Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What was said after General Loan killed Nguyen Van Lem?

In my Feb 4, 2011 post titled "What did General Nguyen Ngoc Loan really say on February 1, 1968?" I listed a number of iterations on what has been reported by reputable sources regarding General Loan's comments to the reporters who watch the execution.

It boils down to one of these two:
"They killed many Americans and many of our people"
"Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends.  Now do you understand?  Buddha will understand."
I am going to contend that it is the first one, based on the following:

It appears in the New York Times on Feb 2,  1968:

It appears in the Washing Post on Feb 2, 1968:

It is quoted in Editor & Publisher on Feb 10, 1968:

It then changes to the "Buddha will understand" version on Feb 23, 1968:

And a similar version appears in Life on March 1, 1968:

Which is then quoted in Bailey and Lichty's oft quoted Journal Article:

Bailey and Lichty contend that Howard Tuckner, the NBC newsman there with Eddie Adams, provided a "stand-upper" that had Loan's statement but it was rejected as anticlimactic:

Because there is no record of the original stand-upper, it appears that when Tuckner (see footnote 5) recounted what was said several months later, the revised "Buddha will understand" version was what he remembered as said.

I contend that the "Buddha" version was used by General Loan sometime between February 10th and the 23rd.

The original version; "They killed many Americans and many of our people," sounds more matter of fact, while the second version; "Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends.  Now do you understand?  Buddha will understand." sounds almost like he is asking for forgiveness.

Additionally, the use of the phrase "these last few days" does not work with the time line of events:
1st lunar month 1968 starts on Jan 30th, a Tuesday.(1)
General Ky invites Loan over "on the night it happens" and is chided by Ky; "You carry a revolver in my house on the first day of the new year."  You know it's bad luck." (*)
Loan "only stays a few minutes" and spends the time riding around the city until about 2:00 a.m. which would be the 31st, a Wednesday. (*)
 Shortly before 3AM the radio station is attacked.  Loan responds.  "We take it back and the man right next to me is shot dead and falls on top of me." (*)  The attack lasted 6 hours. (2)
The time would be about 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday.  The rest of the time is not accounted for.
By Thursday morning the fighting was fierce all over the city. (**)
Loan finds himself that morning in Cholon, the Chinese quarter of Saigon, where the Viet Cong had set up a headquarters in the Buddhist An Quang Pagoda. (**)
Loan shoots Lem on Thursday, February 1st, at the Pagoda.
The photo is wired to New York and is received at 8:16 a.m on Thursday.  This would be about 8:16 or 9:16  p.m. on Thursday in Saigon. (**)
"It was sent out to newspapers around the country--about 11 hours after the shooting." (**)
That would put the shooting at around 9 or 10 in the morning on February 1st.
Total time from start of the Tet offense and Loan's involvement to the shooting, about 30 to 32 hours.
 So that's how I support that on February 1st, 1968 when General Loan shot Nguyen Van Lem, he told Eddie Adams, Howard Tuckner, and the cameraman:
"They killed many Americans and many of our people"
The "Buddha" version is too contrite for Loan to have said at that moment.  It was most likely offered a few days later as a way to defuse the wrath that had been unleashed from the viewing of the photo.

In a way the Buddha remark reminds me of what Jesus said to the crowd that wanted to stone the woman for adultery (John 7:53-8:11):
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?  Jesus said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.  He said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?  She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.  

* = as reported in Harper's April  1972 article "Portrait of an Aging Despot." 
** = as reported in Journalism Quarterly, 1972, Bailey & Lichty "Rough Justice on a Saigon Street: A Gatekeeper Study of NBC's Tet Execution Film."
Added May 6, 2012

The New York Times article on Loan's death - July 16, 1998 - has the NBC cameraman Vo Suu saying “These guys kill a lot of our people, and I think Buddha will forgive me.”

Next Post: Nguyen Van Lem; Could he be made more despicable?


Monday, February 21, 2011

The man on the left had to shoot the man on the right

In Eddie Adams' iconic and infamous photo of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan's assassination of Nguyen Van Lem (aka: Bay Lop) and the NBC film capturing the whole event, one thing shines bright; we know very little about what really happened that day other than the man on the left shot the man on the right.

In my last post I questioned whether a reason was necessary to view the photo and film correctly.  As you can see, there are a lot of reasons given, some plausible, others far fetched.

What one should come away with is this; for such an iconic - event changing - photo, why is a truthful rendition of what took place and what was said so hard to come by?

The answer, me thinks, is what context is all about.  Like I've said, I have spent the last couple of weeks researching this topic.  I have a few more documents on the way that might help better understand it, but I think I have a pretty good take on what took place and how we got to this point of convoluted truth and tall tales.

