Dan Kellum 2

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Dan Kellum - Episode 2

In Episode 2 unless I missed attribution, the narrator noted that Pres. Kennedy had made a comment to someone close to him that he couldn't withdraw from Vietnam as it might affect his re-election. I wouldn't think a documentary would go the "unnamed sources" route. And that was pretty damning to JFK to claim our continued presence in Vietnam was dependent on the prospect of affecting a re-election. That sure was an eye-opener that a lower echelon White House staffer was able to confuse JFK and his advisors to pass along a need to remove RVN Pres. Diem and his brother to the ambassador in Saigon when JFK and his advisors were away from the White House....JFK thought that was the consensus of his advisors and the advisors thought that came from Kennedy. It made them sound like disorganized Keystone Kops. I thought that was an interesting bit of history. Again, I'm bothered about the portrayal of Viet Police Chief Nguyen Loan's shooting of VC Capt. Nguyen Van Lem...see Episode 1 comments. I was surprised late in the night to catch the end of Novick and Burns being interviewed about Episode 2 on PBS. He referred to Lem as a "spy" and not the mass murderer that he was. A spy gathers information that's strategic information for his side....Lem was not gathering information. He was carrying out an apparent hit list and killing not only Lt.Col. Tuan but his wife, children and grandmother plus 34 civilians, according to Google information. The still photo taken of Loan killing Lem was taken by Eddie Adams. Note this off Google Burns/Novick should’ve researched::

“Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world”, AP photojournalist Eddie Adams once wrote. A fitting quote for Adams, because his 1968 photograph of an officer shooting a handcuffed prisoner in the head at point-blank range not only earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969, but also went a long way toward souring Americans’ attitudes about the Vietnam War. For all the image’s political impact, though, the situation wasn’t as black-and-white as it’s rendered. What Adams’ photograph doesn’t reveal is that the man being shot (named Nguyen Van Lem) was the captain of a Vietcong “revenge squad” that had executed dozens of unarmed civilians earlier the same day. Regardless, it instantly became an icon of the war’s savagery and made the official pulling the trigger – General Nguyen Ngoc Loan – its iconic villain.   South Vietnamese sources said that Lém commanded a Vietcong death squad, which on that day had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers’ families. Corroborating this, Lém was captured at the site of a mass grave that included the bodies of at least seven police family members. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution. Lém was brought to Loan who questioned him briefly then using his personal .38 revolver, executed Lém with a single shot in the head.

Photographer said he had a lot of sympathy for the shooter and wished he had never published the picture. He felt so bad for Loan that he apologized for having taken the photo at all, admitting, “The general killed the Vietcong; I killed the general with my camera”. 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”.

So if Burns doesn't give an explanation for the shooting of VC Capt. Lem, then Loan will be reviled once more in death. Loan can't catch a break. One of the comments on the Google comments was from a fellow who noted that Loan had just had a youngster die in his arms and the child's blood was all over the front of Loan's flak jacket. In addition, Lem was said to have laughed at having killed all those innocent people and probably set Loan off into a murderous rage. I wish I had heard the whole PBS interview of the two directors of the documentary. Burns was born in 1953 so that would make him 15 at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968. I imagine he was greatly affected by the images of the Vietnam War on nightly broadcasts on TV. I recollect seeing so much carnage on TV that I stopped watching TV newscasts of the war. I wonder if Burns was swayed by that same carnage and the anti-war demonstrations as well as the shootings at Kent State of students by the Ohio National Guard? In the documentary I kind of got lost by the guys' information flashed on the screen as to their name and Illinois and Missouri under their names. I think there was a comment by them that they might have been soldiers. I wondered if there might've been additional Vietnamese who could have given us more than just that one woman's view of the history at that time when Vietnam was partitioned North and South and families were split a la the American Civil War. I don't think I ever heard positive stories of the ARVN units or Home Guard, RFs, PFs, etc. The debacle at Ap Bac was a terrible defeat for the Vietnamese forces in 1963....their leadership seemed lacking. Now RVN's Praetorian Guards were the Vietnamese Marine Brigade, Vietnamese Rangers and I think the Tiger Battalion that defended Saigon and the president there....on whichever day there wasn't a coup or attempted coup. I noticed Burns in the PBS interview commented about the "Vietnamese Marines" so there might be something positive to say about the South Vietnamese on the battlefield. Who knows? I might get to see film clips of my old 2/1 CO Lt.Col. Bill Leftwich Jr. as an advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Brigade in 1965. With eight episodes to go I wonder if Burns/Novick will dwell more on the anti-war elements. I won't hold my breath against that one from happening.

Semper Fi, Dan Kellum

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