Here’s an old column of mine a friend reminded me of. It seems a bit relevant given the discussion of Tet. An excerpt:
But the really disturbing image is of Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a man. Everybody has seen this picture or the film of the incident. A cruel and angry South Vietnamese General executes what appears to be a defenseless Vietcong prisoner. Eddie Adams, The AP photographer who snapped the photo, earned a Pulitzer Prize for the picture. That picture helped galvanize the anti-war effort in the United States. Hubert Humphrey, at the time the photo was taken, was on the verge of challenging President Johnson for the Democratic nomination for president. The photo (and subsequent NBC film) helped stir sentiment to the point that Johnson announced he would not seek a second term only two months later. It is one of the most powerful icons for everything that was supposedly wrong with that war. It is precisely the sort of professional coup that a reporter who’s “Dying to Tell the Story” dreams of getting.
Except Eddie Adams wishes he never took the picture.
After the photo was seen around the world, the AP assigned Adams to hang out with General Loan. He discovered that Loan was a beloved hero in Vietnam, to his troops and the citizens. “He was fighting our war, not their war, our war, and every — all the blame is on this guy,” Adams told NPR (in what may have been the most surprisingly courageous NPR interview I’ve ever heard). Adams learned that Loan fought for the construction of hospitals in South Vietnam and unlike the popular myths, demonstrated the fact that at least some South Vietnamese soldiers really did want to fight for their country and way of life.