1969 Pulitzer Prize, Spot News Photography, Edward Adams, Associated Press
Jan. 30. 1968. North Vietnamese communists launch their massive Tet offensive, bringing the fighting right into the U.S. Embassy compound in Saigon. Thirty-six hours later. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams, working with an NBC News crew, comes upon two South Vietnamese soldiers escorting a prisoner through the streets of Saigon.
They walked him down to the street corner. We were taking pictures. He turned out to be a Viet Cong lieutenant. And out of nowhere came this guy who we didn't know. I was about five feet away and he pulled out his pistol."
The man with the pistol is Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of South Vietnam's national police. It all
happens very fast: The general raises his pistol. Adams raises his camera. Loan presses his pistol against the prisoner's temple. He fires. Adams releases the shutter.
Loan "'shot him in the head and walked away." Adams remembers. "And walked by us and said, "They killed many of my men and many of our people."' For Loan, the shooting is an act of justice: The Viet Cong lieutenant had just murdered a South Vietnamese colonel, his wife and their six children.
The American anti-war movement adopts the photograph as a symbol of the excesses of the war. But Adams feels his picture is misunderstood. "If you re this man. this general, and you just caught this guy after he killed some of your people.... How do you know you wouldn't have pulled that trigger yourself? You have to put yourself in that situation----It's a war."