The Top 5 Most Terrible Massacres from American History

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘massacre’ as: “The act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.” Sadly, that definition fits into many chapters of the American story. From the first days of our fledgling nation continuing up to the present, too often violence and death have demarcated our history. The only silver lining to the many gruesome massacres that mar our national narrative is the fact that we reflect on them grimly, determined not to let the violence define us.

5 The My Lai Massacre

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The massacre at the village of My Lai must be the single most tragic event associated with America’s long, misguided involvement with the conflict in Vietnam. At least 345 and maybe as many as 500 Vietnamese villagers died at the hands of a few dozen American soldiers that day, March 16, 1968. The soldiers entered the village of My Lai looking for Vietcong troops allied with the North Vietnamese Army. On edge due to a number of deaths and injuries caused by booby traps and mines, the soldiers began to shoot and kill most anyone they saw, regardless of their combatant status.

4 Wounded Knee

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On December 29th, 1890, between 150 and 300 members of the Lakota Sioux Indian tribe were murdered in cold blood. The numbers of dead will never be known for sure; the bodies were piled into a mass grave. On the morning of the killing spree, members of the United States 7th Cavalry moved into the Lakota encampment, planning to disarm the natives once and for all, now that a long series of so-called Indian Wars were coming to an end. The official account has the natives firing the first shots, but this is likely a fiction created later to cover up the ruthless, indiscriminate bloodshed caused by the overzealous, unrestrained American soldiers.

3 The Virginia Tech Massacre

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The deadliest school shooting in American history took place at the main campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute on April 16, 2007. One lone gunman, a deranged student named Seung-Hui Cho, used two handguns to kill a total of 32 innocent people before taking his own life. Nearly two-dozen additional people sustained injuries during the ghastly, premeditated rampage.

2 The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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There were no real innocents involved in the gruesome St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929: The seven men who died were from the criminal underworld, as were their killers. Two rival gangs, under the leadership of Bugs Moran and Al Capone, were locked in a power struggle to control Prohibition Era Chicago. Capone’s gang got the upper hand by posing as policemen, lining up seven of Moran’s henchman, and machine-gunning them to death in the coldest of blood.

1 The Boston Massacre

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Though the name of this incident sounds gruesome, the only part of the infamous title that is undoubtedly accurate is the Boston part. On March 5, 1770, British Redcoat soldiers allegedly shot and killed five unarmed, peaceful colonists engaged in a civil protest against new Parliamentary legislation. It now seems likely the soldiers fired under the threat of violence at the hands of the colonial agitators, but we’ll never know for sure; the incident was immediately spun into the 18th century version of a media frenzy, with pamphlets and speakers haranguing the masses to seek retribution over the horrid massacre.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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