Liberal Arts Blog — Photography(IX): the Vietnam War

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Today’s Topic: Photography(IX): the Vietnam War — the Buddhist monk (1962), the execution (1968), the napalm attack (1972)

The Vietnam War was the first war that was watched live in homes across America. By 1968, there were an estimated 600 journalists in Vietnam. By war’s end, 60 had been killed. Censorship was much less than in prior wars. Today, the three photographs from the war that made an indelible impression on me. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

BUDDHIST MONK SETS HIMSELF ON FIRE (November 2, 1963)

1. Thich Quang Duc was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the government of Gno Nin Diem.

2, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” (President John F. Kennedy)

3. The photographer was Malcolm Browne who won the Pulitzer Prize for International News Reporting in 1963 as well as the World Press Photo of the Year.

NB: With Kennedy’s approval, Diem was assassinated in a US-backed coup on November 2, 1963. Kennedy himself would be assassinated less than three weeks later — on November 22.

Thích Quảng Đức

VIET CONG CAPTAIN EXECUTED BY GENERAL NGUYEN NGOC LOAN (February 1, 1968)

1. Nguyen Van Lem (the Viet Cong Captain) had allegedly just slashed the throats of a South Vietnamese Lt. Colonel, his mother, his wife, and six children.

2. AP Photographer Eddie Adams won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize in Spot News Photography.

3. After the fall of Saigon, General Loan fled to the United States where he died in 1998. In the late 1970s, an attempt was made to deport him as a war criminal but President Carter stopped the proceeding.

Execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém

NAPALM ATTACK ON TRANG BANG — June 8, 1972

1. Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the naked nine-year-old girl in the photograph, had severe wounds on her back after a South Vietnamese Air Force napalm attack on the town of Trang Bang on June 8, 1972. The town was not the intended target. After being used as a propaganda tool by the post-war Communist regime, she would convert to Christianity, defect to Canada, marry, and have two children. (Check out the first link below for her life story.)

2. Nick Ut, a Vietnamese AP photographer, won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1973 and the 1973 World Press Photo of the Year as well. “Ut himself was wounded three times during the war — in the knee, stomach, and arm.” (see second link below)

3. The photo was first rejected by AP because of the frontal nudity. But eventually an exception to company policy was made.

NB: “In September, 2016, a Norway newspaper published an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg after censorship was imposed on this photograph placed on the newspaper’s Facebook page. Half of the ministers in the Norwegian government shared the famous Nick Ut photo on their Facebook pages, among them prime minister Erna Solberg from the Conservative Party (Høyre). Several of the Facebook posts including the Prime Minister’s post were deleted by Facebook, but later that day Facebook decided to allow the photo.” (second link)

Phan Thi Kim Phuc

Nick Ut

Opinion | The First Televised War

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