Most of you have probably seen this photo:
It was made in February 1st, 1968. in Saigon, after the North Vietnamese forces started Tet offensive. A man with a hand gun was South Vietnamese officer, general Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. A prisoner was Nguyễn Văn Lém. Photograph was made by Eddie Adams who was AP photojournalist in Vietnam.
This photograph made great influence on American public opinion, turning it against American involvement in Vietnam war. Eddie Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for that one. About that day he wrote:
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.
This is all about a cruelty of war. We can see armed man executing helpless prisoner. Evil that wins over truth and life. But, as Adams later said, photography is just a half of the story. According the South Vietnamese sources, Nguyễn Văn Lém (a prisoner) was Viet Cong officer who has been caught the same day close the ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of general Loan's deputy… General Loan escaped to USA after the war, where he died in 1998. Eddie Adams died too, 5 years ago.
For me this photograph is a proof what one single moment in someone`s life can change a destinu of one man and millions of people. There is nothing heroic in executing helpless man. People act weird in stressful and life threatening situations. One day you are a hero. Tomorrow you are war criminal. We will probably never know which one of the stories were true. All involved are dead, just a photo remained to tell its own story.
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.