Although thousands and thousands of photographs have been taken during the war, only a few have become well known and recognizable as
THE images that personify the war itself. We will review here some of these images taken by photographers of western news magazines from
the Free World side.
South Vietnam, no matter how its critics had labeled it, was a fairly open society where even in times of war photographers were allowed
unprecedented access to various places and individuals. The proof is the plethora of photos about Vietnam owned by various news
organizations in the world. Hal Buell from the Associated Press said, "No war was ever photographed the way Vietnam was and no war will
ever be photographed again the way Vietnam was photographed. There was no censorship." On the other hand, no one had been allowed
to take pictures from the communist side, probably because they did not want their "dark deeds" publicized.
Five photographs from the War years have earned the Pulitzer Prize: 1963 (burning monk), 1965 (crossing the river), 1966
(dragging a Viet Cong), 1968 (shooting a Viet Cong), and 1972 (injured by napalm bomb).
1) Eddie Adams took the picture featuring General and Chief of National Police Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting Viet Cong Lem point blank on the
right temple on February 1, 1968. The Viet Cong were mounting the massive Tet Offensive that struck most of the major cities in South
Vietnam in violation of the truce agreement. Apparently Lem was caught after killing all the family members of Lieutenant Col. Nguyen Tuan,
an assistant to General Loan.
The published picture, which earned Adams the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography became an icon for the anti-war movement. That
single picture caused an uproar worldwide and energized anti-war protestors. Although this was an isolated incident, no one has raised the
fact that the Viet Cong had started the Tết Offensive that killed thousands and thousands of innocent citizens, destroyed tens of
thousands of homes and villages, and displaced so many people in violation of the Tết truce. Despite agreeing and signing on a three-day
truce, the Viet Cong went on the attack destroying the serenity and sacredness of the Tết holidays.
Adams years later wrote, "The general killed the Viet Cong. I killed the general with the camera. Still photographs are the most powerful
weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie. They are only half-truths." What the photograph did not say was, "What would
you do if you were the general... and you caught the bad guy after he blew away one, two, or three American soldiers?" Adams recounted in 1998
that Loan told him, (in war) "If you hesitate, if you didn't do your duty, the men won't follow you." The general then walked to the cameraman
and told him, "These guys kill a lot of our people. I think Buddha will forgive me." Adams apologized to Loan's family for the damage the
publication of the photo has done to the general's reputation.