I have the benefit now of 43 years since the event took place.  I have access to the Internet - which helps and hurts, a great library system where quick access to archival data is relatively easy to obtain, plus I have something Eddie Adams, Dave Culbert, Tom Buckley, Peter Rollins, George Bailey & Lawrence Lichty, Howard Tuckner, and the New York Times didn't have when they wrote on this topic; declassified military and CIA briefings and memos.

There is a bigger story to all of this than what has been offered in the books, journals and blogs dealing with Adams and Loan.  A bigger story that still is incomplete.

So with that in mind, I will offer a thesis on the possible reason for shooting the man on the right, who - consensus seems to conclude - was named "Nguyen Van Lem (aka: Bay Lop).

The reason he was shot, I contend, was simply because he was the man on the right that day - at that time.

What he did that day, who he was, what he was connected to, his name...none of that mattered except for the fact that he was caught and he was wearing civilian attire.

It is my contention that General Nguyen Ngoc Loan - the Chief of Police of the South Vietnamese National Police - in Saigon that day responding to the incursion that started the night before, had given the order that there would be no prisoners for men or woman who were caught and not in the khaki uniform of the Viet Cong.

There is good reason to suspect this:

First, it is consistent with US orders to General Westmoreland:
"attrite, by year’s end, VC/PAVN forces at a rate at least as high as their capability to put men into the field." (1)
Second, Loan told Buckley about "a month or so after the killing" (as reported in Harper's April  1972 article "Portrait of an Aging Despot" page 72):
"I respect the Vietcong in uniform.  They are fighting men like me.  People know when they are wounded I take care of them.  I see they get to to the hospital.  But when they are not in uniform, they are criminals and the rule of war is death."
And thirdly, Loan tells Buckley (as reported in Esquire, June 5, 1979 "The Villain of Vietnam" Page 64):
Vice President Ky "had broadcast a warning that persons in civilian clothes found with arms would be subject to summary execution."  (Buckley had not heard about this order till then)
So based on these three points - documented - The man on the right was to be killed that day for wearing civilian clothes and carrying a weapon.  Whether he was guilty or not did not play into it.  There was a war going on all around him.  The time it would take to process the prisoner and transport him to jail was most likely not worth the small chance that the man was indeed innocent -  a wrong place at the wrong time kind of thing.

And fourthly, it's how Loan clearly and bluntly stated his position on this type of matter:
"What do you want us to do?  Put him in jail for two or three years and let him go back to the enemy?" (as reported in Harper's April  1972 article "Portrait of an Aging Despot" page 72)
For Loan, it is my contention, he drew a fine line between a soldier and a terrorist.  Soldiers followed orders, they had an on-off switch.  But these sappers...these terrorists...these communists...they had no such switch.

So on that first day of February, 1968, the man on the left was positioned perfectly to shot the man on the right.  It was probably supposed to be done in the building where they found Lem, but the guy in charge lost his nerve.  So they brought him out to Loan, NBC, and Eddie Adams.

And the rest is a distorted bit of history surrounding a very clear and telling photograph and film,

Next post: What was said after General Loan killed Nguyen Van Lem?


The problems of the how's and why's

Note: I have done a lot more research on this topic since I started the particular post.  So I am going to continue with the theme I originally started with.

I have been doing a bunch of research on General Nguyen Ngoc Loan's assassination of Nguyen Van Lem (aka: Bay Lop) which was caught on film by NBC and still by Eddie Adams.  I am trying to answer a couple of questions that have made themselves apparent during this quest.
  1. What did General Loan say to the reporters?  Which version is closest to the actual statement?
  2. What did General Loan know about the man he was going to execute?  Was Lem guilty of everything you read about him?
I am also trying to put into context Eddie Adams' statements regarding the photo he took and the path it lead both him and General Loan down.  Although I had seen the photo before, I knew nothing about what took place February 1st,  1968.  It's not like I'm some teenager bored in history class.  I missed the Vietnam war by three years.  I should know more, but I don't.  So this has been a history lesson that I have enjoyed, although it deals with a pretty gruesome topic and a very costly war in terms of humanity.

What I have found in this short time is that I like Eddie Adams.  What I have also found is that we, as a society that has used his photo to add to our own individual and collective narrative, have misused it to suit our own needs.  In addition, by not fully understanding - accepting really - the context, we have made it into something that sounds good but has no legs to stand on to support that description of what it really shows.  Then, when we hear Adams talk about this very problem, we take his words out of context as well, all to satisfy some primal need to have our view of what it shows be the one everybody should accept.

But what should we see when we look at the photo or watch the NBC film?  What if - as historian David Culbert contends - all the photo and film showed us was the result and not the cause...the reason?  Without background or context, readers saw a merciless Loan and a defenseless Lop.(5)  What reason is needed to fully understand the photo?

