The Execution of Nguyen Van Lem

On the 1st February 1968 at the height of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War an image was taken of a soldier shooting what looks like a scared Vietnamese civilian in the head from point blank range.

I remember when first seeing this picture that I was repulsed, but as the old adage goes… never judge a book by the cover.

The perpetrator of the “crime” was the South Vietnamese General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan a passionate anti-communist.

On the day in question he was leading a police detachment team in Saigon looking for at-risk civilians and the Viet Cong who might be a threat to them.

And a threat they were, the innocent civilian being shot was Nguyễn Văn Lém also known as Captain Bay Lop of the Viet Cong. He himself had been leading a detachment for very different reasons. He was on the hunt for South Vietnamese police forces, their families, Americans (civilians or military) and anyone else who got in their way.

This innocent civilian was in no way innocent, his unit had executed 34 people that morning including some of General Loans own men and their families. He was not wearing a combatants uniform and when caught was given summary justice on the spot.

The image was captured by the photographer Eddie Adams and there was global outcry against the image from people who I suppose like me were shocked by the scene of a young guy getting shot in the head. When you peel back the layers though, you learn so much about the intense emotions that surround the situation and regardless of how barbaric the outcome was you can maybe understand if not agree why it was done.

What are your opinions on this killing… was it merited or do two wrongs not make a right?

As an aside General Loans eventually moved to Virginia, USA in the late 70’s and opened a restaurant. It was in business until 1991 and Loan eventually died of cancer in 1998 aged 67 years old.

Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “The Execution of Nguyen Van Lem

Add yours

  1. That is amazing I never knew the inside story of this famous image. How can we judge? War makes monsters of all men.


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