An American Atrocity

A novel by

Mike McCarey


An American Atrocity

A novel by Mike McCarey

Author today and in 1968 below

Mike McCarey served as the First Marine Division’s chief prosecutor for most of 1968 while the division was deployed to Vietnam. During that time, his office handled all of the division’s felony prosecutions. Mike personally handled many of the division’s most serious cases including those involving the premeditated murders of Vietnamese civilians that received national media attention.


After leaving the Marine Corps, Mike spent most of his professional career as an Associate Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  His staff drafted the model law on generic substitution that President Carter urged the states to adopt to lower prescription drug costs. The U.S. Supreme Court cited to an economic analysis prepared by Mike’s staff when it granted limited First Amendment protection to commercial speech.  Mike has appeared on network television news and testified before Congress.


Mike and his wife, Willi, have two sons and 4 grandchildren. 

And Why He Wrote An American Atrocity
Atrocities occur with depressing regularity during wartime. Yet whenever the media reports war crimes perpetrated by Americans, the public recoils in shock and wonders how nice American boys could do such horrible things, while senior military leaders confidently assert that a failure in training must be responsible for such a breakdown in military discipline.

An American Atrocity was written to increase public understanding of wartime atrocities and to encourage thinking about the following:


--What is a war crime? Can an act motivated by a desire to safeguard fellow combatants be a war crime?

--What are the underlying causes of war crimes? When large numbers of combatants are placed in high-stress, dangerous environments for prolonged periods of time, some of them are likely to be overwhelmed by frustration and lose self-control. They may brutally lash out at those around them including civilians suspected of aiding the enemy. When that happens, who is at fault: the combatants who committed the brutal acts, the civilian and military leaders who placed them in situations that would test the self-control of the strongest individuals, or both?

--Why are atrocities so difficult to prosecute?

--Why is there so much disagreement about how atrocities should be punished?


An American Atrocity was also written to demonstrate why the Uniform Code of Military Justice should be amended to allow military courts more discretion in sentencing defendants convicted of premeditated murder in a combat zone. Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice presently requires that such defendants be sentenced to either death or life imprisonment. 10 U.S.C. 918. This novel presents various fictional examples of wartime atrocities. In some examples (see, for example, Chapter 14) premeditated murders were committed not out of anger or malicious intent but to protect the lives of fellow combatants.


In the movie, Rules of Engagement, a story credited to Senator James Webb who served in Vietnam, the fictional character Terry Childers threatens and then kills a captured enemy radio operator in order to persuade his North Vietnamese superior, who was also captured, to withdraw his troops from an ambush that had Marines pinned down in a precarious position.

Philosophers might debate and come to different conclusions about the morality of killing civilians or unarmed prisoners to save the lives of U.S. combatants. But should members of a court-martial panel be required to sentence an offender such as Terry Childers to life imprisonment or death if, as would likely be the case, the panel felt a more lenient sentence was appropriate under the circumstances?

Having served in a combat zone and prosecuted atrocity cases for the First Marine Division during 1968, I believe that in the heat of battle, men will design creative ways to protect their lives and the lives of their comrades.  Under enormous stress, they may cross the lines drawn by our legal system.  Whenever that happens, the ends of justice would be better served by giving members of military courts the discretion to frame sentences that fit those difficult situations.

After reading Atrocity, you may wish to provide your responses to these questions in the Comments Section of this website.


                                                            Mike McCarey