Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Iconic Images of Vietnam cont.

As Margaret talks about in her blog post, the Vietnam War provides a fascinating example of how images have the power to shape public opinion. Many of the iconic photographs of the Vietnam War exposed the American public to the brutalities and carnage of the war and to the hardships of Vietnamese civilians. I’ve always been really interested in the back-stories behind these photographs. The image above is General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon, taken in 1968 during the Tet Offensive. The iconic photo, shot by Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams, became central to rallying public support for the anti-war movement. One version of the story behind this photo is that after General Loan shot the Viet Cong prisoner, he went over to reporters and told them that "These guys kill a lot of our people, and I think Buddha will forgive me." Even though Eddie Adams won numerous awards for this photograph (including a Pulitzer Prize), in the decades following the war he expressed sincere regret over taking the photograph and for turning General Loan into an icon of brutality. After Loan died in 1998, Adams wrote a eulogy for the Vietnamese General whose life had been so irreparably changed by this single photograph. I think the following excerpt really sums up the power of photography, both to capture a moment and to distort the truth:

I won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for a photograph of one man shooting another … 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?" General Loan was what you would call a real warrior, admired by his troops. I'm not saying what he did was right, but you have to put yourself in his position.

…This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn't taken the picture, someone else would have, but I've felt bad for him and his family for a long time. I had kept in contact with him; the last time we spoke was about six months ago, when he was very ill.

I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, "I'm sorry. There are tears in my eyes."

-- Zoƫ Beyer

1 comment:

Becky said...

I think General Loan's story is representative of what happened to many soldiers in Vietnam. They were condemned for their baby-killing, but what choice did they really have? When ordered to attack, they had to attack, and hope that those they killed were really the enemy. As Kovic wrote in Born on the Forth of July, describing his thoughts moments before his unit shot up a hut filled with innocent children and elderly - "This time he hoped and prayed it would be the real enemy" (203). And it wasn't. For the second time, Kovic had killed the wrong people, and for the second time his intentions had been to touch no one but the enemy. Such unintentionally brutal actions have psychologically impacted many Vietnam veterans who had come to Vietnam to defend democracy, not to kill innocents. Men like Loan were condemned for their actions, but really these actions were the results of a terrible war.