Tue02202018

LAST_UPDATETue, 20 Feb 2018 8pm

"But Photographs Do Lie, Even Without Manipulation. They Are Only Half-Truths"

In this Feb. 1, 1968, photo, South Vietnamese Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of National Police, fires his pistol at Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem. (Eddie Adams/AP)  Filepic: Washington PostIn this Feb. 1, 1968, photo, South Vietnamese Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of National Police, fires his pistol at Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem. (Eddie Adams/AP) Filepic: Washington Post

This horrific photograph taken fifty years ago on 1 February 1968 defined the Vietnam War for decades and even won the photographer the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

But what the photograph didn't reveal is also a telling reminder to netizens today bombarded by hundreds of images daily that we should not jump to conclusions over what we see in a single photograph, or even what we read in a single forwarded message or email.

The photographer who took that grisly yet iconic shot, Eddie Adams would live to regret that moment when he snapped the South Vietnamese general raising his gun and pointing it at the prisoner’s right temple before pulling the trigger, Daily Telegraph reports on the 50th anniversary of that fateful day.

For those of us coming across this photograph for the first time, it appears as if an innocent war victim was being mercilessly executed.

What the photograph doesn't reveal is the person who was being executed was a cold blooded assassin who was caught red-handed at a mass grave after he killed at least 34 people, all tied up and bound.

The assassin, a member of the Viet Cong Death Squad named Nguyen Van Lem had just killed the executioner's wife and six children along with many other senior officers and their families.

Moments before and after Lem was executed by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Filepic: AP/Eddie AdamsMoments before and after Lem was executed by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Filepic: AP/Eddie Adams

While the notorious asssassin had his life ended abruptly in that fateful photograph, the executioner, South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police was demonized for the rest of his life.

Loan was despised by anti-war activists, his brutality seen as typical of the war, but most people never learned the story behind the photograph, Daily Telegraph reports.

The UK news daily recounted how the photographer was haunted for the rest of his life as he felt guilty that he was being rewarded for recording a man’s death, and ruining another man’s life.

In 1975, the former general opened a pizza parlor in Burke, Virginia, USA which he ran until 1991, when his identity was discovered and he had to close it down after receiving many threats.In 1975, the former general opened a pizza parlor in Burke, Virginia, USA which he ran until 1991, when his identity was discovered and he had to close it down after receiving many threats.In countless interviews with international media, Adams would repeatedly express regret that he had ruined Loan’s life and never stopped trying to make up for it to the general.

When General Loan later moved to the United States and the Immigration and Nationalization Services wanted to deport him after finding out his identity, it was Adams who instead testified in his favor and Loan was allowed to stay.

“The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him,” Adams had told reporters after Loan's death.

When Loan died of cancer in 1998 in Virginia, USA where he migrated and settled, the photographer even went to great lengths to write a eulogy to the late general which was published by Time magazine.

"I won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for a photograph of one man shooting another. 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 weapon 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 soldiers?” Eddie Adams painfully recounted.

While the photograph Adam took was decades before the internet and the advent of social media, his message is even more meaningful today as we forward and receive countless images and videos daily on digital devices while texts, tweets  and emails wind their way around the world in seconds. - a timely reminder that we should not jump to conclusions based on a single photograph or text message.

- mD