My Lai

Review: My Lai massacre, 50 years later: Jonathan Berger's opera captures the madness


MARCH 11, 2018

"Where in God's name is the medic?" the dying hospital patient demands. He's not asking for help for himself. He's frantically trying to save a boy's life. It's a scream, one of the important screams in American history, that has haunted him for 38 years.

Jonathan Berger's opera "My Lai" — written for the Kronos Quartet, tenor Rinde Eckert and Vân-Ánh Võ, a virtuoso player of traditional Vietnamese instruments — takes place during the last hallucinatory days of Hugh Thompson Jr. He was the U.S. Army helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War who flew over the massacre in My Lai. Above the fray, he could see the mass hysteria below that warped the minds of Charlie Company. Those men were infamously commanded to wipe out everything walking, crawling or growing. More than 500 civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, were slaughtered. There was no evidence of Viet Cong activity.

Review: Kronos Quartet Revisits Vietnam Horror in ‘My Lai’

By James R. Oestreich
September. 28, 2017
The New York Times

You would like to think that a soldier who took a heroic stand against evil and managed to save at least a few lives amid a massacre could find peace of mind in his dying days. The creators of “My Lai,” a musical theater work given its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday evening, suggest otherwise in the case of Hugh Thompson.

Vietnam is much in the air at the moment, thanks to the PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War,” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. But as comprehensive as that survey is, it gives surprisingly cursory treatment to the massacre of more than 500 Vietnamese civilians by American troops in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. When it finally came to light, in November 1969, that mass killing proved pivotal in marshaling American fatigue and disgust with the war, which finally led to the withdrawal of troops in 1973.