Photographer Resented War Shot Seen 'Round the World

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo above by the late shooter Eddie Adams helped further turn public sentiment in America against the Vietnam War. For that, some would applaud him. But Adams later said he regretted what the picture wrought, and he wished he was better known for photos that eventually helped lead to the creation of Orange County's Little Saigon.

This will all make more sense to those who attend Regency South Coast Village Theatre's 7:30 p.m. Thursday screening of the documentary An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story. Director Susan Morgan Cooper will be there to take part in an audience Q&A, as will one of Adams' colleagues and fellow Pulitzer Prize winners, photographer Nick Ut. (The film was previously reviewed in the Village Voice by Nick Pinkerton.)

Adams, who passed on in 2004 after having covered 13 wars, was on assignment for the Associated Press on Feb. 1, 1968, when he and his camera caught police chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Viet Cong prisoner Nguyen Van Lem on a Saigon street.
Adams would win the 1969 Pulitzer for spot photography and a World Press Photo award as well, but he later expressed shame at the picture's notoriety.

This synopsis tells it all . . .

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Adams would write in Time: "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. . . . What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?" 

He later apologized in person to General Nguyen and his family, and when Nguyen died Adams praised him as a "hero" of a "just cause." He also said later he wished he was better known for his award-winning series of photographs of 48 Vietnamese refugees who managed to sail to Thailand in a 30-foot boat, only to be towed back to the open seas by Thai marines. Those gripping images are said to have helped persuade then President Jimmy Carter to grant the nearly 200,000 Vietnamese boat people asylum. Many wound up in Little Saigon. Adams said of his photo essay, "It did some good and nobody got hurt."


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