Iconic Vietnam Images Colorized
September 22, 2022
Unless you fought in a war, the horrible brutality remains an incomprehensible notion. Only in the face of such horrors can one truly understand the fear, pain, and suffering that occurs on all sides.
Thanks to intrepid war reporters and photographers, the truth of the Vietnam War’s atrocities was shared through incredibly vivid and disturbing photos. Many of these photos helped turn public sentiment against the war, helping America extricate itself from a war not worth waging. These are the black and white photos of Vietnam brought to life.
Eddie Adams: The Execution Of Nguyen Van Lem
This photo exemplifies the callous treatment of life during Vietnam on both sides. In it, South Vietnamese police chief Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes Nguyen Van Lem who was alleged to have killed a colonel along with eight members of his family.
Amidst the calamity of Vietnam, court proceedings and other formalities went out the window. As Adams said, "I'm not saying what he did was right but you have to put yourself in his position."
Philip Jones Griffiths: The Battle Of Saigon
In 1968 U.S. Policy in Vietnam established a policy of corralled peasants into towns and cities for safety as the U.S. military carpet-bombed the countryside. Fighting in the Vietnam jungles gave the Viet Cong a huge home-field advantage. The wild cover of their home turf worked perfectly with their guerilla tactics, frustrating the much more advanced and powerful U.S. military.
The carpet-bombing of the countryside also fit with America’s plan to restructure Vietnamese society. By removing the people from their traditional value system, they would be more prepared to accept western consumerism. That “restructuring” took a huge blow when the fighting moved from the countryside into the cities. Griffiths published “Vietnam Inc.” in 1971 which became one of the most desirable collections of photography.
Horst Faas: U.S. Helicopter Northwest Of Saigon
Vietnam was often referred to as “the helicopter war.” Thanks to the lack of infrastructure and development of roads, moving troops around the country required wings. As Donald Porter of Air & Space wrote, “For most of the war, there was no formal Army training to prepare scout pilots and observers. Army headquarters developed doctrine by building on what worked in the field, rather than the other way around, and each unit in-country did things slightly differently.”
That meant helicopter pilots flew by the seat of their pants and went with their gut. These fearless pilots endlessly risked their lives and saved countless more. Without aerial support, casualties would have risen to even bloodier totals.
Malcolm Browne: The Burning Monk
Vietnamese Mahayana Buddist monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death in protest of the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. Leader Ngô Đình Diệm, a staunch Roman Catholic led the oppression that pushed Quang Duc to light himself on fire. As Browne right put it, "No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one."
Nearly everyone has seen the photos of Quang Duc sitting unnaturally still as the roaring flames consume his body. His actions set off a chain of self-immolations across the world, during Vietnam and after. The disturbing self-immolation did not change Diệm’s stance on persecuting Buddhists monks. However, he was toppled by an American backed coup later that year. The picture won Browne the World Press Photo of the Year.
Marc Riboud: Protests In America
As these grisly images filtered into America, more and more people began protesting the war. In front of the Pentagon, Marc Riboud captured one of the most famous anti-war images of Jan Rose Kasmir. With just a flower in hand, Kasmir approached the guns and bayonets of the National Guard.
As Riboud remembered, "She was just talking, trying to catch the eye of the soldiers, maybe trying to have a dialogue with them. I had the feeling the soldiers were more afraid of her than she was of the bayonets."