The power of omission

The western media has a great ability to twist facts, sometimes merely by leaving a select portion of the facts out altogether.

Take this photograph of General Loan, commander of the South Vietnamese National Police executing a captured Viet Cong infiltrator on the street, in the aftermath of the (failed) Tet Offensive. This iconic image, taken by a western photojournalist, was used widely by the anti-war movement to suggest that our South Vietnamese allies were every bit as barbaric as their Communist enemy.

The context implied was simplistic: the enemy had been captured, now he was brutally shot without trial. The media did nothing whatever to change this perception.

Why bother when the image itself says so much? The victim is a young man in civilian clothes, obviously terrified in meeting his premature end. His executioner is a uniformed older man, stonefaced and utterly inhuman in his callous disregard for his enemy. The message conveyed was tailor-made for the anti-war movement.

It simply wouldn't do for inconvienent facts to obscure the purity of that message.

Like the fact that the young man was the leader of a Viet Cong assassination unit which had been ordered to kill several leading members of the South Vietnamese government (General Loan, his executioner, among them).

Or the fact that when the team was unable to find General Loan's house, the VC team went to the home of his second-in-command, a Colonel in the National Police, and killed him instead.

Or the fact that the VC team decided to also cut the throats of the Colonel's wife, and his six young children.

Or the fact that those six butchered children were the Godchildren of General Loan. Their father, Loan's best friend.

Or the fact that after the South Vietnamese soldiers killed the VC team in the colonel's house, the young man was captured and found in possession of a pistol, indicating that he was the leader (for the resource-starved VC, it was unquestionably a sign of rank). He was taken directly to General Loan.

Or the fact that the VC team (as can be seen in the photograph) were operating in civilian clothes, which automatically invalidated their standing as legitimate combatants and made them, instead, terrorists.

Or the fact that the city was under police juristiction at the time, not military, and General Loan, as the ranking police officer, was acting entirely within his mandated powers.

Now that you have all the facts, ask yourself this.

Would I have acted any differently?

Additional: It is interesting to note that the photojournalist who took the picture, Eddie Adams, who knew General Loan personally, publicly wished that he could retract the image, because of the way it had destroyed Loan's reputation throughout the west. He also condemned the media for deliberately not revealing all of the facts surrounding the execution.

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