Truth of The Iconic Vietnam War Photo

Truth of The Iconic Vietnam War Photo

This is an iconic Pulitzer Prize winning image from 1968 during the Vietnam War. Most people see this as an arrogantly excessive act of violence. Maybe?

But I was reading the backstory behind the execution.

The justification was that the executed man, Nguyễn Văn Lém, was a combatant caught in civilian clothing while perpetrating terrorist acts, in the midst of the Tet Offensive. He had recently broken into the home of South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan, where he brutally killed Tuan, his wife, five of their children, and the officer’s 80-year-old mother. This happened less than 36 hours prior to the execution.

The executioner was Major General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, of the South Vietnamese Army, and the acting police chief of Saigon.

The image was taken by Eddie Adams, a well-known Associated Press photographer. The photo spread around the world quickly helping to galvanize antiwar sentiment.

After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 General Loan fled to the US where he became a restaurateur in Virginia and office worker in Washington DC. In 1978 the INS attempted to deport Loan as a war criminal and enlisted the photographer Eddie Adams to testify against him. However, Adams testified in favor of Loan. President Jimmy Carter intervened, stating “such historical revisionism is folly”. Loan later became a US citizen.

General Loan died in 1998 at the age of 68. Eddie Adams wrote a eulogy to Loan published in Time Magazine:

“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”

Written by Kevin Murray

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Truth of The Iconic Vietnam War Photo