TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Orphans Yearn for Answers 40 Years After Fleeing the Khmer Rouge

Young Cambodian child at a hospital in Phnom Penh, in March 1975.
Francoise Demulder—AFP/Getty Images Young Cambodian child at a hospital in Phnom Penh, in March 1975.

A daring orphan lift spared scores from the savage communist clique, but left children with no ties home

Here are the things Miika Thoeun Gove knows about her Cambodian origins: a woman claiming to be her grandmother said she couldn’t take care of her. An orphanage took her in. The U.S. embassy arranged for an airlift to California.

By the time the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, Miika had been safely shuttled out, but her identity remained trapped inside. In Cambodia, Pol Pot’s brutal regime set about systematically dismantling all existing systems — killing an estimated 1.7 million people in pursuit of a harebrained “year zero” agrarian utopia. In the process families, institutions and records were obliterated amid one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. In the U.S., doctors estimated Miika’s age by looking at her teeth; new parents assigned a birth date, they gave her a name.

“I don’t know how it worked, there’s virtually no details other than [me] arriving,” she tells TIME. “I don’t even know if that’s the true story.”

Forty years ago this and last month, a series of planes flew into Phnom Penh’s besieged Pochentong airport on a special sortie. The Fighting Tigers at the controls dove down into the tarmac to avoid Khmer Rouge gunfire and — barely cutting the engines — pulled up alongside cargo trucks. With little ceremony, those in the truck began to load the plane with box after box of babies.

“As this telegram is being dispatched,” read a U.S. embassy cable sent just hours after a March 17 airlift, “the orphans are not the only ones heaving a king size sigh of relief.”

At the time of the evacuations, the U.S.-backed Khmer Republic had all but crumbled under the weight of incompetence and corruption, while large-scale American bombing of the countryside sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to Phnom Penh for safety. Desperate parents — starving and fearing for their lives — overwhelmed the state-run orphanage; the babies would not stop coming.

Canadian sisters Eloise and Anna Charet arrived in the country just months before the fall to open a private orphanage, called Canada House. Eloise recalled taking babies and toddlers from a room in the state orphanage, “where the children were just left on mats and were left to die. The ants were crawling on them, the flies all around their eyes and mouth … the only thing you could see was the flickering of their eyes once in a while and this room was just packed with children left to die, they didn’t know what to do.”

On March 17, the sisters successfully evacuated all 43 of their charges — an unlikely feat that allowed for scores more to be pulled out in the following weeks by various private agencies and individuals. Most of the Cambodian children were initially sent to war-torn Saigon where they were thrown in with more than 3,000 Vietnamese children to be airlifted out to the U.S., Europe and Australia in the audacious and controversial “Operation Babylift.”

As the situation in Cambodia deteriorated, its envoys in Washington, D.C., begged the U.S. for assistance and arranged for a final group of 220 orphans to be pulled out and adopted. In Phnom Penh, the Minister for Refugees scrambled to process the children. On April 9, 28 flew out. They were to be the last.

“I messaged [Refugee Minister] Kong Orn … about the orphans’ situation. I also messaged other officials. But there was no answer from anyone. Clearly the subject of orphans was not on anyone’s mind at the time,” says Gaffar Peang-Meth, a diplomat based at the Cambodian embassy.

The chaos surrounding those final flights ensured that many orphans arrived with only the scantest of documentation. In a July 1975 internal report, the U.S. Agency for International Development recorded that half of the 108 orphans airlifted out of Phnom Penh “are experiencing legal problems regarding their adoptability and/or placements.”

CAMBODIA-US-WAR-KHMER ROUGE
Sjoberg / AFP / Getty ImagesThe young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975

“The placement of the orphans … in adoptive homes has been held up because of questions raised regarding their adoptability and/or prospective placement. Due to the emergency situation which existed at the time, the sponsoring agencies and the government did not obtain the proper releases or process other required documentation,” the report continued.

In California and elsewhere, lawsuits proliferated over whether the children were in fact orphans. Miika and scores of other children spent upwards of a year in foster homes while officials debated their status. Four decades later, some have yet to be naturalized.

“The children’s arrival was not all smooth and happy,” recalls Gaffar Peang-Meth, who became the point man for verifying many of their legal status. Some news media reports suggested that the children were not all orphans and openly questioned why they had been brought to the U.S. Gaffar Peang-Meth responded that there was no authority in Phnom Penh to answer such allegations.

