1968年2月1日，南越国家警察总监阮玉鸾在西贡处决越共战士阮文敛。 EDDIE ADAMS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Fifty years ago today, the national police chief of South Vietnam calmly approached a prisoner in the middle of a Saigon street and fired a bullet into his head.
A few feet away stood Eddie Adams, an Associated Press photographer, eye to his viewfinder. On a little piece of black-and-white film, he captured the exact moment of the gunshot.
The police chief, Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, stands with his back to the camera, right arm fully extended, left arm loosely by his side. The prisoner, Nguyen Van Lem, is a Viet Cong fighter but wears no uniform, only a plaid shirt and black shorts. His hands are cuffed behind his back. Though in his 30s, he looks little older than a boy. His face is contorted from the bullet’s impact.
警察总监阮玉鸾(Nguyen Ngoc Loan)将军背对相机，右臂伸直，左臂垂在身侧。俘虏阮文敛(Nguyen Van Lem)是越共战士，但没有穿制服，只穿着格子衬衫和黑色短裤。他的双手被反铐着。尽管有30多岁，看上去比一个男孩大不了多少。子弹的冲击力令他面部扭曲。
By morning, this last instant of his life would be immortalized on the front pages of newspapers nationwide, including The New York Times. Along with NBC video footage, the image gave Americans a stark glimpse of the brutality of the Vietnam War and helped fuel a decisive shift in public opinion.
“It hit people in the gut in a way that only a visual text can do,” said Michelle Nickerson, an associate professor of history at Loyola University Chicago who has studied the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era. “The photo translated the news of Tet in a way that you can’t quantify in terms of how many people were, at that moment, turned against the war.”
“这张照片以只有视觉文本才能做到的方式直击人心，”芝加哥洛约拉大学(Loyola University Chicago)历史学副教授米歇尔·尼克森(Michelle Nickerson)研究过越战时期的反战运动，他说：“它以这样的方式诠释新春攻势的新闻，以至于那一刻，你数不清有多少人开始反对这场战争。”
The execution happened Feb. 1, 1968, two days after Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched the coordinated attacks of the Tet offensive. Suddenly, insurgents were in dozens of cities, in almost every province of South Vietnam. They were in the streets of Saigon, the capital. They were even inside the heavily guarded compound of the U.S. Embassy.
It was a shocking sight for Americans, who had been assured by President Lyndon B. Johnson and his top general in Vietnam, William Westmoreland, that the enemy was on its last legs.
对于美国人来说，这是令人震惊的一幕，要知道，林登·B·约翰逊(Lyndon B. Johnson)总统和他在越南的最高将领威廉·威斯特摩兰(William Westmoreland)本来已经向他们保证，敌人已经到了山穷水尽的地步。
Meredith H. Lair, a Vietnam War expert at George Mason University, said the offensive “caused people to question whether they’d been fed lies by the administration, and to question whether the war was going as well as they’d been led to believe, and to question whether the war could be won if the enemy was supposed to be cowed and appeared so strong and invigorated.”
乔治梅森大学(George Mason University)越南战争专家梅雷迪思·H·莱尔(Meredith H. Lair)说，这次攻势“令人们开始质疑，政府是否向他们灌输谎言，他们还质疑，战事的进展是否真的那么顺利，就像他们被诱导着去相信的那样；而且本应已被吓怕了的敌人突然显得这样强大活跃，那么这场战争是否真的能赢。”
If the broader Tet offensive revealed chaos where the government was trying to project control, Adams’ photo made people question whether the United States was fighting for a just cause. Together, they undermined the argument for the war on two fronts, leading many Americans to conclude not only that it could not be won, but also that, perhaps, it shouldn’t be.
The photo “fed into a developing narrative in the wake of the Tet offensive that the Vietnam War was looking more and more like an unwinnable war,” said Robert J. McMahon, a historian at Ohio State University. “And I think more people began to question whether we were, in fact, the good guys in the war or not.”
“在春节攻势之后，”俄亥俄州立大学(Ohio State University)历史学家罗伯特·麦克马洪(Robert J. McMahon)说，这张照片，“为一种发展中的叙述提供了论据：越南战争看上去越来越像是一场无法赢得的战争。而且我认为更多的人开始质疑，我们究竟是不是这场战争中的好人。”
In the months after the Tet offensive, public opinion shifted more rapidly than at any other point in the war, McMahon said. Adams’ photo won a Pulitzer Prize, and Time magazine called it one of the 100 most influential ever taken.
“You can talk about ‘the execution photograph from the Vietnam War,’ and not just the generation who lived through it but multiple generations can call that image to mind,” said Susan D. Moeller, author of “Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat,” and a professor of media and international affairs at the University of Maryland. “It was immediately understood to be an icon.”
“一说起‘越南战争中的枪决’，不仅是生活在那个时代的人，好几代人都会想起那张照片，”《拍摄战争——摄影与美国的战斗体验》(Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat)一书作者、马里兰大学(University of Maryland)媒体和国际事务教授苏珊·D·莫勒(Susan D. Moeller)说。“它当即被视为一个符号。”
Then there was the fallout for the person for whom viewers had the least sympathy: Loan, the executioner, who would eventually move to the United States. In 1978, the government tried unsuccessfully to rescind his green card. He died 20 years later in Virginia, where he had run a restaurant.
Adams himself, before his death in 2004, expressed discomfort with the consequences of his photo. He noted that photographs, by nature, exclude context: in this case, that the prisoner had killed the family of one of Loan’s deputies.
“Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan,” he wrote in Time magazine. “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera.”
“Still photographs,” Adams wrote, “are the most powerful weapon in the world.”