We humans like to categorize things, put them into nice little cubbies like our shoes and lunch boxes.  But this photo presents a different that makes categorizing very difficult.  If you are to be intellectually honest, you realize that it is extremely difficult to give General Loan's actions an unqualified "it was okay" or "it was wrong."  Those two cubbies don't work for this without a bit of morality wrestling.

Is there never a case where executing a man on the spot would be warranted?  And, if it's okay to execute a bound man without a trial because he's a terrorist, then its okay for our enemy to make the same designation.  And if war changes everything making this act acceptable in those conditions, then the Bataan death march and the massacre at Goliad would be acceptable as well.

You see, it gets complicated.  So somewhere between never and always there is point where we shift from one side to the other.  But does that shift make it acceptable or does that shift make it only understandable?  Does knowing the reason why the man on the right side of the photo was shot change our perception of the man on the left?  What reason to you have to be told to make this acceptable?

What if the reason the man in the photo was shot was because:
Minutes before he was captured, Bay Lop had killed a RVN policeman's wife and all of his family members including his children. Around 4:30 A.M., Nguyen Van Lem led a sabotage unit along with Viet Cong tanks to attack the Armor Camp in Go Vap. After communist troops took control of the base, Bay Lop arrested Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Tuan with his family and forced him to show them how to drive tanks. When Lieutenant Colonel Tuan refused to cooperate, Bay Lop killed all members of his family including his 80-year-old mother. There was only one survivor, a seriously injured 10-year-old boy. (1)
Or would it matter if the reason was:
Nguyen Van Lem was captured near a mass grave with 34 innocent civilian bodies. Lem admitted that he was proud to carry out his unit leader's order to kill these people. Lem was in his shorts and shirt. His arms were tied from the back. The pistol was still in his possession. General Loan executed Nguyen Van Lem on the spot. (1)
Or what if the reason hit close to home for General Loan?
Lem commanded a Viet Cong assassination and revenge platoon, which on that day had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers' families; Lem was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of General Loan's deputy and close friend. (2)
 [He] had killed some Saigon civilians, many of them relatives of police in the capital." (5)
[I]t was at this point that Loan summarily executed, in the presence of a wire service photographer, a VC captured after killing the entire family of one of Loan' s senior officers. (9)
The prisoner was identified, accuraetly probably, as the commander of a Vietcong sapper unit.  He was said to have had a revolver in his possession when he was captured and to have killed a policeman. (From Harper's April 1972 Tom Buckley "Portrait of an Aging Despot")
 Or what if Eddie Adams, the photographer, gave the reason as:
Well, we found out later, it wasn't 'til about a couple days later, that we found out that the guy was a  Viet Cong lieutenant, and he had killed the policemen  from  the second story  of the building [i]n the area where we were, and they had grabbed  him  immediately.  And he supposedly had  papers saying that he was a lieutenant in the Viet Cong. (6)
[T]he victim had just murdered one of Loan's best friends and knifed to death his entire family.(7)
[T]he man he shot had just murdered a friend of his, a South Vietnamese army colonel, as well as the colonel's wife and six children. (8)
 Or what if he wasn't Viet Cong, but someone else of importance in your enemy?
The prisoner had not been in the Viet Cong military but was ''a very high ranking'' political official. (4)
Or what if you had to shoot him there on the spot to retain leadership in a time of war?
[I]t had not been the rash act it might have appeared to be but had been carried out because a deputy commander he had ordered to shoot had hesitated. ''I think, 'Then I must do it,' '' he recounted. ''If you hesitate, if you didn't do your duty, the men won't follow you.'' (4)
Or what if the reason was mistaken identity?
"They tell me he had a revolver, that he wonded one of my policemen, that he spit in the face of the men who captured him.  They say that they know this man.  He is not a namelss civilian, as the press says. He is Nguyen Tan Dat, alias Han Son." (3)
Or what if the reason - as Vice President Ky eluded - so what?
The foreign press made a lot of news about this death, but none of you wrote about the Viet Cong.  Why worry about one damned V.C. terrorist when they are killing thousands of Vietnamese officers, men, women, and children?" (6)
Or what if the reason was a difference in how a foreign culture looks at life?
[A] typically corrupt oriental official who obviously has neither concern  for human life nor respect for public opinion.(7)
Or what if the reason was simply that it was an act of war?
So, the fact that if you captured a man in that tense, urban civil  war  context and shot him, in that  highly  irregular, and  tense circumstances did not strike me as an act of wickedness--it's  an act, a very sad  act, but  it's an act of  war, in that context.  Now without knowing who the one was or what the police were up against at that particular time in the Battle of Saigon I can understand that it could be interpreted  by others, but  that was my judgement. (8)
Or what if it was the heat of the moment?
"I am not a politician." Loan said.  "I am not a cheif of police.  I am just a soldier.  When you see a man in civilian clothes with a revolver killing your people...when many of your people have already been killed, then what are you supposed to do? (From Harper's April 1972 Tom Buckley "Portrait of an Aging Despot")
Does the context matter here?  Does the reason change how we should perceive what the man on the left did to the man on the right?  Does it matter that Loan was a General?  The guy in charge that day? The man that had the power and ability to have sent him to jail for the courts to decide his fate?  The Saigon was being attacked since 2:00 am on Wednesday?  That there were snipers, and death all around?  All of these dynamics were in play that morning of February 1st, 1968.