Amid the mounting concern, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ordered a temporary halt to the babylifts on April 16, just one day before the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh. Then deputy commissioner of the INS, James Green, told the Washington Post that the agency would “launch a full investigation to determine what these children’s backgrounds are and how they got into the United States.”

By then, of course, the lines of communication had already been severed. With it went any hope of tracking down family ties.

Adoptees grew up oblivious to their roots, yet haunted by them.

“No matter how you grow up childhood always challenging, but not really having a mental foundation of how it started, that’s really challenging,” says Miika Thoeun Gove. “I can’t even reach out to anyone in the group that I flew out with, I have no information.”

A handful of the orphans have returned to Cambodia in search of more information, though such quests tend to be fruitless.

Kim Routhier-Filion, one of the Canada House babies, traveled to Cambodia in 2012 accompanied by Eloise and Anna Charet, and a film crew from the French-Canadian news station RDI. While there, the filmmakers captured Routhier-Filion looking through records and speaking with archivists, but he confessed scant faith in reconciliation.

“For me, my adoptive parents are my real parents,” he said. “I didn’t have any expectations of finding my biological parents in Cambodia. I assume they got killed. I don’t even know my biological mom’s name. I didn’t have any hope or expectations of that.”

Gove, whose documents carry neither the name of her parents nor birthplace, has similarly little anticipation of closure. It is something, however, she has come to accept.

“Imagine the children who didn’t get out of there,” she points out calmly. “I figure I’m doing O.K.”

TIME movies

These Men Are Reenacting a War Many Others Want to Forget

The new documentary 'In Country' introduces a group of Vietnam War reenactors

As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War winds to an end, the hundreds of Americans who regularly reenact that conflict are likely to get plenty of attention. The reenactment at Appomattox is going on right now, in fact.

But the Civil War isn’t the only American conflict that draws citizens, decades later, to replay its battles. In their new documentary In Country (in theaters April 10 and VOD April 28), filmmakers Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara follow a group of men who, for one weekend a year, recreate the Vietnam War.

They wear the uniforms. They carry the weapons. They even, as shown in the clip above, use the lingo that would have been heard on those battlefields (even when some of that language is offensive). The experience is so immersive that Attie and O’Hara had to dress as war correspondents in order to get approval to film the weekend.

But the time-travel aspect of war reenactment is, the filmmakers say, a little stranger when the war is still relatively fresh. As the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon approaches — the war concluded at the end of April, 1975 — Vietnam remains raw.

“When I heard it I couldn’t believe it,” Attie recalls. “Why would someone want to recreate this war that was so divisive? Both Meghan and I were born after the war ended, but it still seemed like something that was fresh and controversial.”

Whereas Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments are often family-friendly events, a Vietnam reenactment lacks the distance that neuters the violence. Attie says there was a joke in his high school that the school year would conveniently end before history class got to the Vietnam War, because nobody wanted to talk about it. It felt, he says, like a conflict that people didn’t want to remember — even though the men in his new film are proof otherwise.

And their remembering is not just a matter of learning about the history, obsessing over details like how long the soldiers’ hair would have been in one year versus another. It’s also an exercise in empathy, the movie posits, as veterans in the group are able to revisit their real experiences or, in one particular case, impart their wisdom on a soon-to-be Marine along for the ride.

“It made me think, when does history become History with a capital H, and have the teeth taken out of it a little bit?” O’Hara says. “These men are trying to wrestle with it and it seems so soon.”

TIME Television

This Is the Nixon Speech Don Draper Was Watching on Mad Men

Todays Weather
Hulton Archive/Getty Images Richard Nixon points to a map of Southeast Asia during a nationwide broadcast

The 1970 address to the nation appeared in the mid-season premiere of the show's final season

Contains extremely mild spoilers for the mid-season premiere of Mad Men

Few things can place a fictional story on a real-world timeline better than a Presidential speech can. In the case of the Sunday night mid-season premiere of Mad Men, the background appearance of a speech by Richard Nixon dates one scene precisely, at April 30, 1970, around 9 p.m. Eastern, when Nixon addressed the nation.

It also dates the scene, though somewhat less precisely, to a time of what even the President of the United States dubbed “anarchy.”

