Prisoner Execution Post 9 Tyler Bass

In the continuation of research over the “Prisoner Execution” photograph I looked into our class book “Vietnam and America.” I looked through document 50, which is an excerpt from General William C. Westmoreland.  I took note to a lot that happened in Saigon, the capitol city of Vietnam.

“The minds of the Vietnamese in Saigon and the other cities were preoccupied with the approaching Tet holiday, and our efforts to change this state of mind were only partially effective.” He also goes on to talk about how a lot of South Vietnamese soldiers were on leave for the holidays and their units were only at about half strength. It sounds like the Vietnamese are comfortable with the idea that the Viet Cong are not going to attack during the Tet Holidays because of its importance to the people. This also happened to the British during the Revolutionary War. George Washington led men across the Delaware River on Christmas night. The British were brought by surprise because they were not expecting an attack on a holiday and the idea worked.

In Vietnam the Viet Cong used local forces at first to invade the cities instead of primary forces. “He Held the larger main force units in reserve to exploit the anticipated popular uprisings.”

“The enemy penetrated in strength into Saigon, Quang Tri, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Kontum City, Ban Me Thout, My Tho, Can Tho, and Ben Tre.”

In most cases the South Vietnamese and Popular Forces were able to throw back the enemy within 2-3 days. This was not the case in the larger cities of Hue and Saigon.

The Saigon attack started with a blatant assault on the U.S. Embassy. The failed attack only resulted in a hole blown out of a wall. U.S. forces quickly and aggressively took back important ground around the embassy. Viet Cong also coordinated attacks on the Tan Son Nhut Airbase complex, the Presidential Palace, the Vietnamese Joint General Staff compound, and other places in Saigon.

The VC cleverly dressed in ARVN uniforms in order to get into South Vietnamese bases. Westmoreland says he was forced to put U.S. soldiers into the capital city of Saigon for the first time. Starting at 6 a.m. the first U.S. battalion entered Saigon and ended with 5 at the end of the first day.


Prisoner Execution Post 7 Tyler Bass

While researching on the news articles prior to the Tet Offensive I came across two articles that were very interesting. The first comes on November 14, 1967, just two and a half months before the Tet launched. Ellsworth Bunker is the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam at the time. Bunker met with President Johnson and gave him a “cautiously optimistic report on American progress in Vietnam.” General Westmoreland also comes up in this article. He quotes that, “It is very, very encouraging. I have never been more encouraged in my four years in Vietnam.”

The second article I looked at was published on December 22, 1967. This article starts of by saying “Allies in Vietnam have made progress in the last eight months,” quoted from Bunker. It also quotes Bunker that “we can reasonably expect progress to accelerate.” By immediately starting the article off with such an optimistic outlook on the progress in Vietnam it puts a message in the mind of its readers that America is about to end this war. If I were reading this I would think we are about to make a huge move like invading the North or make an offer to end the war. In my notes I bolded a quote that Bunker says saying, “But I think it’s also a possibility that the North Vietnamese may come to a point where they are aware of the fact that they can’t win the war and therefore may want to negotiate the best kind of settlement they can.” This has to be one of the most confident stabs at the North Vietnam I’ve heard so far. He is basically questioning when they are going to give up. America is way to overpowering for you to keep up with your peasant army.  He truly believes it is a matter of time before the allies come out with a victory in this war.

It goes onto say that Bunker reports the South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu “Has the feelings they will try to hang on at least through the U.S. presidential elections, so that the chances for negotiations until then are not particularly good” Everybody believe the South is about to win this war. The reality is far from this. The North is planning something big and carries out these plans attacking several of the major cities in the South. The Tet Offensive definitely changed the war greatly.