And if you are intellectually honest, you will conclude that the reasons given for General Loan's actions that day have moved from fact to distortion, and in some cases, to tall tale.  We need a reason so we can put General Loan in a cubby and move on.  Hero or villain, good or evil, rightness or wrongness.

So what reason do you need to be told?

And although this action took place on a Thursday, what if General Loan had simply turned to Eddie Adams and the other reporters and said simply; "I don't like Mondays?"

And the lesson today is how to die
And then the bullhorn crackles
And the captain tackles
With the problems of the how's and why's
And he can see no reasons
'Cos there are no reasons
What reason do you need to die?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Eddie Adams: Historians have failed you. Part 1 of how many?


I have spent the last week learning all I can about Eddie Adams and what transpired on February 1st, 1968.  Like I have said, and will continue to say, there is a lot of bad information out there.  And today it just got worse.

I cite my work so one can see where it came from.  I try to go to the original source when I can.  So when I read the Weekly Standards' piece called "Photographs Do Lie" and I see:
Adams frequently offered a qualified defense of Loan's infamous act. Within context, and given the inevitable fog of war, he would say, the killing was understandable, if not excusable. As historian Robert D. Schulzinger points out in A Time for War, the executed VC fighter "had killed some Saigon civilians, many of them relatives of police in the capital."
I think cool, maybe now I'll get closer to finding out if the oft quoted - in one form or fashion - statement is factual:
 Lém [the man General Loan shot] was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of General Nguyễn's deputy and close friend, and six of whom were Nguyễn's godchildren. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution. (From Wikipedia 2/5/11)
So I look up "A Time of War" and discover it was written by a Yale Professor:

Cool!  An academic - Yale guy too!  These guys are held to a higher standard for the stuff they write, especially a historian.  They need to do their research and get it correct, their reputation as a scholar is on the line.

So I look up "A Time of War" on Google and here is what I find:

Notice it?  February 3rd?  It happened on the 1st and appeared in the New York Times on the 2nd and was broadcast on NBC and ABC on the 2nd too!  Don't believe me...look at my proof (I suck at Photoshop btw, so it's legit):

C'mon Professor, do a little homework and proofreading as well.  Take some pride in your work my good man!

Here's the thing.  With this failure to get these simple, well known, and important facts straight, the rest of the paragraph is now suspect.

I am waiting to get my hands on Bailey and Lichity's "Rough Justice on a Saigon Street" as well as Tom Buckley's "Portrait of an aging despot."  We will see where this take me.

Nevertheless, for such and iconic photo and important historical event, a Yale Ph.D and historian Dr.Schulzinger should have gotten this little bit of really important and easily found information correct.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to not get our facts straight!

Note: 2/6/11: I removed my conclusion.  Upon looking at what I wrote it implied that the rest of his statement regarding the the Vietcong fighter captured and shot by General Loan who "had killed some Saigon civilians, many of them relatives of police in the capital" was suspect because of incorrect dates used. Although that is a reasonable argument to cast suspicion on the whole work, I am being hypercritical to the point of not using objectivity and critical thinking.  In other words, I should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Next Post: The problems of the how's and why's


Eddie Adams: First cause no harm.

I came across another blog struggling to come to some sense of understanding of actions, words, and pictures that are juxtaposed against a universal understanding of virtue.
How exactly is it ok to photograph and publish the shooting of any human being yet it isn't ok to even take a photograph of a soldier who is scared? I don't get Adams reasoning. To me being held prisoner and shot point blank in the head, in a public street is more demeaning and demoralizing that a photo showing fear in a fearful situation.   I am not saying Adams was right or wrong in either situation, what I am saying is that he confuses me with his reasoning. Either you preserve some dignity for the subjects you photograph or you don't. 
The harm the photograph of General Loan shooting Nguyen Van Lem on February 1st, 1968 caused the General weighed heavily on Eddie Adams:
He never blamed me for the picture. he used a cliché that we here all the time.  'Eddie, you were doing your job, and I was doing mine'.  I guess the picture...I'm told it did good things...but I don't want to hurt people either...I really don't..  It really bothers me.  thats not my intention in other words, being a photographer, thats not what I want to do. (1)
 As a journalist, Adams place in the world was an observer.  The event that took place Feb 1, 1968 was taking place with or without him.  He took a series of photos that captured a moment in time.  What happened afterwards, was out of his control, and if you think about it logically, had he not taken the photo, the event would have still taken place.

