Execution In Saigon: The Famous Snapshot That Started The Anti-War Movement

By | January 30, 2020

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Eddie Adams' photo as it appeared on the front page of the New York Times, February 2, 1968.

On February 1, 1968 the iconic photo of Nguyen Van Lem being executed on a street in Saigon went all the way around the world, exposing the realities of the Vietnam War. While this photo of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan with his arm outstretched, firing directly into Lem’s head shows the brutality of war, it also doesn’t show any context for the moment. The photo, taken by Eddie Adams, shocked Americans who believed that the war was almost at an end. Adams won a Pulitzer for his work and man behind the trigger in the photo ended up dealing with the fallout from this photo for the rest of his life.

America Didn’t Know How Deep We Were In The War When The Photo Was Released

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source: briscoe center for american history

U.S. soldiers had been dying in Vietnam since 1959, when some were killed in a guerrilla raid outside Saigon. In 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which formally entered the U.S. into the conflict. By 1968, President Johnson was assuring Americans that the Viet Cong were on the run -- but the truth was quite the opposite. What was meant to be a short term skirmish had turned into an intensive war in a chaotic area that was constantly changing. During the war, Nguyen Ngoc Loan worked his way up through the military and became the chief of the South Vietnamese National Police. A man with a fervent need to follow the rules, and a distinct hatred of communism, he carried out his own brand of justice.