The Photograph That Ended a War But Ruined a Life
"Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world," AP photojournalist Eddie Adams once wrote. A fitting quote for Adams, because his 1968 photograph of an officer shooting a handcuffed prisoner in the head at point-blank range not only earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969, but also went a long way toward souring Americans’ attitudes about the Vietnam War.
For all the image’s political impact, though, the situation wasn’t as black-and-white as it’s rendered. What Adams’ photograph doesn’t reveal is that the man being shot was the captain of a Vietcong "revenge squad" that had executed dozens of unarmed civilians earlier the same day. Regardless, it instantly became an icon of the war’s savagery and made the official pulling the trigger – General Nguyen Ngoc Loan – its iconic villain.
Sadly, the photograph’s legacy would haunt Loan for the rest of his life. Following the war, he was reviled where ever he went. After an Australian VA hospital refused to treat him, he was transferred to the United States, where he was met with a massive (though unsuccessful) campaign to deport him. He eventually settled in Virginia and opened a restaurant but was forced to close it down as soon as his past caught up with him. Vandals scrawled "we know who you are" on his walls, and business dried up.
Adams felt so bad for Loan that he apologized for having taken the photo at all, admitting, "The general killed the Vietcong; I killed the general with my camera."