The issue of Adams feeling bad about the hurt he caused General Loan is a complex one that I hope to provide a decent enough explanation for in a later post.  I am still trying to get my thoughts wrapped around it.  I think I am close, and I think I will be pretty accurate in my analysis.  What I lack is a soldier's perspective, especially one that has seen war. So speaking about how someone might be feeling about a situation I never experienced could be seen as pretentious on my part.  But I have been cursed with an overwhelming abundance of empathy. So as long as I get my facts correct, I should at least make a plausible argument for my position.  So the following speaks for Mr. Adams with that in mind.

When Adams decided not to take the photo of the young Marine who was scared, he did so for a completely human reason that trumped everything else that made him who he was.  He was not a photographer, or a journalist, or a Marine, or a vet separate and distinct from the person he was and wanted to be.  He knew the difference between what should be photographed and what should not:
You know,quite often there are photographers, and we'll not name any names,who used to make close-ups of bodies, dead Marines, dead soldiers,this is a lot of bullshit, you know, I mean, that's wrong, I mean they're very gruesome, you know, if you're going to bodies to show numbers of casulaties, if they're in body bags and they're stacked up they become just a body or a symbol, that's alright, I don't see,anything wrong with that. When you start making close-ups of a person's head half blown off or his arm's ripped off, you know, that'sa lot of crap. There were photographers like that, most of those people were the people that went over to make a quick name for them-selves and have since disappeared into the woodwork. (2)
So there was a line whereby one should not cross.  And in the taking of thousands of pictures over his lifetime, especially in times of war and during combat, it is likely that he stepped over this line from time to time.  But given a choice, a choice he could freely make, he would knowingly and purposely not cross that line:
It was outside with a company of Marines, and we had close to fifty percent casualties, and the first time that I actually seen Viet Cong running all around with their guns around us, and we're on top of the hill and we're being rocketed, and there are dead Marines which are dug into holes,and so I'm lying on the ground with my head sideways, you become closer to the ground this way than if your head is up this way for shrapnel so as I'm lying there there was a Marine about eighteen years old, blonde hair, blue eyes, facing me,just about five feet away, so my head was this way and he was looking right at me this way and all the time all the operations I'd been in in Vietnam I'd never seen fear on a person's face like I did on his face. 
I had, like with a 35 mm lens on my side and I slide it off in front of me and I couldn't push the button and so I brought it back again and swung up the second time because this kid, he was almost frozen with this expression. And I tried for three times and I couldn't push the button. And I was thinking, you know, I knew exactly what was going through my mind at that time; I knew that at that time my face looked exactly like his, and I didn't want anybody taking a picture of me. This kid, he left and it was only a few minutes that we were pinned down like that, but I could, that was the only time I've ever seen him, but I could identify him walking on the street today, like that. You know, it just left this mark, but I could see that picture, page one, cover, you name it, I mean I could see it in print everywhere and the impact it would've had but, you know, and I think, this is something else that I think we should talk about for a minute is I think there's a line what you photograph and what you don't photograph. (2)
But he is a photographer and shoots more through instinct and muscle memory than by conscious choice. He tried three times to take that photo, a photo he knew should be taken from a photographer's perspective, but should not be taken from the perspective of who he is - his humanity - his sense of caring and connection to his fellow man. especially to this particular fellow Marine.

Now you can argue that he cared more about his people than others, but you need to look at his whole body of work and listen to what he says if you want to make that call.  I have, and I can't.  I think he was only human and if he stepped over that line it was more unintentional or in hindsight, than it was self-serving.

So to try and answer the question "How exactly is it ok to photograph and publish the shooting of any human being yet it isn't ok to even take a photograph of a soldier who is scared?" All I can offer is; it's complicated.  Did we need to see General Loan shoot Nguyễn Văn Lém?  How much time for a debate do you have?  Like I said earlier, that photo happened at the same time the event took place.  The photo that would have been taken of the young Marine would have done nothing but be just a great photo.  But what about - like General Loan - the aftermath?  Would it do harm to the person captured in the photo or would it bring about good?

That's the perplexing thing about the Loan photo.  It hurt General Loan for the rest of his life, which bothered Adams immensely.  But it is quite possible that that single photo brought about needed and necessary changes, so that the benefit to the all outweighed the harm to the one.  And the Loan photo had something that was newsworthy about it - and upon seeing it - one could draw different conclusions about issues bigger than just the man named Loan in the photo.  But the photo of the young Marine would not have that type of impact as Adams saw it:
People would read it wrong and they would call him a coward.  He wasn't a coward.  Everyone was frightened there.  I knew that was going to screw up his life. (3)
So that's my take on this.  It's as complicated as the physician's mandate to first do no harm.  Only a physician can really know where that line is, and between physicians that line can move back and forth considerably.  I think Adams knew where the line was implicitly that day in the foxhole with that young Marine.

