February 1, 1968: Saigon Execution Photo
Image: AP Photo
The act was casual in the moment, but shocked the world in its aftermath. Feb. 1, 1968, on the streets of Saigon, two days after North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive, a captured Viet Cong officer was brought to South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who, instead of interrogating the prisoner, swiftly raised his pistol and executed the man in front of an Associated Press photographer and NBC cameraman. Eddie Adams, the AP photographer, snapped a photo at the precise second the prisoner was killed, capturing a vivid image that, when it was shown on the front pages of newspapers around the world, was met with revulsion at what seemed to be a brutal act of savagery amidst a war that many felt was unwarranted. For General Loan, the shooting was an act of justice: the prisoner, he explained, had murdered many of his people.
The photo helped galvanize American public opinion against the Vietnam War, as Walter Cronkite’s famous televised CBS News commentary similarly did so less than a month later, on Feb. 27, when he concluded the war was “mired in stalemate.” For Eddie Adams, his now-iconic photo won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Loan, the South Vietnamese general who carried out the execution, relocated to the United States after the war and died in 1998, after quietly operating a pizza parlor in Virginia for a number of years.