Ronald Ridenhour

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Ronald Lee "Ron" Ridenhour
Ronald Ridenhour.jpg
Ridenhour in November of 1969
Born(1946-04-06)April 6, 1946
DiedMay 10, 1998(1998-05-10) (aged 52)
Alma materPhoenix Junior College
Claremont Men's College
Occupationinvestigative journalist
Known forexposing the My Lai Massacre
External image
Ron Ridenhour's press card. Displayed at The Ridenhour Prizes: About Ron Ridenhour.

Ronald Lee Ridenhour (April 6, 1946 – May 10, 1998), was a young GI who served in the 11th Infantry Brigade during the Vietnam War, played a central role in spurring the investigation of the My Lai Massacre.[1]


Ridenhour was born in Oakland, California, and was raised in Phoenix, Arizona.

A helicopter gunner, Ridenhour heard of the massacre from friends while serving in Vietnam. While still on active duty, he gathered eyewitness and participant accounts from other soldiers. On his return to the United States, he sent letters to 30 members of Congress and to Pentagon officials,[2] spurring a probe that led to several indictments against those involved, and the conviction of William Calley. His own account of learning about the massacre can be found in the article, "Jesus Was a Gook," published in Nobody Gets Off the Bus: The Viet Nam Generation Big Book.[3]

Ridenhour, a 1972 graduate of Claremont Men's College, went on to become an investigative journalist, winning a George Polk Award in 1987 for his expose of a tax scandal in New Orleans, based on a year-long investigation. He earned the 1988 Gerald Loeb Award for Commentary.[4]

He died of a heart attack in 1998, aged 52, while playing handball[5] in Metairie, Louisiana. The Ridenhour Prizes, which "recognize those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society", are named for him.[6]

According to Jonathan Glover's book Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, Ridenhour took part in the Princeton version of the Milgram experiment. Ridenhour was part of the minority who refused to administer electric shocks that would result in death. He was the only participant who refused to administer any shocks whatsoever. Subsequent investigations, however, showed that the Ron Ridenhour who took part in the Milgram experiment and the Ron Ridenhour who helped break the story of the My Lai Massacre are two different individuals. Glover's source for treating the two individuals as identical came from Gordon Bear, a social psychologist, who on April 5, 2008, posted a correction to the listserv of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.[7]


... [S]ome people -- most, it seems -- will, under some circumstances, do anything someone in authority tells them to. ... Government institutions, like most humans, have a reflexive reaction to the exposure of internal corruption and wrongdoing: No matter how transparent the effort, their first response is to lie, conceal and cover up. Also like human beings, once an institution has embraced a particular lie in support of a particular coverup, it will forever proclaim its innocence.

— Ron Ridenhour in the Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1993 [8]


  1. ^ Biographical information from Ronald Ridenhour's obituaries: John H. Cushman, Jr., "Ronald Ridenhour, 52, Veteran Who Reported My Lai Massacre", The New York Times, May 11, 1998.; and The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, May 11, 1998 and May 18, 1998, reproduced in Louisiana US GenWeb Archives
  2. ^ Ridenhour's 1969 letter Archived 2011-02-09 at the Wayback Machine to Congress and Pentagon officials
  3. ^ Dan Duffy and Kalí Tal (eds.), Nobody Gets Off the Bus: The Viet Nam Generation Big Book, Woodbridge, CT: Viet Nam Generation, Inc., pp. 138–142, 1994. ISBN 0-9628524-8-1
  4. ^ "Historical Winners List". UCLA Anderson School of Management. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Description from official website of The Ridenhour Prizes.
  7. ^ Bear, Gordon. "Mistake about Milgram and My Lai - Retracting a Meme". SPSP discuss Group. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  8. ^ Ron Ridenhour, "Perspective on My Lai", Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1993.

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