Monday, 30 March 2015

the siege (part 3)

Mmm. SPAM. So good. ^_^

More seriously though; been researching the controversy surrounding one of the more iconic photographs to emerge from the Vietnam War, Eddie Adams' picture of police chief General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner, Nguyễn Văn Lém:


You'll notice I've put it in upside down.

It's a deliberate attempt on my part to break the immediate associations I assign (and have been taught to assign) the people in the picture. Just because one of them is holding a gun; just because--history tells me, although Adams didn't know it when he took that photo--one of them is about to be very, very dead; just because I (like many) view the Vietnam War to be colossal US cock-up and Loan was fighting on the side attached to the US... just because a lot of assumptions I could name all point towards labelling Lém a victim (i.e. the "good guy" of the piece) and Loan a war-crime perpetrator (i.e. the "bad guy" of the piece); doesn't mean it's as easy as that.

To quote Eddie Adams from a piece he wrote for Time in 1998:
Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and GENERAL NGUYEN NGOC LOAN. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons 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 people?'.... 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 sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, "I'm sorry. There are tears in my eyes."
See, it turns out that, in all probability, Lém had been involved in the murder of a South Vietnamese colonel, wife, and their six kids.

Ofc, killing isn't justification for more killing, and it's more than probable (I haven't done my research on this) that there were channels that Lém should have been fed through (rather than being executed); but it does lend another angle to the picture that's not really apparent when we look at those pixels, bereft of context:

For Loan, this wasn't an act of cold-blooded murder.

It was justice.

Scarily swift, yes. Brutal, yes. Probably crossing the line over into vengeance, yes. Not to be condoned, yes.

But in a broken, war-torn frame of reference it was also possibly the sanest (or at least, the most human) thing he could do.

No, I'm not being glib with my choice of words there.

I typed "sane" and "most human" quite deliberately.

Because, as Adams asked:

Would you have done any different?

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