Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Execution of A Vietcong Guerilla

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execution

Feb 1, 1968. There were a lot of pictures taken during the Vietnam War-those of burning monks, fallen soldiers and whirling helicopters. But this picture by Eddie Adams is the one that defined the conflict and changed history. In the sharp contrast with Capa’s Falling Solider, personalities and identities did matter a lot in this picture. Amazingly, the picture that polarized the American public and shown the personal nature of the Vietnam War did not involved any Americans. It was the gunshot heard all over the world; Italian photographer and designer Oliviero Toscani compared it to Caravaggio’s 1598 painting, “Judith Beheading Holofernes.”

It is almost dehumanizing to personally witness the execution, no matter what the victim had done. It mattered a little that the person about to be executed was a Viet Cong Guerrilla named Bay Hop responsible for killing twelve only that fateful morning. It matter a little that his group of guerillas had slaughtered the family of his executioner’s best friend in a house just up the road. America–a nation that still supports death penalty by overwhelming numbers (for various reasons)–was shocked to its core.  In the picture, its framing, its lighting and its depth mattered little. For instance, picture was cropped again and again just to display the general and his victim. However, the act, ‘the thing itself’ spoke directly–the general is the personification of America’s hidden hand and her dirty involvement in the Vietnam Quagmire. The fact that the executioner was American-educated and trained Brig. General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (then South Vietnam’s National Chief of Police) did not help either.

In Adams’s photograph, we see Loan firing a bullet point blank into Hop’s head; Hop, wincing, appears to be receiving the bullet. Ironically enough, it has been argued that Ngoc Loan was only interested in publicly assassinating the Viet Cong prisoner because there were AP press corps there to capture the image. For him, the photographic evidence of the execution was meant to teach the Vietcong what would happen to their forces if caught.

The photograph was published on the front page of the New York Times and, along with the NBC film of the same event, is credited with having provoked the civilian outrage that lead to massive demonstrations against the war. Although the above photo was not as graphically violent an ending as shown by the television footage of the same incident, for many viewers, the picture was a climactic moment, proclaiming the horror and immorality of the war, signifying its barbarity and its incoherence. Within two months, President Johnson would be announcing his desire not to pursue a second term.

congarrest

Adams remembered: “”He was a small barefooted man in civilian clothes with his hands tied behind his back. I ran up just to be close by in case something happened.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 22, 2009 at 7:42 am

21 Responses

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  1. […] an der Ermordung von Polizisten und ihren Familienangehörigen beteiligt gewesen. (Im Fotoblog Iconic Photos finden sich eine Reproduktion der Aufnahme und weitere Informationen […]

  2. […] the single image as an iconic work (think of the World Trade Center with dark smoke billowing, or Eddie Adams’s famous image in which a Vietnamese general shoots a man in the head) — a symbol, a condensation of […]

  3. […] the single image as an iconic work (think of the World Trade Center with dark smoke billowing, or Eddie Adamss famous image in which a Vietnamese general shoots a man in the head) a symbol, a condensation of meaning. A […]

  4. He had it coming. Immediate justice. That’s the way it should be…

    Hitman

    November 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    • agreed.

      Revan

      May 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    • War isn’t pretty! War is ugly! This man murdered innocent people, and it was indeed immediate justice! Historically the same thing has happened everywhere else, including in the United States. The only difference is that there is a photograph of it!

      N2Trouble

      February 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm

  5. […] The second, keeping the oversight the same.  It has already been established that the oversight cannot fully contextualize what they were originally created for.  Meaning they were meant as a vehicle of change, to oversee the police and deal with deviance, along with producing recommendations, policies and new legislation to prevent further deviance and to facilitate a more harmonious relationship with the public.  The police and the public both feel victimized and inadequate.  The advent of social media adds to this through repeated visualization of the event, sometimes edited to produce a particular result geared towards a certain side. […]

    policedeviance

    December 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm

  6. In a world where it’s an eye for an eye, everyone is blind. I can’t believe that people justify this barbarity.

    LP

    January 10, 2012 at 9:25 pm

  7. […] the single image as an iconic work (think of the World Trade Center with dark smoke billowing, or Eddie Adamss famous image in which a Vietnamese general shoots a man in the head) a symbol, a condensation of meaning. A […]

  8. […] the single image as an iconic work (think of the World Trade Center with dark smoke billowing, or Eddie Adamss famous image in which a Vietnamese general shoots a man in the head) a symbol, a condensation of meaning. A […]

  9. […] The Execution of A Vietcong Guerilla « Iconic PhotosApr 22, 2009 … It mattered a little that the person about to be executed was a Viet Cong Guerrilla named Bay Hop responsible for killing twelve only that fateful … […]

    Vietcong guerrillas | Audodo

    September 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm

  10. A non-uniformed combatant has no rights, neither to treatment or due process. That is what our wussified military has trouble with in Afghanistan and Iraq. A terrorist of whatever variety is only kept alive because of his value as an intelligence/interrogation source. Did they read bin Laden his rights? HE HAD NONE.

    Peter Ruggles

    December 18, 2012 at 6:51 pm

  11. […] issues matter quite a bit. Except when they hardly matter one bit… The Execution of A Vietcong Guerilla | Iconic Photos Here is a photo seen around the world, and which has become truly iconic…and which has weak […]

  12. […] both mentally and emotionally to what he/she sees. e.g. The execution of a Viet CongGuerilla.https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/20…cong-guerilla/ The immediacy of the event as shown obviously has meaning, although the meaning is tied so much to […]

  13. […] against a thing—murder, say—is not distinct from understanding its beauty. I can look at the Execution of a Viet Cong Guerilla and feel the horror a life ended, the sheer visceral shock of the blast, the wincing surprise on […]

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  15. […] B&W photo essays in Life and Look magazines.  Also the NYT, Time and NatGeo.  That iconic image by Eddie Adams in 1968…  It’s amazing we didn’t all go […]

    Joan Sullivan

    January 22, 2014 at 1:17 am

  16. […] 16, on Vietnam, will be a tour de force photojourney from Dien Bien Phu through immolations and executions all the way to America’s ignominious retreat from […]

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  18. If the man being shot was the one beheading journalist and humanitarian workers on the Isis videos … most applaud the shooter… This guy was way worse . Yet they still think he deserved a trial …. He was caught red handed with the women children that he just butchered

    Brian

    October 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

  19. […] Eddie Adams, now better known for another iconic photo, remembers being on the frontline of this exodus, and getting into a refuge boat which was turned […]


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