Administrator’s note

Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rat, is rapidly approaching.The first day of the Year of the Rat will be Thursday February 7, 2008.This Lunar New Year will, once again, remind all of us of the Offensive that occurred 40 years ago in the Republic ofVietnam (RVN) South Vietnam

The Offensive was clearly aprodigious RVN and victory on thebattlefields in South Vietnam.Over 45,000 NVA soldiers and NLF guerrillaswere killed and NLF infrastructures were almost wiped out. Unfortunately, apicture taken by Eddie Adams, an AP photographer showing a South Vietnamesegeneral executing a Vietcong guerrilla on a street in Saigon during the height ofbattle had turned the RVN and military victory intoa political defeat.

This picture was, undoubtedly, the catalyst fueling anti-warmovement in the and, also erodingpublic supports for the Vietnam War in the late sixties.

In commemoration of the Offensive of1968, I am honored to post this new, different perspective from Dr. An Tran, a former RVN judge and professor ofcriminology at the VietnameseNationalPoliceAcademy, regarding Eddie AdamsPulitzer Prize winning picture.



By Former JudgeBAI AN TRAN, Ph. D.

Professor of National Police Officer AcademyVietnam

1. The first war the has ever lost

One of the most significant politicalcharacters that made the USAbecome a superpower nation is the bipartisanship. Allimportant national issues have been deeply viewed by both sides positively andnegatively. So why did America shamefully lose the Vietnam War? The answer is that theAmericans were half blinded. They just saw half of the truth of the Vietnam War.A half loaf of bread is still a loaf of bread; however, half of the truth is nolonger the truth, but a falsity. The historical fight in which anti-waractivists hid its half truth was the general attack by the North troops inalmost all territories in the South during (theVietnamese Lunar New Year) in 1968, 40 years ago, and the main thing thatchanged the public opinion in America was the photograph of General Nguyen NgocLoan executing an officer of the North on a street of Saigon.

2. The Vietnam War

By the 1954 GenevaAgreement, Vietnam was divided into the North and South. Each side chose adifferent political system: the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the Northfollowed Communism and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) in the South followed theFree World. However, as soon as the Agreement was signed, the North had theplan to invade the South with forces. Their cadres carried out guerrillaactivities to attack the RVN troops and destroy villages in the South. Then,they expanded the Ho Chi Trail along the bordersof Vietnam and the neighboring countries of Cambodia to move troops, weapons and ammunitions provided by ChinaRussia from the North to the South.

At the end of 1967, when the troops in Vietnam reached 500,000, North Vietnam picked to wage a battle hoping this fight would bring the defeat to the Americans,similar to to the French in the 1950s. This was also a diversionarytactic to draw American and Vietnamese attention towards in preparation for their surprise generalattacks in major cities in South Vietnam during in 1968.

3. The Offensive

is the most important holiday for the Vietnamese. As in past years,North and South Vietnam governmentsagreed to a three-day ceasefire during this occasion. With this agreement, 50%of South Vietnamese officials, officers and soldiers were off duty to be withtheir families. Even President Nguyen Van Thieu left Saigon to bewith his in-laws in My to celebrate . Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese troops went ahead withtheir plans, transporting weapons day and night to prepare for the offensive.

In the solemn spirit of ,people came to churches and temples to pray for peace in the New Year. Soundsof firecrackers and lion dance drums welcoming suddenly were mixed with the communist guns’ popping sounds. Houses were burnedand destroyed amidst the weeping from women and children.

In the first hours of theattack, communist troops took over Saigon Radio so its broadcast wastemporarily stopped. General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the Police Commander, and otherRVN military units retook the control of radio station shortly after. Thecommunists were not able to broadcast their propaganda.

NBC Reporter Don North was atthe U.S. Embassy in Saigon during the communist attack and filed the followingreport: At 2:45 in the early morning of January 31st, 1968,communist cadres, with red banners around their arms drove a Peugeot car and ataxi, slammed into the embassy gate and opened fire. They got inside and tookcontrol of a chamber, but encountered strong defense from the guards. After 6hours of fighting, 4 US Military Police and one marine were killed, along withall 19 communist cadres.


In total, the United States estimated that 45,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamesesoldiers were killed, 6,000 were captured, with the number of wounded beingunclear. The South Vietnam and allied Australian and South Korean forces suffered4,324 killed, 16,063 wounded, and 598 missing.

The ancient capitalof suffered heavy damage. Twelve thousand communist troopstook over on New Year’s Eve. The Truong bridge collapsed from mines. It took 26 days before the RVN troops, withsupport of artillery power from battle ships, retook control of .Tragically, sorrow and mourning spread in the city when the Viet Cong buriedalive more than 7,000 civilians and South Vietnam’s government officials in mass graves scattered around and its vicinity.

5.General Loan’sexecution

In the morning of the secondday of , January 31st, 1968, whengeneral Nguyen Ngoc Loan was leading a fierce fight near An QuangPagoda in Saigon’s Chinese quarter, two of his officers brought to him acommunist cadre who had murdered many innocents in cold-blood in the pastcouple days. He was Captain Nguyen Van , alias

Minutes before hewas captured, Bay Lop had killed a RVN policeman’s wife and all of his familymembers including his children. Around 4:30 A.M.,Nguyen Van led a sabotage unit along with VietCong tanks to attack the Armor Camp in Go . Aftercommunist troops took control of the base, Bay Lop arrested Lieutenant ColonelNguyen Tuan with his family and forced him to show them how to drive tanks.When Lieutenant Colonel Tuan refused to cooperate, Bay Lop killed all membersof his family including his 80-year-old mother. There was only one survivor, aseriously injured 10-year-old boy.

