In March 1968, a U.S. infantry platoon under the command of 2nd Lt. William “Rusty” Calley conducted a raid of a hamlet called My Lai in Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam. After taking the hamlet, Calley ordered his men to round up the remaining civilians, herd them into a ditch, and gun them down. Somewhere between 350 and 500 civilians were killed on Calley’s instruction.
Calley was court-martialed for his actions and charged with 22 counts of murder. At his trial, he testified that his company commander, Capt. Ernest Medina, had ordered him to kill “every living thing” in My Lai, telling him there were no civilians there, only Viet Cong. When Calley radioed back to Medina that the platoon had rounded up a large number of unarmed civilians, he claimed Medina told him to “waste them.” Essentially, Calley defended gunning down hundreds of civilians by saying he was just following orders from his superiors (It should be noted that Medina denied giving these orders).