I recently found a post in the New York Times from July 16, 1998 about the photograph “Prisoner Execution.” Even though it was several years after the Vietnam War it still has clues as to how America react to this picture. The very first sentence in the post starts off as “Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the quick-tempered South Vietnamese national police commander whose impromptu execution of a Viet Cong prisoner on a Saigon street in the Tet offensive of 1968 helped galvanize American public opinion against the war.” With words like “quick-tempered” and “impromptu” it is really hard to see this message as unbiased. America gave Loan no chance to defend himself because it seemed that Loan gave no chance to this North Vietnam officer to defend himself.
Another interesting fact I learned is that with close examination of this Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, you can actually see the slug leaving his head. That is remarkable timing to obtain such a photo. I believe this definitely added to the affect it had on America. Such a graphic image of a bullet going into someone’s head would definitely have a great impact.
I also picked up some interesting background on General Loan. He was born along side ten other brothers and sisters of a successful mechanical engineer. Loan graduated practically top of his class at the University of Hue. After schooling he moved to the South Vietnamese Air Force.
While doing my research I have came across the statement that General Loan would not have carried out this execution if he was not within the presence of news reporters and photographers multiple times including this New York times post. I have come to the conclusion that he obviously wanted publicity. The only thing I can think of why he would want this is to show that South Vietnam doesn’t put up with anything. They are fierce and to be taken seriously. Loan obviously did not think of the negative side of this picture getting to the U.S.