Photographs Do Lie
Why his Pulitzer-winning picture of a South Vietnamese general haunted Eddie Adams for the rest of his life.
12:00 AM, Sep 24, 2004 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
Adams once visited Loan at the pizzeria. "He was like a freak show," Adams told the New York Daily News. "People had figured out who he was." Adams recalled "going into the bathroom in his restaurant and reading some graffiti on the wall. Someone had written, 'We know who you are, you f-----.'" The obscenity made him despondent. "That was because of me," Adams said. "And I don't like ruining people's lives with my pictures."
Shortly after the visit, Loan closed his restaurant in 1991. People indeed had learned he was the executioner from Adams's photograph. The negative publicity had triggered a sharp decline in business.
Loan died in July 1998, at age 67, from cancer. Torn up by regret, Adams penned a moving eulogy in Time magazine. It was part remembrance, part mea culpa for his 1968 picture. "Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world," he wrote. "People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?' General Loan was what you would call a real warrior, admired by his troops. I'm not saying what he did was right, but you have to put yourself in his position."
Adams also sent the Loan family flowers and a card. "I'm sorry," he wrote. "There are tears in my eyes."
Duncan Currie is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.