Nixon began the speech by laying out what was going on in Vietnam, as the war there raged on. He had recently pledged to ramp up the withdrawal of American troops from the war zone, but explained, using the visual aid of a map, that doing so successfully would now require, paradoxically, diving deeper into the conflict. North Vietnam had built up “military sanctuaries” along its border with Cambodia, which were being used as bases for attacks on South Vietnam. Cambodia had been neutral in the conflict, but was now asking for help from the U.S., Nixon told the country. In response, he and the South Vietnamese had decided to “clean out” the sanctuaries with a new series of attacks.

The new attacks, he said, were in the service of bringing the war to an end. But, he continued, the desire to end the conflict did not mean the U.S. would just give up:

The time came long ago to end this war through peaceful negotiations. We stand ready for those negotiations. We have made major efforts, many of which must remain secret. I say tonight: All the offers and approaches made previously remain on the conference table whenever Hanoi is ready to negotiate seriously.

But if the enemy response to our most conciliatory offers for peaceful negotiation continues to be to increase its attacks and humiliate and defeat us, we shall react accordingly.

My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed. Small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.

If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.

[Read the full speech here]

As TIME reported the following week, polls showed that a majority of Americans opposed committing military effort to Cambodia and, though the White House switchboard reported a favorable reaction to the speech, other lawmakers saw their offices bombarded with messages from constituents who disagreed. The campus activists whom the President had compared to anarchists responded with a new wave of protest.

Then-Senator Bob Dole told TIME that, “If [the attack] works, it’s a stroke of genius. If it doesn’t, he strikes out.” A few months later, the White House claimed the operation — dubbed Operation Total Victory No. 42 and No. 43 — as a major success, though Nixon was still dealing with fallout for not consulting Congress on the move. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, things were far from calm.

Read TIME’s full original coverage of the 1970 speech, here in the TIME Vault: The New Burdens of War

TIME Vietnam

Scaffolding Collapse Claims 14 Lives at a Vietnamese Port

Vietnam Scaffolding Collapse
Cong Tuong—AP Rescuers work through the rubble trying to find survivors after scaffolding collapsed in an economic zone in Ha Tinh province in central Vietnam on March 25, 2015

The workers were reportedly employed by a sub-contractor of Samsung

At least 14 workers were killed and 30 wounded in Vietnam Wednesday night when scaffolding collapsed at a seaport project in the Vung Ang economic zone of Ha Tinh province.

Provincial People’s Committee Deputy Chairman Dang Quoc Khanh announced on national television that many of the injured had been hospitalized. Authorities were working to uncover two bodies still buried within the debris, Reuters reports.

Phan Tran De, deputy chief of the zone’s managing authority, told local media that thousands of workers were on the construction site and casualty numbers may rise.

The seaport was being built on the grounds of a complex owned by the Formosa Group, a Taiwanese company. The government-owned Thanh Nien newspaper reported that the hurt workers, all of whom were Vietnamese, were sub-contracted from a branch of South Korea’s Samsung Group.

Vung Ang hit the headlines last year when riots erupted targeting Chinese workers.

TIME photography

Bearing Witness to the Legacy of War

Photographer Giles Duley, who lost three limbs in Afghanistan, speaks about his new project

In 2011, photographer Giles Duley began a project that would document the lasting effects of war on people living in cities and towns across the globe where the fighting had ended many years, even decades ago.

That year, while patrolling in Afghanistan with American troops, Duley stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device. The blast nearly took his life; he lost both legs and an arm. After a year in the hospital and nearly 30 operations, Duley returned to photography with a new determination to finish his project, which he calls Legacy of War. The project encompasses 14 countries and comprises photographs, original poetry and music.

Last month, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project, which you can contribute to here. Below, TIME Multimedia Editor Mia Tramz caught up with Duley as he continued his work on the project from Cambodia.

TIME LightBox: What’s the scope of the project and the idea behind it?

Giles Duley: The idea came to me I guess four or five years ago. A lot of my work has been documenting the effects of conflict over the years. One of the things I noticed was that there was a lot of commonality between the stories that I heard, and so I became interested in trying to bring all these different stories together. I was actually going to Afghanistan to start the project when I got injured, so I thought it would never actually happen. My plan was if I could get working again, I would return to doing this project.