This all ties to the background of the photograph of “Prisoner execution,” which was taken during the Tet Offensive. It is important to know how Americans felt about the war before Tet.,4582948&dq=earle+wheeler+progress&hl=en,2829500&dq=ellsworth+bunker+vietnam&hl=en

Jin Chang “Prisoner Execution”

Although my primary task on this project is to gauge and analyze the immediate reception of this photo, that can’t be properly done in isolation of other components that provide a holistic context to analyze the photo, its history, reception, and ensuing legacy. So to start off I’m really feeling out the photographer, the events surrounding the photo, and how he sees it in retrospect.

Obviously, when Eddie Adams adjusts the zoom for the camera and snaps just the right angle (unless in the midst of the intense action you take many shots to have many opportunities at every moment, I wouldn’t know the process of war photography), there is a larger context and a larger story right below the surface. Sure, we are all entitled to our own interpretation of it, but in this case, “Prisoner Execution”, leaves a lot less interpreting space for the viewer. The scenario appears clear and indisputable.

Eddie Adams received a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for capturing a rare moment in war. Not the huddled Vietcong in trenches being mercilessly showered with gunfire and bombs or a war-torn landscape or village in the aftermath of a battle, but the rare moment right before Nguyen Van Lem, a Vietcong prisoner was executed on the spot right in the streets. His photo captures the knee-jerk fear of this prisoner in civilian clothing. It does a lot to paint a picture of cruelty and helplessness juxtaposed before a city street.

Interestingly, Adams is quoted as saying this particular shot was just a reflex and that he wasn’t sure what he had snapped until it was developed. In his own reflection of all the hype his photo caused, Adams asks himself why this photo received so much more attention and acclaim than his other photo of 48  Vietnamese refugees who had managed to sail to Thailand, but were cast out until President Carter (on account of the photo taken) granted them asylum in the U.S. In the same stroke he states that, “…photos are powerful.” However, the question remains of what propelled this image of one moment in the war to the iconic status it rests at today. What about it resonated just right with the American consciousness for it to be a catalyst that spoke that which words can’t do alone?

Eddie Adams already asks us to delve deeper into the picture to discover a fuller truth as he gives much benefit of the doubt to the general going on to call him, “a goddamned hero!” As my job is to assess the immediate reception, I’m sure there is more than just one layer to the public reception and in other departments. I also feel that this investigation into the photo, Mr. Adams, and the public response will tell more about ourselves (during the war) than the photo itself. Much more to come.

Eddie Adams Interview Tyler Bass

In the progress of my research I recently came upon a video interview with Eddie Adams. He goes into detail about the moments going through his head when General Loan executed the Vietcong prisoner, Bay Lop.  He talks about how he saw Loan reach for his pistol so he grabbed his camera and snapped a picture as soon as Loan brought his pistol up. Coincidentally this was the same time Loan pulled the trigger. This makes me visualize how fast this scene must of happened. It appears that Loan did not think too long about his decision to take someone’s life.

While listening to Adams talk about the photo I realize how incredibly humble he is. “Anybody there could of taken the picture. I had nothing to do with that. It happened and I was there,” Adams says. He continues to talk about how he had no idea what he just captured. He took it to the office and said, “I think I got someone getting shot,” then leaves for lunch. It wasn’t a big deal he was just in the presence of a murder. He says, “I took the picture and it was like so what? People were getting shot like they do in all wars.” Adams continues later with, “I’ve seen many people die, he was one of many people killed that day.” Like I’ve mentioned in other posts, he was extremely upset that he ruined Loan’s career. He goes on to say, “I never wanted to hurt anybody.”

Another interesting fact I learned is the mindset of these Vietnam War photographers. They had a job to do like everybody else and they didn’t get paid if they didn’t do their job well. Adams talked about a saying that went around in the beginning years of the war that went like, “If we are lucky we will get ambushed.” This is from the standpoint of photographers in that they need life threatening pictures that will make newspapers and make them money. They don’t get paid for taking pictures of troops just walking around being bored. If they weren’t getting fired at it wasn’t exciting enough. This goes a long ways to say what Americans were interested in. These images are the ones that make front pages of newspaper across the world.