Mourners line the gravesite of SouthVietnamese Colonel Nguyen Tuan,
and his family in
SaigonVIETNAM, A Complete Photographic History,”
Black Dog& Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2003, page 478)

Nguyen Van was captured near a mass grave with 34 innocentcivilian bodies. admitted that he was proud tocarry out his unit leader’s order to kill these people. was in his shorts and shirt. His arms were tied from the back. The pistol wasstill in his possession. General Loan executed Nguyen Van on the spot.

Eddie Adams, aphotographer of AP was on scene. He took the picture. General Loan explained toAdams: “This VietCong killed many Americans and many of my men.”

General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executed Vietcong captain Nguyen Van
(PhotoEddie Adams)

6. The photo tragedy

The photo ofgeneral Loan’s execution has been used by the anti-war protestors as a tool todistort the just cause of the Vietnam war. They argued that the Vietnam war wasdirty and should be terminated by the immediate withdrawal of the Americantroops. Many violent demonstrations occurred throughout the . Finally, the Paris Treaty was signed by the government and the North Vietnam in 1973. Then the US Congress cut the military supplies toSouth Vietnam. As a result, the Saigongovernment collapsed on April 30, 1975

Now is the time toreview and unveil the main meanings of the photo.

a) Factual view:

Eddie Adams won thePulitzer Prize in 1969 for this photograph, but he felt very sorry. “Two people died in thatphotograph,” he wrote,” therecipient of the bullet and general Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed theViet Cong, I killed the general with my camera.”

Also, Adams added thatthe photograph does lie, even without manipulation. It is only a half-truth.What the general’s execution photograph didn’t say was:

a) The Northcreated the fight at the time of ceasefire.

Thegeneral shot a villain who had committed atrocities during a ceasefire.

c) The general is a devotedBuddhist who spent a lot of his time to build hospitals in Vietnam for war casualties.

Adams visitedgeneral Loan at his pizza parlor in Virginia, he reported that Loan said: “You were doing your job and I was doing mine.” Adams admiredhim and both became close friends.

One of his aids, Colonel Tran Cong, witnessed: “GeneralLoan is an educated general of South Vietnam. He iscourageous, simple, generous and talented. He is really a hero of ourcountry.”

General Loan died of cancer on July 14, 1998Adams sent a card expressing his profound regret for ruining thegeneral’s life. He praised general Loan as a hero of a just cause. His eulogywas published in Time on July 27, 1998.“This picture really messed up hislife. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someoneelse would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. Ihad kept in contact with him; the last time we spoke was about six months ago,when he was very ill. I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote,’I’m sorry. There are tears in my eyes’.”

Adams attended the General’s funeral and said: “General Loan was a hero. America should be crying.I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.” Six years later, Adams died at the age of71.

b) Legal view:

Among the four parties involvedin the Vietnam war, only South Vietnam did not sign the Geneva Agreement for the prisoners of warand publicly refused it on February 18, 1974. This fact cannot be used negatively to prove prejudice because upuntil 2005, only 192 countries accepted this Agreement.

Even after signing thisAgreement, each country gave an explanation in its own way. For example, the denied treating the North Vietnamese captives as prisonersof war, because the North troops were so cruel and uncivilized in fighting bykilling women and children. On the contrary, North Vietnam also refused to treat the captives as prisoners of war because the was involved in the so-called “colonial war”. Soboth countries defined differently the meaning of “prisoner of war”.

Ronald P. Cundick,a member of the US Army Office of the Judge Advocate General, wrote: “In practice, American POW’s(Prisoner of War) held by the Viet Cong and by the North Vietnamese were oftenmistreated and used as political hostages and propaganda tools”. Onthe other side, “if the GenevaConvention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949 (GPW) had been strictly observed, fewVietcong would have been entitled to POW status”

So, Nguyen Van was not protected by the Geneva Agreement for prisonersfor two reasons:

South Vietnam did not sign it.

– He was a member of theNational Front of Liberation of South Vietnam (Viet Cong, organizedin 1960 at the direction of the Northern Communist Party)

Consequently, the war betweenthe RVN troops and the Viet Cong was a civil war. It was a fight of theinsurgents against the South government. At that time, the South governmentdidn’t recognize the Viet Cong under the law. This means that the Viet Congwere not protected by law as other citizens. Furthermore, any citizen whocommitted murder with a firearm, as did, would beexecuted right on the spot because of the severity of the crime. The policeofficers, instead of shooting on the battlefield,led him to present him to General Loan. This was like a death row inmate beingled to the execution courtyard and executed not by the squad team, but by theCommander of Police himself. The method of execution for capital punishment atthat time was death after the inmate was blindfolded and tied to the pole atthe execution courtyard to be shot.


General Nguyen Ngoc Loanlegally executed Viet Cong Captain Nguyen Van under special circumstances. That was what Eddie Adams meant when he said hisphoto just represented half of the truth. The Vietnam War was a noble one. Itwas the war against communism which the RepublicVietnam fought with great support from the and from other countries around the world. Even thoughhaving been abandoned by the , the soldiers and people of the RepublicVietnam continued their fight against the communists until thelast minutes. The flow of Vietnamese refugees since 1975 around the world wasnot the surrender in desperation, but the beginning and the dawn of the newstrategy against communism to liberate Vietnam. Years later, the Vietnamese joined the Free World tocelebrate the triumph when communist regimes collapsed one by one in the 1980sand 1990s. I believe that day will come in the foreseeable future, when theremaining communist regimes in VietnamNorth KoreaChina will be gone.

Former Judge BAIAN TRAN, Ph. D.

Encyclopedia Americana, 2003, Prisoner ofWar, pg 625.

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