The thing that really strikes me is that a war doesn’t end when a peace treaty is signed. In school, as you’re growing up, you’re always taught about the dates of a particular conflict. And I was interested [by] what happens after this final date; what happens when the conflict is supposedly finished. Because what I’ve experienced in my work was that the war is not over if people are still dying from it, if they’re still injured, if their lives are still impaired by it.

My idea was to try and bring together stories from approximately 14 countries, showing various themes that kind of crop up in post-conflict countries. That might be land contamination from land mines, from UXOs and it might be the effects of things like Agent Orange or depleted uranium. But it’s also looking at the physical effects on people who are living with injuries, and people living with the psychological trauma of conflict. I wanted to bring all these different stories together and just get people to reflect on the fact that conflict doesn’t end when a peace treaty is signed.

TIME LightBox: Which countries will you be covering and how did you choose them?

Giles Duley: One of the things I kind of want to do is to bring together stories that may be a little bit more familiar to us with stories that are less familiar. Hopefully, by bringing them together, you get to understand the similarities. In the United States, I wanted to look at the effects of trauma on former combatants, especially soldiers from [the] Vietnam War, how their lives have been affected. The same in the U.K. looking at injured servicemen and [those] with PTSD. Then it’s countries like Vietnam with Agent Orange and UXO; Cambodia, Colombia, Laos and other countries like it by land mines. I’ll be doing stories in Angola, which has a huge legacy of war; in Congo or the DRC, I’ll be looking at the effects of sexual abuse in both men and women. In Northern Ireland, I’m looking at the effects of the troubles, [which have] caused poverty and other social issues.

Other countries [will include] Gaza, [where] I’ll be looking at the long-term effects of conflict there. I’ve already done a story on the refugees in Lebanon, a country which really had two tiers of refugees from war. I’ll be looking at refugees in Sahel Sahara. It’s a vast cross-section of stories.

TIME LightBox: How did you arrive at the aesthetic for this project?

Giles Duley: I actually decided to use film for this project — a mixture of 35 mm and medium format. The main reason for film is that I wanted the images to both have a timeless feel and to serve as documents. Many of the photographs will reflect the period when the conflict happened and at the same time, a print made from a negative has a sense of true documentation. In a period when many question the role of Photoshop and other manipulation in documentary photography, I wanted to return to a simpler process.

TIME LightBox: Outside of the photography, what other components are you working into the project?

Giles Duley: I want this to be more than just a set of photographs. As a child, I was really influenced by the poets of the First World War and the black-and-white photographs covering the Vietnam War. They were the two things that really changed my opinion as a very young teenager about conflict. I grew up as a kid [thinking] that I wanted to join the army. I was fascinated by military history. But as I say, it was reading this poetry of people like Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and looking at the photographs of people like Don McCullin that really galvanized something in me, that made me realize the true consequences of war.

I’m very interested in the educational component. I realized that schools are still studying poetry from the First World War. So what I want to do is update that and get poets and musicians writing about current conflicts and their long-term consequences. For me as a photographer, I hope that the poetry and the music will add a different dimension to the work, so that it’s more accessible to people.

TIME LightBox: What’s your process working with these musicians and poets? Are they seeing the photographs you’re making from those particular parts of the world, or are they just writing or creating from their own experiences, or a mix of both?

Giles Duley: Anybody that’s working with me on this project will either be traveling with me at a later stage in the project, or it will be a process of me meeting them, showing them the photographs, and probably most importantly sharing the testimonies of the people who are photographed.

TIME LightBox: What has surprised you most since you started working on this project about what you’re finding?

Giles Duley: I don’t know if it surprised me, but what I’m becoming very aware of is just the enormity of how conflict affects life. [For example], in Vietnam, Laos and Lebanon and Cambodia — you start to look at one story, and immediately that opens up 10 other stories. It’s often in less expected ways or [something] you just don’t think about. Some of the stories are more obvious, like land mines, etc. But when you look at the long-term impact of a child that was born to a woman who was raped, that is a real legacy of war. And they live with that legacy for all of their lives — the psychological trauma of people affected by war is something that is not often talked about or documented, but whole generations of civilians have been traumatized by conflict.

TIME LightBox: Can you talk about where you see the project living when it’s finished and in what form?