Tyler Bass Blog Post

I recently researched into a newspaper posting suggesting by Dr. Grenoff. It was from the Pittsburgh Press on February 26, 1977, over nine years after the Vietnam War ended. Just like the NY Times it is very critical of Loan and his actions.  The paper starts off by giving a brief description of what happened on the event and gives a report that right after the shot Loan throws his head back and laughs. The article states that newspapers all across the nation editorialized “Is that what we are fighting for?” What they say next is particular disturbing. They go on about how the photographer, Eddie Adams, talks about how bad this picture was for Loan and his career and how Adams felt like he destroyed Loan’s career. After they make it quite obvious that this picture made America very critical of Loan and his actions they deliberately state that Loan is living in America and exactly where he lives and what he does for a living. The paper states “He is now a restaurateur in a shopping center near this northern Virginia community. He reportedly is also a secretary-clerk with a Washington business.” Later in the paper they even admit he works in a pizzeria! Why would they put so much effort into this description? To me this appears like a direct stab at trying to bring down Loan. By giving up his location they are inviting discriminators to terrorize Loan’s life. In another source (again provided by Dr. Renoff) it describes the relation between Loan and Adams. It reports how once Adams visited Loan at his restaurant. “He was like a freak show. People had figured out who he was.” Adams recalled, “going into the bathroom in his restaurant and reading some graffiti on the wall. Someone had written, ‘We know who you are, you f—.’” The source also tells how the pizzeria didn’t last very long after people found out who the owner was. In my opinion, the Pittsburgh Press should be partly to blame for this; they contributed to Loan going out of business and the ruining of his life in America.,3364034&dq=loan+pizza+vietnam&hl=en

Witness to a Syrian Execution: “I Saw a Scene of Utter Cruelty”

FYI, for the Prisoner Execution photo team:


TIME obtained the images exclusively from a photographer who was recently in Syria. This decapitation was the last of four executions he documented that day. TIME has agreed not to publish the photographer’s name,  to protect him from repercussions when he returns to Syria. What follows is an edited account of his experience:

The man was brought in to the square. His eyes were blindfolded. I began shooting pictures, one after the other. It was to be the fourth execution that day I would photograph. I was feeling awful; several times I had been on the verge of throwing up. But I kept it under control because as a journalist I knew I had to document this, as I had the three previous beheadings I had photographed that day, in three other locations outside Aleppo.

The crowd began cheering. Everyone was happy. I knew that if I tried to intervene I would be taken away, and that the executions would go ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to change what was happening and I might put myself in danger.

I saw a scene of utter cruelty: a human being treated in a way that no human being should ever be treated. But it seems to me that in two and a half years, the war has degraded people’s humanity. On this day the people at the execution had no control over their feelings, their desires, their anger. It was impossible to stop them.

I don’t know how old the victim was but he was young. He was forced to his knees. The rebels around him read out his crimes from a sheet of paper. They stood around him. The young man was on his knees on the ground, his hands tied. He seemed frozen.

Two rebels whispered something into his ear and the young man replied in an innocent and sad manner, but I couldn’t understand what he said because I don’t speak Arabic.

At the moment of execution the rebels grasped his throat. The young man put up a struggle. Three or four rebels pinned him down. The man tried to protect his throat with his hands, which were still tied together. He tried to resist but they were stronger than he was and they cut his throat. They raised his head into the air. People waved their guns and cheered. Everyone was happy that the execution had gone ahead.

That scene in Syria, that moment, was like a scene from the Middle Ages, the kind of thing you read about in history books. The war in Syria has reached the point where a person can be mercilessly killed in front of hundreds of people—who enjoy the spectacle.

As a human being I would never have wished to see what I saw. But as a journalist I have a camera and a responsibility. I have a responsibility to share what I saw that day. That’s why I am making this statement and that’s why I took the photographs. I will close this chapter soon and try never to remember it.

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