Saturday, November 27, 2004

Of Images and Context

On February 1 1968, at the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, AP photographer Eddie Adams took what would become one of the most famous photos of the 20th century. Taken in Saigon, the picture shows an unarmed prisoner being executed by South Vietnamese police commander General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The photo caused a firestorm of controversy, and became a symbol for many of the brutal nature of the South Vietnamese regime.

In the power of the image captured by Adams, however, the broader context behind the incident was lost. The man executed was a Viet Cong officer believed responsible for the murder of numerous civilians, including the families of policemen. Such conduct was typical of the communist forces during Tet. In the city of Hue, for example, an estimated 3,000 civilians were murdered by the North Vietnamese army. Yet the numerous communist atrocities were lost amid the uproar over the Adams photo. Adams would eventually regret ever taking the picture.

Sadly, a depressingly similar situation has recently occurred in Iraq, with the shooting of a wounded, seemingly unarmed enemy fighter by a young Marine in Fallujah captured on video and replayed around the world. Al-Jazeera, which refuses to show the video of the barbarous murder of Margaret Hassan by terrorists, has replayed the video of the Fallujah incident on a regular basis. Kevin Sites, the journalist who took the film of the shooting, has described and defended his actions on his blog.

Once again, it is the context that is not shown on the video that is truly important:

-Insurgents in Fallujah have employed numerous tactics that violate the laws of war, including pretending to be dead.

-On several occasions, wounded terrorists in Fallujah called for medical assistance from Marines, then detonated explosives as the Americans approached.

This situation is nothing like the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. In my view, the Marine in question, acting in the heat of battle, did exactly what he felt was necessary to defend himself and his comrades. For people who have no idea what he and his fellow warriors have endured on our nation's behalf to now condemn this young man is disgraceful. War is ugly, especially when engaged in close quarters combat with a vicious adversary. This is a reality that we need to come to terms with.


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