Giles Duley: This is a project that has four phases. The first phase is the photographic phase, which is to go out there and document the initial stories. The second phase is to work with poets and musicians to give more depth to the stories. The third phase is then looking at how that body of work comes together through exhibitions and a book. For me that stage is very important because the exhibitions have to be in public spaces. They have to be in places where people interact with these stories who wouldn’t normally go to a photographic gallery.

And I’m also very interested in taking the project back to the countries that I’ve photographed. One of the things that most surprised me is how interested people are in the other countries I’m photographing. People in Northern Ireland are asking me about the people in Rwanda. The people in Vietnam are very interested in stories that I’m going to be doing in Angola, for example.

One of the key elements is, as well as having the photographs exhibited in the public spaces in Western countries, it’s for the exhibitions to return to the countries where these stories first came from, so the stories are shared. Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about sharing stories. I have no judgments, I have no opinions. I’m merely going out there to try and gather the stories of people affected by conflict and to share those stories.

And then the final stage, the fourth stage, will be educational. And that’s about taking it to schools. It’s about getting it on the curriculum, [so that when] people are taught the historical facts of a conflict, they’re also taught about how a conflict continues to affect people [long after it’s over]. That’s how I see it developing. And hopefully, in the end, it will be something that will kind of take on a life of its own and I can step back and people can continue to share these stories.

TIME LightBox: Your story is also woven into this. How has your experience informed your approach to this project and how it has been integrated into it?

Giles Duley: No matter what I choose to do for the rest of my life, I will live with the scars, both physically and mentally of what happened. So it’s given me a great understanding. But I think more than that it’s kind of focused my ambition and determination to carry this project through because, as I say, every day now I live with a reminder of what conflict does.

It has opened up communication with a lot of people that may have been more suspicious of why I was doing this story; people who see my personal experience and can relate to it. I guess weirdly, although I may be a lot slower as a photographer now and it may be a bit harder for me to work, there’s probably not a photographer in a better position to actually tell these specific stories about the legacy of war.

TIME LightBox: What do you see as the biggest challenges in getting this project done?

Giles Duley: The biggest challenges on a personal level are the travel, the work. I have no legs and I’ve got one hand, and I travel on my own to do this work. It’s not easy. I must admit last year when I found myself in paddy fields in the rainy season in Laos, trying to carry all my cameras and a backpack and my legs getting stuck in the mud, I was thinking, “O.K., who came up with this idea?” [Laughs.] So the obvious challenges like that are there, that in a weird way as I say, also drive me on to complete the story.

Aside from that, obviously this is a project that I’m self-funding. It’s something that I think is important. A lot of NGOs and nonprofits and charities are helping me with the stories. I have years and years of working with NGOs and they’ve been fantastic in supporting this project. So the likes of MAG, which is a de-mining charity; Handicap International; UNHCR; Emergency, which is an Italian NGO; and Find a Better Way, which is another land-mine charity, have all been supporting it. But at the end of the day, I have to find a way to finance these stories, or at least finance the physical costs of the photographic side of it.

The project really I think for me is the defining project of my life. It will probably be the last major overseas project I do because it’s simply so physically draining and difficult for me. But I am determined to carry this out to the utmost of my ability.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Giles Duley is a freelance photographer and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Follow him on Twitter @gilesduley.

Mia Tramz is a Multimedia Editor for TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter @miatramz.

TIME conflict

Read the Letter That Changed the Way Americans Saw the Vietnam War

American "Huey" helicopters during My Lai massacre
Ronald L. Haeberle—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty American military helicopters in flight during the My Lai massacre on Mar. 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam

The My Lai Massacre took place on Mar. 16, 1968

It was late April of 1968 when Ronald Ridenhour “first heard of ‘Pinkville’ and what had allegedly happened there.”

Thus began the letter that he sent to several government officials, including President Richard Nixon, in March, 1969. What followed was an account of the March 16, 1968, massacre at My Lai. “Ridenhour did not witness the incident himself, but he kept hearing about it from friends who were there,” TIME, which misidentified him as “Richard,” recounted after the news became public. “He was at first disbelieving, then deeply disturbed.”

That letter would soon change the way American citizens thought and talked about the war in Vietnam. This is how Ridenhour described what had happened:

One village area was particularly troublesome and seemed to be infested with booby traps and enemy soldiers. It was located about six miles northeast of Quang Nh,ai city at approximate coordinates B.S. 728795. It was a notorious area and the men of Task Force Barker had a special name I for it: they called it “Pinkville.” One morning in the latter part of March, Task Force Barker moved out from its firebase headed for “Pinkville.” Its mission: destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants.

