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?


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