Next post: Eddie Adams: Historians have failed you. Part 1 of how many?


Friday, February 4, 2011

What did General Nguyen Ngoc Loan really say on February 1, 1968?

It started with a letter to the editor I read in the San Antonio Express News whereby a reader felt that what  columnist, Patrick Brady, had wrote "is indistinguishable from the viral e-mails on the Internet that don't have to adhere to professional or ethical standards."

Now Patric Brady is no ordinary columnist, he is a retired two star General, a Medal of Honor winner, and a Vietnam vet.  So two days later, I read a different column written by the General called "Despite reports of the day, Tet battle was American victory" which has in it a statement of first-hand knowledge that just did not look factual to me.
Gen. William Westmoreland asked me to go to Vietnam and meet with Giap to arrange a documentary wherein Giap agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was. I met with Giap, but we never got the film done.
Now like I said in my post written about this, I don't know really anything about Tet other than it was in Vietnam and happened during the war.  So I went looking for an answer to my question: did General Giap really say that?

I went looking because General Brady had two days prior been called out for presenting "demonstrably false information to the public."  Could this also be another case of false information passed of as factual?  Surely not from a two star General, twice in a span of two weeks, and in a major newspaper to boot.

The internet is an interesting place.  It is filled with information, most of it a regurgitation of someone else's work, or heavily skewed to present a particular point of view.  But in and amongst all this bad stuff, if you look hard enough, you will find enough information to lead you to a clearer picture of an event.

I learned a lot about Tet.  I also came away understanding that it was not a victory for the communists, in fact, what they wanted to happen, a mass uprising of the people, did not take place.  I also came away convinced that Walter Cronkite did not lose the war for us, and, as Oliver North said in his show, Vietnam was "a very uncivil, civil war."  I also came across a website that made me suspect that, like in General Brady's previous column, his comments about General Giap were indistinguishable from the viral e-mail shown on the site.

And in the course of looking at one website after another on Tet and General Giap, one particular event kept getting mentioned over and over again as well.  That was the photo by Eddie Adams.

And when I began to read about it, I came across a number of statements attributed to Eddie Adams that just did not ring authentic.  In particular:
He was a good guy.  He was fighting for America with America.  I think he was a goddamn hero.
Really?  A hero?  Well I found out through researching Adams that this was indeed a true statement regarding Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who was chief of South Vietnam’s national police and is the one seen pulling out the pistol and shooting the man.  I also found something else out; context matters.

I have spent the last couple of days learning as much as I could about Eddie Adams' photograph that first day of February, 1968.  When you read all the things written about what took place, and you see the subtle changes to the story, when you see quoted statements attributed to Adams that do not convey what he was trying to get across, and then you hear the man yourself - in his own words - well it's a real disservice to the man.  One I hope to correct some of this with my next post.

The journey down this road continues....

Wikipedia got me started on this, they cited the New York Times, and just to show you I am serious about getting my facts correct, I went to the library and got a copy of that particular front page of February 2nd, 1968:

So here is what I can confirm in the Wikipedia article on Eddie Adams so far:  The statement: "John G. Morris recalls that; (Theodore M. Bernstein), "determined that the brutality manifested by America's ally be put into perspective, agreed to run the Adams picture large, but offset with a picture of a child slain by Vietcong, which conveniently came through from AP at about the same time". Nonetheless, it is Adams's photograph that is remembered while the other far less dramatic image was overlooked and soon forgotten" appears to be a true accounting.

During this journey I also began to notice a difference in what General Loan is quoted as saying after he shot Nguyen Van Lam that day.  So I went out looking.  So what exactly did Loan tell Adams immediately following the execution?  Here is what I have been able to uncover:
  • "They killed many Americans and many of our people" (New York Times, Feb 2, 1968)
  • "'They killed many of your people and many of my men." (Adams heard on one NPR story)
  • "They killed many Americans and many of my people." (Peter Arnett from his book)
  • "He killed many of my men and many of your people. ( "War Stories with Oliver North)
  • "They killed many of my men and many of your people." (An Unlikely Weapon)
  • "They killed many of our people and many of yours." (NPR story quoting Adams)
  • "They killed many of my people, and yours, too." (Horst Faas, Adams' Editor)
  • "These guys kill a lot of our people, and I think Buddha will forgive me." (Vo Suu, the NBC cameraman with Adams that day)
  •  They killed many Americans and many of my men.  Buddha will understand.  Do you? (Paper soldiers: the American press and the Vietnam War)
  • Many Americans have died recently.  So have many of my best friends.  Buddha will understand.  Do you? (Life Magazine, March 1, 1968)
  • Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamise friends.  Now do you understand?  Buddha will understand. (The American culture of war: the history of U.S. military force from World)
  • "Many Americans have died recently, So have many of my best friends. Buddha will understand—do you? (Time, Feb 23, 1968)
  • “These guys kill a lot of our people, and I think Buddha will forgive me.” (NBC Cameraman Vo Suu - The New York Times article on Loan's death - July 16, 1998)
The quote "Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends.  Now do you understand?  Buddha will understand." is often cited from a transcript that appears in George A. Bailey and Lawrence W. Lichty, Rough Justice on a Saigon Street: A Gatekeeper Study on NBC's Tet Execution Film," Journalism Quarterly 49:2 (Summer 1972)