When “Butch” told me this I didn’t quite believe that what he was telling me was true, but he assured me that it was and went on to describe what had happened. The other two companies that made up the task force cordoned off the village so that “Charlie” Company could move through to destroy the structures and kill the inhabitants. Any villagers who ran from Charlie Company were stopped by the encircling companies. I asked “Butch” several times if all the people were killed. He said that he thought they were men, women and children. He recalled seeing a small boy, about three or four years old, standing by the trail with a gunshot wound in one arm. The boy was clutching his wounded arm with his other hand, while blood trickled between his fingers. He was staring around himself in shock and disbelief at what he saw. “He just stood there with big eyes staring around like he didn’t understand; he didn’t believe what was happening. Then the captain’s RTO (radio operator) put a burst of 16 (M-16 rifle) fire into him.” It was so bad, Gruver said, that one of the men in his squad shot himself in the foot in order to be medivaced out of the area so that he would not have to participate in the slaughter. Although he had not seen it, Gruver had been told by people he considered trustworthy that one of the company’s officers, 2nd Lieutenant Kally (this spelling may be incorrect) had rounded up several groups of villagers (each group consisting of a minimum of 20 persons of both sexes and all ages). According to the story, Kally then machine-gunned each group. Gruver estimated that the population of the village had been 300 to 400 people and that very few, if any, escaped.

After hearing this account I couldn’t quite accept it. Somehow I just couldn’t believe that not only had so many young American men participated in such an act of barbarism, but that their officers had ordered it.

The full letter, which is widely available these days, ran to about 2,000 words worth of evidence that “something very black indeed” had happened. Further publicity came in the form of an investigation by reporter Seymour Hersh — which originally ran in a Washington news service after LIFE magazine rejected it.

In the fall of 1969, one of the leaders of the platoon implicated in the massacre — his name was actually spelled Calley — was charged with murdering civilians; other charges against other soldiers and officers followed. Comparisons to the Nuremberg Trials were many, especially as many of the soldiers there argued that they had just been following orders. There were several legal difficulties in pursuing a lawsuit against them, both logistical and sentimental, as TIME polls found that many Americans either did not believe Ridenhour’s account or thought that such killing was a natural result of war.

Several trials did move forward, however. In 1971, Calley was found guilty. (Other trials for those present continued, but Calley was the only one convicted.) The sentencing did not end My Lai’s reverberations. At a protest in New York, future Secretary of State John Kerry read this statement: “We are all of us in this country guilty for having allowed the war to go on. We only want this country to realize that it cannot try a Calley for something which generals and Presidents and our way of life encouraged him to do. And if you try him, then at the same time you must try all those generals and Presidents and soldiers who have part of the responsibility. You must in fact try this country.” The verdict split the U.S. between those who thought that punishments for the massacre should instead go all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief, and those who thought that condemning soldiers for killing was a travesty in its own right.

“The crisis of conscience caused by the Calley affair is a graver phenomenon than the horror following the assassination of President Kennedy,” TIME opined. “Historically, it is far more crucial.”

Though the nation was divided at the time, history has come out fairly firmly on one side: in 1998, three men who turned their weapons on fellow soldiers instead of My Lai residents were honored in Washington — shortly before Ridenhour died at 52 of a heart attack — and in 2009 Calley apologized for his role in what happened. “There is not a day that goes by,” he said, “that I do not feel remorse.”

Read TIME’s 1969 issue about the fallout from My Lai: The Massacre: Where Does the Guilt Lie?

See how LIFE reported on My Lai: American Atrocity

TIME Vietnam

The U.S. Wants Russian Warplanes to Stop Refueling in Vietnam

RUSSIA-MILITARY-EXERCISE
SERGEY VENYAVSKY—AFP/Getty Images Russian Air Force Su-24 bombers fly during a military exercise in southern Russia on February 11, 2015.

Russian warplanes refueling in Vietnam are engaging in "provocative" flights near U.S. interests in the South Pacific, Washington says

Washington has asked Vietnam to stop nuclear-capable Russian bombers from refueling at a former U.S. military base in the country, reports Reuters, citing an unnamed State Department official.

