My Lai, Sexual Assault and the Black Blouse GirlRoundup: Talking About History
Valerie Wieskamp is a PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Public Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research focuses on issues of power, gender, violence, and social movements in visual, media, and political culture.
Looking back at the Vietnam war and the iconic photographs that mark that era, how is it that the American public knows about the “Napalm Girl” but no one knows or speaks of the My Lai “Black Blouse Girl?” And what does it mean that, forty-five years later, even though her experience was publicized by investigative reports and Congressional testimony, what happened to her – reflected in this famous photo – remains hidden in plain sight?
The My Lai Massacre captured public awareness largely due to the 1969 public release of graphic photographs taken by Army Photographer Ronald Haeberle. Since the release, viewers have been captivated by the visceral emotion expressed on the face of the woman in the foreground of the photo below (published in 1969 by Life magazine). According to Life’s caption of the photograph, these villagers were “huddle[ed] in terror moments before being killed by American troops at My Lai.”
While the My Lai Massacre is widely recognized as a military atrocity and an act of mass murder committed on civilians and non-combatants, true appreciation of the event as an act of mass rape and sexual abuse has never clearly materialized in the American consciousness, in spite of public data and testimony shortly after the massacre happened. Media presentation of the photograph of the Black Blouse Girl mirrors this amnesia....