Iconic Images

Nguyen Van Lem; Bay Lop

Maybe one of the most iconic images to come out of the Vietnam War this photo depicts a uniformed South Vietnamese officer shooting a prisoner in the head. Looking at this image out of context, it appears as though an officer is killing an innocent prisoner, or even a civilian.

The photographer, Eddie Adams, had this to say of capturing the photo:

I just followed the three of them as they walked towards us, making an occasional picture. When they were close – maybe five feet away – the soldiers stopped and backed away. I saw a man walk into my camera viewfinder from the left. He took a pistol out of his holster and raised it. I had no idea he would shoot. It was common to hold a pistol to the head of prisoners during questioning. So I prepared to make that picture – the threat, the interrogation. But it didn’t happen. The man just pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it to the VC’s head and shot him in the temple. I made a picture at the same time…

 

The image of Lem’s execution, and public reaction to it, played a small role in bringing the Vietnam War to an end. Although that is no bad thing, it also demonized General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Eddie Adams was quoted as saying,

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?”

Major General Loan later moved to the United States. When he arrived, the Immigration and Nationalization Services wanted to deport him partially because of the photo taken by Adams. When Loan died of cancer in 1998, Adams stated, “The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.”

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