U.S. officials say the ability of Russian warplanes to refuel in Vietnam allows them to engage in “provocative” flights near American interests in the South Pacific, Reuters says.

Washington and Hanoi have been enjoying a steady uptick in relations. Last October, the U.S. reversed a decades-old arms embargo against the country, clearing the path for Washington to sell “maritime security-related defense articles” to Vietnam, as the nation continues to spar over ongoing territorial disputes with China.

However, Vietnam and Russia’s relations are rooted in more than six decades of history that commenced with Soviet support of the newly established socialist republic.

Read more at Reuters

TIME conflict

Why Mar. 7, 1965, Was the End of an Era

LBJ Signs Civil Rights Bill
Warren Leffler / Getty Images President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights bill on April 11, 1968

The events of exactly 50 years ago marked both the climax and the beginning of the end of the last heroic age in American history

Seldom had the United States seemed to be more blessed than in early 1965. The country’s economy had been expanding steadily for four years, and unemployment was about 4%. Inflation, a serious problem in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was now negligible. Meanwhile, thanks to President Johnson’s predecessor, John F. Kennedy, the nightmare of nuclear war had retreated during the previous two years. The nation was freer to take care of its own needs, and it was building many thousands of miles of interstate highways and dozens of new schools and colleges to meet the needs of the Baby Boom generation, now between 5 and 22 years old. At the same time, Johnson was determined to push Medicare through Congress, making it possible for seniors to enjoy old age without the threat of illness that might not only take away their own savings, but those of their grown children.

One problem, however, still deeply troubled the nation: civil rights. For some weeks, Martin Luther King, Jr. had been leading a protest for voting rights in Selma, Ala., designed to open up voter registration rolls to the black citizens of that community, and, more broadly, of the whole deep south. Johnson had been preparing for possible additional legislative action to solve this problem for months, and the Justice Department had prepared a bill to allow the federal government to send registrars into the most affected states to sign up voters where local officials refused to do so. Johnson had been promising King such a bill for weeks, but he was waiting for an overwhelming northern consensus before putting the legislation before Congress

A dramatic event was necessary to get the attention of the whole nation, and on Sunday, Mar. 7, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), along with the opposition of Sheriff Jim Clark of Selma and the Alabama State Police, provided it. Defying Alabama authorities, marchers were savagely beaten when they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. National television cameras captured the spectacle of troopers beating Americans who simply wanted to vote, and the momentum for action became irresistible. A week later, LBJ called for the voting rights act before a joint session of Congress, and concluded, “We Shall Overcome.”

The premise of the civil rights bills, in those days, was simple. The United States was on the right track. The nation’s extraordinary economic growth had given the mass of the American people an unprecedented standard of living. It had defeated totalitarian states in the Second World War and held the line against Communism in the 20 years that followed. It stood for freedom and opportunity. The exclusion of Negro Americans (as they were still called) from the rights, privileges and benefits of American life was a blot upon the nation and a contradiction to its values, one that had to be removed were the United States to live up to its promises. This belief, in the wake of the 1964 election, clearly enjoyed overwhelming support. Johnson had won 60% of the popular vote and 44 states against Barry Goldwater, who had opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. LBJ could get virtually any proposal he wanted through Congress, and that was what he was about to do.

Yet on that very same day, Mar. 7, Johnson had already set in motion another series of events that would destroy not only his Presidency, but the entire postwar consensus which he seemed at that moment to embody. On March 7, U.S. Marines had landed in Da Nang—the first American ground forces to enter South Vietnam.

Several weeks earlier, in mid-February, the sustained bombing of North Vietnam had begun, in response to a Viet Cong attack on a US air base at Pleiku. Johnson calculatedly refused to acknowledge that the nation’s policy had changed, and the Administration portrayed the initial Marine deployment as a defensive measure. But that was false. The deployment was the first step in the execution of a massive war plan, one that would bring close to 200,000 young Americans into South Vietnam by the end of the year, and more than half a million by 1968.

Like the voting rights act, the landing at Da Nang had a long history, reflecting widely held beliefs in postwar America. It was the Eisenhower Administration, as I discovered twenty years ago when writing my book, American Tragedy, that had committed to defending Vietnam and neighboring Laos against Communist aggression. Eisenhower had been on the verge of implementing that commitment but Kennedy had immediately backed away from it. During the first year of his presidency Kennedy had received a long series of specific proposals from his cabinet and bureaucracy to send combat troops into Laos, Vietnam or both, but he had rejected them all and refused to declare South Vietnam a vital interest of the United States. Instead, he increased the American presence with 3,000 advisers and about 14,000 support troops, and focused on other foreign policy issues.

