Tet: History isn’t always written by the victors

Object Lesson

Shot in the Dark notes that the Tet Offensive, that legendary rallying cry still heard today, began thirty-eight years ago yesterday. And writes:

More subtly and insidious, though, was the media’s intrusion into one of the most famous images of the war, the extemoraneous execution of Nguyen Van Lem by a South Vietnamese general, Nguyen Ngoc Loan (no relation). If you are an American who’s not been under a rock for two generations, you’ve seen the photo:


…and probably also seen the footage of the same event from nearly the same angle, shot by an NBC cameraman.

When the media reminds you of the benefits of the major media’s layers of gatekeeping and their monastic commitment to telling the truth, it’s worthwhile to remember the story of the shooting. Of all the media that covered the story, only the Associated Press mentioned that Lem was the leader of a Viet Cong assassination unit that had just murdered 34 civilians – including women and children – that had been found in a nearby ditch. None mentioned that there were reports General Loan’s family were reported among the dead of that day.

But did they show the silent footage (there was no audio man along for the shoot)?

No – NBC news added a gunshot when they broadcast the event on their evening news.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. One man’s Tet is another man’s Bulge. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, and don’t make the mistake of believing that YOU are the beholder. We are usually beholders not of events but of reports, and students not of history but of interpretations.


  1. Regardless of the fate of General Loan’s family, it was a probably a legal execution. Obviously out of uniform and engaged in hostile activities, the prisoner would be considered a guerrilla or saboteur. Therefore, he is not protected by the Laws of War as laid out by the Geneva and Hague Conventions. Technically, there should have been a hearing to determine if the little worm was actually a saboteur – then he could have been executed. I don’t think anyone has ever argued he did not kill those people so there is little question on how the hearing would have turned out. During the Battle of the Bulge, German troops were caught disguised as American MP’s. The American units who captured them executed them out of hand.

  2. Actually, the american forces that caught them were usually fired upon, and the german soldiers were killed in firefights, or while resisting their capture. Those that were caught (without bloodshed) were later tried, then executed by firing squad. I don’t believe there is any record of them being disarmed, then shot without trial. Those that were shot ‘in the field’ all fired upon american troops (that were checking the identities of the MPS they were impersonating, or the american troops twigged to the fact that there was something wrong) so they were not ‘executed’ but were killed in combat. I know I’ve seen the photos of the firing squad that carried out the sentence of the court that was convened to determine the innocence/guilt of Skorzeny’s troops. I’ve forgotten who was on the court, but I do remember that a trial was held.

  3. I swear Sir, they were all shooting at us the whole time! Yep, no survivors. They put up a hell of a fight! Real good shootin that we got ’em all in the middle of the forehead. Read some of Stephen Ambrose’s books to find out what happened to German troops who fake surrendered. It’s only in the last thirty years or so that we have become so soft on this kind of crap.

  4. It really does not have to be a trial. Just a hearing to establish the facts. If it is established that you were wearing the wrong uniform, no further information is needed – just a wall a a couple of riflemen.

  5. To his credit, I remember the college teacher who gave the background to the story, explaining that the media completely ignored the terrorist act the guy committed just prior to his execution. Like the monk on fire image, good photos do a poor job of explaining the conflict.

  6. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, and don’t make the mistake of believing that YOU are the beholder. We are usually beholders not of events but of reports, and students not of history but of interpretations.’ That’s exactly right – and surprising in an era where awareness of media bias is growing, hardly anyone – even on the right – really thinks about that. That sentence should be a caption for every single media report, like a surgeon general’s warning on a pack of smokes.

  7. I heard that Gen. Nguyen had a restaurant for years in northern Virginia. P.S. today is the first that I ever heard anything about his family being among those killed.