David D. Perlmutter an associate professor at the Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University, and a senior fellow at the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs states:
General Loan's own words are variously quoted, but in the most accepted version, he commented to the journalists, “Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends. Now do you understand? Buddha will understand.” from Photojournalism and Foreign Affairs, David D. Perlmutter, Orbis Volume 49, Issue 1, Winter 2005, Pages 109-122 
Why do we accept that version and not the one in the New York Times or the one used fairly consistently by Eddie Adams, who was there?  What I find odd is that for such an iconic photo that has been discussed over and over, Dr. Perlmutter has been the only one I have found so far to acknowledge that there are different versions of what Loan said that day.  And what he said exactly is important, getting it right is important.

Why do I write this blog that no one reads, because the search is fun.  Here is a prefect example of what is assumed to be the truth may not be.  General Loan said something, but he did not say it in more than one way.  One of those comments attributed to him is correct, or none of them are, but what is now clear to me, is that at some point, words were added or deleted between Feb 2 and Feb 23.  I find this fascinating.

Today I just sent an email to Dr. Perlmutter


I was wondering if you might provide some insight on this.

The Feb 2, 1968 New York Times on page 12 under the photo titled "DEATH" has General Loan saying "They killed many of Americans and many of our people."  Your 2004 tribute to Adams has the General saying ""Many Americans have been killed these last few days and many of my best Vietnamese friends. Now do you understand? Buddha will understand." 

Adams, in every interview I have listened to, states it as the former.  The version you use is in your 2004 article called "The Myth Behind the Famous Eddie Adams 'Execution' Photo" is attributed to George A. Bailey and Lawrence W. Lichty, Rough Justice on a Saigon Street: A Gatekeeper Study on NBC's Tet Execution Film," Journalism Quarterly 49:2 (Summer 1972).

The version you use is consistent with what the Times article "World: By Book & Bullet" Friday, Feb. 23, 1968  (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,837937,00.html) which has General Loan saying ""Many Americans have died recently. So have many of my best friends. Buddha will understand—do you?"

Was General Loan's comment captured on tape or film, or was this recollection of what he said - regarding Buddha understanding - something that was document sometime after the event but prior to the Times Feb 23, 1968 article?

What do you make of these inconsistencies in what was said by General Loan?  I understand that they basically say the same thing, but they are very different in terms of the wording used and the comment about Buddha in one and not in the other.

Thank you,

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There is war, and there is everything else

I am starting to get a clearer picture of the dynamics in play regarding how military folks, like General Brady, see the world after combat.  So here is my thesis:

There is war, and there is everything else.

General Brady is a man of war, he is also a man of everything else.  I am a man of only everything else.  I have developed this thesis in two days from looking at a whole slew of information regarding Tet, General Giap, and the events surrounding Eddie Adam's picture.  Two days does not a historian make, which is why I call this a thesis.

It was not until I read Eddie Adam's Eulogy for General Loan in Time, that a clearer picture of what transpires during war came into focus.  What he says makes sense in terms of a reality - war.  Then, after watching Fox New's  War Stories With Oliver North on Tet, General Brady's concluding statement and the 'why' behind his need to manipulate history, became apparent.

The Vietnam soldier was not afforded the same degree of worth for their effort as other soldier's who fought in wars that we 'won'.  We did not 'win' the war in Vietnam, not because of the effort on the part of the soldier, but because the war was deemed to no longer be worth the price being paid.  Now think about this from a soldier's perspective.  I did this...I participated in this...I worked as hard as any other soldier throughout history. I sacrificed my humanity...my buddies...my youth...my morality for something that is now deemed unworthy of that continued sacrifice.

Ending the Vietnam war before we had vanquished our enemy made everything that makes a soldier a soldier, moot.  And this is why my thesis: there is war and there is everything else, seems to make sense to me.  Without the 'win' it seems pointless to have done all that, a that that only manifests itself in a war.