The public did not know this, but Johnson had announced that Vietnam was his Administration’s foreign policy priority within weeks of taking office. By March 1964 he had expressed willingness to go to war to save South Vietnam as soon as he had been re-elected himself. A planning exercise for American action began within days of his re-election, and it was finished by the first week of December. Sometime in the near future, the final paper stated, the United States would begin a sustained bombing campaign in North Vietnam, accompanied by “appropriate US deployments to handle any contingency.” An appendix to the approved document spelled out what that meant. The Marine battalion that had been floating in ships off Da Nang for months would land three days after the bombing began, and an entire Marine division would embark to join it. An Army brigade would follow at once, and several more divisions would arrive by the summer.

During the second half of February 1965, while the Selma protests grew and Great Society legislation began moving through Congress, Johnson refused to approve the war plan in writing, much less to announce it to the nation, but he evidently eventually told Robert McNamara to go ahead. After Da Nang, the other planned deployments followed the Marine landing almost at once. Johnson and his whole generation—the GI or “greatest” generation, as it has come to be known—believed in great enterprises. Civil rights was one such enterprise; defending threatened nations from Communism was another. With interstate highways spreading around the country, the Apollo program halfway underway and a booming economy, they—and most of their countrymen—thought they could do anything. More than a few prominent voices were already expressing skepticism about the Vietnam war, but they were drowned out.

Still, within two more years, the war had alienated much of the younger generation, substantially lowered Johnson’s popularity and split the Democratic Party. It also split the civil rights movement, and eventually broke the alliance between Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. American participation continued until 1973, on a scale that would be unimaginable today. The entire roster of killed in action in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is still less than that incurred in six months of combat during 1968. But the war could not be won.

Tragic heroes, Aristotle argued, are brought down not by evil, but by a combination of their own ambition for greatness and an ignorance of the facts. So it was for Lyndon Johnson, the “best and the brightest” who served him and, indeed, the whole leadership class of the postwar United States. The biggest casualty of the war, one from which we still suffer, was the consensus, the optimistic spirit and the belief in our national purpose. The landing at Da Nang was the beginning of the end of one of history’s greatest eras of civic achievement. No American under 55 has ever experienced such a spirit, and it is not clear that any American now living will experience it again. That is the tragic legacy of the events of March 7, 1965.

The Long View

Historians explain how the past informs the present

David Kaiser, a historian, has taught at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Williams College, and the Naval War College. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War. He lives in Watertown, Mass.

TIME Asia

Seven Out of 10 Kids Across Five Asian Nations Experienced Violence at School

Indonesia reported the worst rate of school violence, with 84% of children having experienced it

Seven out of 10 children in Asia have experienced violence in school, a study of over 9,000 students across five countries revealed.

Conducted by children’s-rights group Plan under its Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools initiative, the study collected data from male and female students ages 12 to 17, as well as others involved in their education like parents, teachers and headmasters, in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Nepal.

The study has several disturbing implications, with emotional violence being the most prevalent form of school harassment, followed by physical violence. More boys reported facing physical violence than girls did, and regressive gender attitudes are a significant contributor to school violence overall.

Indonesia showed the highest rate of gender-based violence in schools out of the five countries surveyed, with 84% of students having experienced violence, while Pakistan had the lowest at 43%. “Even the bottom end of the scale — 43% in Pakistan — is unacceptable,” said Mark Pierce, Plan’s Asia regional director.

The prevalence of the problem in the Southeast Asian nation is illustrated by shocking videos uploaded to YouTube, like the one below that shows a girl at a primary school in West Sumatra’s Bukittinggi being kicked and beaten by her classmates.

Another video, uploaded as recently as last month, shows another girl being held in a choke hold by a male peer while another jumps in and out of the frame to punch her and make suggestive motions — culminating in an all-out brawl.

Several other causes and factors contributing to school violence — perpetrated by both peers and authority figures — exist even within the limited scope of the study, such as students’ lack of trust in existing reporting mechanisms, traditional and cultural norms, and a low rate of intervention by observers.

With reporting by Yenni Kwok

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