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



Kevin said...

just another great post, Its interesting to see the story of all this, I just the picture alone of Loan on his entry at Wikipedia, and the man in that famous photo so so different, and its more compelling to see how Eddie, even though he just reacted when he took the photo as would any photographer with the potential for a stirring photo, had such great implications for both of them. On a side note, im sure any if they tried but you are just unrelenting when it comes to research and context, after reading this..well..journey of info, its really impressive the your commitment to being correct and having the facts available, you amaze me as always Mr. B!

Jeff said...

I have done a whole bunch of research on this in the last week. I have read all the papers cited, and also read declassified CIA and military intelligence briefings.

The real story is different than what is out there. I've been writing on my other blog while I digest this info.

Latrell said...

The more I read your post on this subject the more I remember doing the research for my class. I found a statement made by Adams's boss at the time the photo was taken. His name was Hal Buell. Beull stated :

He wrote: "Adams watched as two Vietnamese soldiers pulled a prisoner out of a doorway at the end of the street. The soldiers then pushed and pulled what appeared to be a Viet Cong in a plaid shirt, his arms tied behind his back. They escorted the man toward the spot where Adams and Vo Su were located.

"Eddie Adams said, 'I just followed the three of them as they walked towards us, making an occasional picture. When they were close - maybe five feet away - the soldiers stopped and backed away. I saw a man walk into my camera viewfinder from the left. He took a pistol out of his holster and raised it. I had no idea he would shoot. It was common to hold a pistol to the head of prisoners during questioning. So I prepared to make that picture - the threat, the interrogation. But it didn't happen. The man just pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it to the VC's head and shot him in the temple. I made a picture at the same time.'" (

In reading this statement from someone who was around during the time that this photo was taken, I have to think that the professor that you found was not just off on his dates, but he made it sound as if Loan pulled Lem out of the ditch and shot him then and there, at the ditch, or did I miss understand what he said? According to Buell Adams said that he saw the prisoner being pulled from a door way, not a ditch. It can be pretty incredible how the details of a story changes according to the person telling it and how they picture the events in their own mind. The real events of that day may never be known.

I am fascinated at your dedication to find the truth.

Jeff said...

I too have been neglecting my blog. work and other things seem to have gotten in the way. I am going to restart this topic, since I have more data and a "fresh" set of eyeballs to look at it.

There is a lot more to this story and about these two men then what has been afforded them by other writers.

Anonymous said...

hi jeff,
i think you might be the most informed source on the internet on this photo by Eddie Adams
i blog about photography and am curious whether you know how many frames Adams took from the beginning to the end. i managed to find eight frames, but i have a feeling there might be more. did you ever stumble upon Adams' contact sheets or anything?
also, do u think that the General's words are misquoted so many ways b/c he spoke in Vietnamese (or French) and were translated?