An Unlikely Weapon

Edward Thomas Adams (1933-2004). Credit:

“The most powerful weapon in the world has been and can be a photograph.  Military weapons can only destroy.  Cameras in the hands of photographers with hearts can capture love, hopes, passion, change lives and make the world a better place…and it takes 1/500 of a second.  Life goes on—we photograph it. But it’s much better with love.”Eddie Adams

Eddie Adams was an American photographer and photojournalist noted for portraits of celebrities and politicians and for coverage of 13 wars. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969.

Adams served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War as a combat photographer. One of his assignments was to photograph the entire Demilitarized Zone from end to end immediately following the war. This took him over a month to complete.

It was while covering the Vietnam War for the Associated Press that he took his best-known photograph—the picture of police chief General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner, Nguyễn Văn Lém, on a Saigon street, on February 1, 1968, during the opening stages of the Tet Offensive.

On Nguyen Ngoc Loan and his famous photograph, Adams wrote in Time in 1998:

“Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera.

Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. 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 people?’…. This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. … I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, “I’m sorry. There are tears in my eyes.”

Source:  An Unlikely Weapon:  The Eddie Adams Story directed by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland


4 thoughts on “An Unlikely Weapon”

  1. Thank you Joe. The movie was great and depicted how extraordinary this photographer was. His quotation is so true. A great example for those of us following this infatuating activity of shooting pictures. Have a great weekend.

  2. Eddie Adams story raises some interesting questions. One that comes to mind is, “When should I not take a photo?” Obviously, as a photojournalist with a responsibility — several responsibilities, I suppose — he did what he needed to do. But there are plenty of people, especially since the advent of smart phones, who are recording everything and everyone in sight, and then posting the pics.

    As you say, context is important, and photos can be manipulated as easily as statistics. There have been propaganda photos as long as there have been cameras, but technology is making the situation more worrisome. It’s good to have people like Eddie Adams to learn from.

  3. After he took this dramatic picture of a Vietnamese general killing a Vietkong liutenant, he had a deep sense of guilt. In an effort to kill his demons, he photographed evicted Vietnamese people who were living in boats because nobody wanted to admit them. The pictures were so intense, that Presidnt Jimmy Carter acceped several thousands of these so called “boat people” and took them in. It was Eddie’s way of cleaning his act to the general in Saigon.

    Yes, it’s good to have people like Eddie to look up for guidance.

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