Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Eddie Adams’ lasting legacy

40 years ago this month Eddie Adams took one of the most memorable war photographs ever – the execution of a Vietcong prisoner by General Nguyan Ngoc Loan.


A truly horrific picture. But ask many Americans today and, if they are on the right, will tell you that the General Nguyan Ngoc Loan did the right thing.

After all, the Geneva Convention specifically states that combatants not wearing uniforms are not subject to rules governing prisoners of war and can be shot - as the Vietcong man was.

And this was also the view of Eddie Adams (source: The Times):

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?

When Loan died, Adams - who had called him many times to apologize for the damage done to Loan's reputation - sent a bunch of flowers with the inscription:

I'm sorry. There are tears in my eyes.


This is all very well of course.

But would we feel the same about the photo if the man being executed had been an undercover US special operations soldier captured in enemy territory in Iraq?

Somehow I think not.

4 comments:

observer said...

I have read many of your threads/stories (I don't know what you call writings in this day and age) and they are all very interesting. Write on and i will read on!

MJ said...

thanks observer,
do you have a blog yourself?

observer said...

Just like to observe....you must admit, black swans are rather stunning no matter how ominous to some!

David said...

It is hard for those of us who have never experienced war to understand it. I roomed with a Cambodian for two semesters at graduate school, and he was an officer in Vietnam war over a band of Cambodians. His mother and father had been executed by the communists (hung), his brother beheaded, and his sister had fled to Belgium. He said that their guerrilia band was a roaming group and did not have the capacity to take prisoners and hold them. When they did take prisoners, he had to give the order to have someone execute them or do it himself and move on. Most of the time he had to do it himself. The flip side of this was that he had to carry a pistol strapped to his leg. If he was captured, because he was an officer, he knew he would be tortured before they put him to death, so this pistol was for him to commit suicide before they got to him. So it could have went either way. He said that he could not explain war to me if I had not experienced myself.