Saturday, March 5, 2011

Nguyen Van Lem; Could he be made more despicable?

Do a Google search using the terms; General Loan, Eddie Adams, Nguyen Van Lem and you will get a boat load of websites and blogs that seem to repeat the same three themes:
  1. The media showed the photo and film without context.
  2. General Loan had the right to execute the man under the Geneva Convention because he was "not in uniform."
  3. Nguyen Van Lem (Bay Lop) was responsible for killing scores of people before he was shot by General Loan.
Each site parrots the same basic wording and contention of the next.  So bad info, incorrect info, misleading info, biased info, and just plain ridicules info is passed on as fact.

The purpose of these posts on Eddie Adams, General Loan, and Nguyen Van Lemon is to put factual - supported - information out there, cite it correctly, and then as objectively as I can, paint a picture of the as-true-as-possible context.  We owe it to the future to get this past described correctly - unless you think its okay to believe something that is false at best, propaganda at worst.

I wrote in a previous post about all the different ways Nguyen Van Lem (aka: Bay Lop) has been described - including how General Loan misidentified the man he shot even up till 1979 (Buckley, Esquire, June 5, 1979):

So what I want to look at this time, is how Nguyen Van Lem (aka: Bay Lop) was made out to be so gosh-darn evil whereby a bullet to his brain was not just justified, but warranted.

Now if you read my post on why I believe he was shot, you would conclude that if I am correct in my analysis, who he was or what he did played not a part in the pulling of the trigger by General Loan.  So why this need to emphasize just how downright nasty Nguyen Van Lem's deeds that day were?

It all comes back to context.  Not the real context in play that day, but the need to have what transpired that day fit into a neat little box whereby we can say General Loan - who was on our side - did not do anything wrong that day, therefore we can support him.  He can't be a "villian," he needs to be a "goddamn hero."

But he did do something unequivocally wrong that day.  He summarily executed a bound man.  That fact is undeniable.  Why he did it or who he did it to does not negate that fact.  And instead of understanding it for what it is, understanding the dynamics in play that day, understanding the situation at hand, understanding General Loan's background and motivations, we instead try to justify them simply as right/wrong so we can choose a side - hawk/dove, good guys/bad guys, won the war/lost the war.

And because you can't justify what General Loan did with any factual mandate (Bible allows it, war allows it, Geneva convention allows it), it has to become justified using the fine art of storytelling.  So the truth has been intermixed with a false series of explanations and dialog.  All brought forth as a way to say "he ain't a bad guy, he's one of us...and we ain't bad guys!"

Now the purpose of my posts on this topic is not to condemn, vilify, elevate, absolve, or trivialize General Loan.  It is what it is, and as much as I hate that statement, well, it is what it is.  What's important to me is that factual information be presented in an effort to understand what took place that first day in February, 1968.  And by understanding, one can decide if General Loan should be condemned, vilified, elevated, absolved, trivialized, and, if possible, unequivocally forgiven.

The context that many of these hawkish/right leaning sites expound on is what has become diluted and tainted over these last forty years, and its genesis seems to have begun right after the photo and the film were shown to the world the next day.

So lets look at this oft quoted statement by "former Judge BAI AN TRAN, Ph. D. Professor of the National Police Office Academy, Vietnam."

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)
Now look at the speech given by President Nguyen Van Thieu before the Joint Session of the National Assembly (Senate & House) February 9, 1968 (Page 61 & 62)

Does that sound kind of familiar?

Now, compare that with what the New York Times quotes Eddie Adams as stating:

[M]r. Adams, who accepted Brig. Gen. Loan's contention that the 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.
Doesn't that just seem a bit too coincidental?  Its such a fitting response to take the sting out of what everyone had just witnessed the good guys doing.  "Oh yeah...well he killed six kids!"

Now my point in all of this is not to exonerate or condemn the man on the left or the man on the right in that famous picture. It is simply to have that photo judged truthfully.  It's impact cannot be denied but the stories of the how and why has lead people to a false dichotomy.  In other words, if you are going to call General Loan a "hero" or a "despot" or a "villain" or judge his actions as acceptable or him personally as "morally unfit" you should do so based on as accurate a description of the persons involved - as well as what took place and the possible motivation/thinking/actions of the participants - as can reasonably be supported.  

That's the only context that is necessary.  Anything else is just propaganda.