to land his three-man helicopter in the village of My Lai in South Vietnam in an effort to stop American soldiers from killing 500 unarmed Vietnamese elderly men, women, children, and babies in an event known as the My Lai Massacre. Field’s production captures the absolute worst and the absolute best of humanity. Somehow Thompson kept his moral compass in this atmosphere of profound moral wrong and spoke truth to power: American soldiers committed mass murder at My Lai. The key question raised for viewers: What would you have done?"
- Howard Jones, University Research Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Alabama, Author of My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness

"Ideal for classroom use in social sciences, humanities and the arts, Field's masterpiece beautifully weaves the story of an unknown hero of war, creatively combining cinema and opera to tell the tale of unspeakable horror and the one who tried to stop it."
- Professor David Cortright, University of Notre Dame

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Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

20th Century
American Studies
Drama and Theater
Performing Arts
The 1960s and Vietnam Era
U.S. History
War and Peace


Vietnam War; My Lai Massacre; Hugh Thompson; Kronos Quartet; Rinde Eckert; Jonathan Berger; Harriet Scott Chessman; Vân-Ánh Võ; music; opera; military; "The Whistleblower of My Lai"; Clarity Films