Finally, an apology that matters. Former Lt. William Calley, now 66, used an appearance before the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus to apologize for his role in the My Lai massacre more than 40 years ago. Said Calley: “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.”
Calley, who has always contended that he was following orders, directed his platoon to kill civilians in the South Vietnamese hamlets of My Lai and My Khe. He was convicted and given life sentences in 22 deaths. The sentence was later reduced by President Richard Nixon. Calley, who avoids the media, now lives in the Atlanta area.
What makes this apology different from the wave of apologies for past transgressions that have become commonplace — the recent Japanese apology to the American soldiers who suffered the Bataan Death March, for example — is that it comes from somebody who actually had a role in the offense for which the apology is issued.
It’s customary now for those who weren’t participants to apologize for actions taken by ancestors who are now dead. Apologies by those who lack culpability for crimes and inhumanities that occurred in decades or generations past are gestures without substance. Even when the apology might come with grants of compensation, unless it’s from individuals responsible and is to compensate actual victims, it provides no meaningful relief.
Calley’s apology is timely and sincere. The next-of-kin of many of the victims are undoubtedly still living. The apology is from one responsible to one harmed. It is an apology that matters.