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external image vietcongofficershootsman.jpg

(Copyright Eddie Adams)

On February 1, 1968, photojournalist Eddie Adams captured what many consider to be the most powerful photo from the Vietnam War. The picture, taken on the streets of Saigon during the second day of the Tet Offensive, showed South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Viet Cong Captain Bay Lop at point blank range. The picture had an immediate impact due to its sheer brutality; the hardened face of Loan, the clenched teeth of the watching soldier and the final grimace of Lop (a close inspection of the photo reveals the bullet leaving Lop's skull) all transfixed an American public already dissatisfied with the progress of the war (Faas).
Although the Tet Offensive was militarily a defeat for the Viet Cong, it dealt a severe blow to American morale. For months, the American public had been told that the war was in its final stages, and that an American victory was near. However, the massive assault mounted by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive quickly demonstrated to the American public that the war was far from over. The Tet Offensive is considered by many to be one of the turning points in the war, because it signaled the loss of mainstream support for the war. (It was after the Tet Offensive that Walter Cronkite famously declared the Vietnam War unwinnable)
In 1998 Adams wrote that, "Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world." (Currie) While it is impossible to precisely determine how much Adams' famous photograph impacted the course of the war, it is also impossible to ignore it completely. The photo was seen by millions around the world, and became a symbol for the atrocities and moral ambiguities of the war. The photo also paved the way for the revelation of other US sponsored war crimes, particularly the My Lai massacre which occurred a month later. In conclusion, the impact of images such as the one captured by Adams that fateful day in Saigon cannot be underestimated. Advances in technology made the widespread dissemination of media possible, and thus images of the war were able to quickly reach a massive audience. These images irrevocably eroded public support for the war, stripped America of its moral authority, and fed the growing anti-war movement.



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