How did the top military commander at My Lai justify the massacre? Trying to defend an argument on if it was a good or bad decision on how the military court ruled about these actions in 1971?
The leadership of the platoon that entered My Lai argued that the village represented a strong hold of the Viet Cong. They felt that the villagers were covering for enemy forces and that the Americans had to "search and destroy" such elements. The ongoing attacks to Americans and the success of the Viet Cong had agitated the troops and their commanding officer, John Calley. The rationale at the time was to seek out and capture an elusive enemy. No amount of justification can explain away what happened as a result. Praying women and children shot in the back of the head, at least one reported rape of a village woman, elderly men met with bayonets, and Calley himself unloading round after round of ammunition into a ditch of fearful villagers were the results of the orders given.
I am not sure which person you would consider to be the top military commander at My Lai. Lt. William Calley was in charge of the platoon that did the killing. Capt. Ernest Medina was his immediate superior and company commander. Both were present in the village, though Medina was not supervising the killings the way Calley was.
Calley's defense was that he was following orders. He had been told that there was a formidable enemy in the area and that anyone in the village was part of that enemy.
Medina denied that he had given any such orders and he did not try to justify what had happened.