So we the American people, took away their win as some see it.  Not only that, we incorrectly discounted their effort as a way to distance ourselves from what we had allowed our government to require them to perform.  This is the dynamic in play.  Those who create the war, create the warrior.  Take away the war, and you still have the warrior.  But now that warrior has seen and done things that are no longer acceptable outside of that war.  They must live with that, so when General Brady concludes:
A dishonest media opened a gash in the psyche of that veteran and rubbed salt in it. It is time for the great warriors of Tet 1968 take their place in the hierarchy of American heroes.
He is speaking about a reality that he understands is present.  Unfortunately, he is blaming others for imposing their reality on his need for a check mark in the win column.  His participation in the war and the psyche of the warrior is one reality.  The reality posed by Walter Cronkite, is another equally relevant one as well:
To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.
Cronkite's reality is equally valid and is also in play with the one General Brady understands to be valid as well.  However, only one premise can be true at any one time.  This is a strange paradigm.

Lets look at this from an American point of view.  Do we, as Americans, hold our Constitution to be the foundation for how our society should live, its basic tenants?  Do we, as Americans, who are primarily Christian and Jewish, hold our Bible as the foundation for our morality?  If you answer "yes" then you will also need to answer the next two questions:
  1. Does the US Constitution state that no person shale "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law?"
  2. Does the Bible state "thou shall not kill?"
Now let's not go into exceptions and what not.  Heck, even the 5th amendment gives an 'out' stating "except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger."  My point is...that we hold these two premises to be sacrosanct, do we not?  If they are not important tenants, than why put them there?  Why would God give it as one of his ten commandments if it was not something he felt, you know, important to uphold?

So if they are that important at that high of a level, how do we rectify those two sacrosanct premises with this statement:
"As we were walking...we see the South Vietnamese police pull this guy out the door that they just grabbed from the second story he was snipping.  And we start following him and walking up the street.  We get near the corner and out of, to my left, I see this guy walk in.  Soon as he got close to him, I see him go for his pistol.  And as he raises the pistol, I raised my camera and took the picture."

I wrote that down while watching Fox New's War Stories With Oliver North.  That was what Eddie Adams, the photographer, had to say about taking that picture.  And this is how Eddie Adams saw the situation after he got back to his post.  Again, in his own words:
"I thought nothing of it, it's somebody shooting somebody.  It's war.  It happens everyday."
There is context needed here, but really, there is no context that can ever rectify the two premises we hold sacrosanct with what fate had allowed to transpire that day.  We are forced by these tenants to choose one category for each participant - good guy or bad guy, hero or villain.

When in a war, the soldier in that place - at that time - cannot choose one or the other.  They effectively have no choice but to accept the reality as it is and rectify it at a later date.  Eddie Adams was a soldier and a photographer, which is why he could accept this as just a normal part of what was taking place around him.

But accepting it does not rectify it with what we know to be sacrosanct.  Under normal circumstances, Loan - the man in the picture shooting the other man - would have never done that.  And, under normal circumstances, Eddie Adams, had he witnessed the same situation on a street in America, would have never said "I thought nothing of it, it's somebody shooting somebody."

We have placed these guys we call soldiers in a situation whereby they are forced to accept what is not acceptable as acceptable.  And to do this, they make statements that allow them to acknowledge their tacit acceptance without having to grapple with the only conclusion that can be made about it; that it was wrong based on the tenants they hold as sacrosanct.
"He killed many of my men and many of your people." Loan said
Does that fact even matter?  Or does it serve only to allow a behavior known to those who witnessed it as being wrong to be overlooked...ignored?  This is the paradox these guys fall into.  It must be classified as wrong or the two sacrosanct premises - depriving someone of life - killing - are irrelevant.  And if they are trivial, then the Constitution and Bible are not valid documents of authority. And if it is wrong, then how can they continue to witness and participate in it without attempting to stop it?  As I see it, the only way to rectify this is to basically form two parallel worlds.

The "other" Spock
There is war, and there is everything else.

It is not very difficult to accept that if someone is trying to kill you, you can defend yourself and kill them.  The sniper can and should be neutralized.  That's fair, that's reasonable, that's acceptable (unless you are a pacifist).  But Loan did not neutralize the sniper, he punished him.  And in that situation, like similar situations unique only to war, it can not be right and also be wrong.  It must be one or the other.  And yet in war it can never be one or the other, or those participating will then need to be categorized as either good or bad.  General Brady wants to categorize the Vietnam vet as hero.  This I contend, only perpetuates the paradox.

So when Eddie Adams says about Loan:
He was a good guy.  He was fighting for America with Americans.  I think he was a goddamn hero.
I understand why Adams needs to say it like that.  I also understand why General Brady desperately needs General Giap to declare Tet "the communist calamity it was."  I also understand how critical the press, public, and professors are in keeping the pressure on their government to not be so caviler about placing some of their citizens in a situation where they will be seen both as a good guy and a bad guy by their fellow countrymen.  Even Adams is aware of the odd dynamic in play because of war:
"America condemned him [Loan].  They said he had shot someone in cold blood.  Two lives were destroyed in that photograph.  The person who was shot and the person who pulled the trigger."
There is war and there is everything else.  And that seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.