At the very end of his Dec. 22 Chaos Manor post, Jerry Pournelle links to a Treppenwitz post, now several months old, which examines a famous photo from the Vietnam War. Therein blogger David Bogner reviews some of the lesser known facts surrounding both the picture itself and people's perception of the recorded image.
All of that is interesting, yet the single most operant fact that contributed to the circumstance playing out as it was recorded at the time is never directly mentioned.
Without recounting the Treppenwitz post, the basic facts are: in 1968 the Communist Viet Cong/Viet Minh insurgent forces staged extreme acts of violence in violation of a negotiated truce throughout much of then-South Vietnam. Captured in the act of mass murder, one of these VC was summarily tried and executed by the military and civil police commander for the city and military district of Siagon (the city since re-named as Ho Chi Minh City). This summary execution was captured on both still and motion photography, the still image probably being the more historically famous of the two.
Here's the thing; the executed man (formally Captain Bay Lop, South Vietnamese Communist Party Army, Viet Minh) was properly judged and sentenced "in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention (aka Laws of Armed Conflict) regarding "Armed Partisans", " civilian combatant s", and "crimes against non-combatants". Were an American or other NATO officer to be presented with an insurgent in Afghanistan captured committing the same crimes, he would be equally in accordance with the law (negotiated treaty having force of same in the USA) in also issuing a summary judgement and execution. We would also subsequently crucify him too.
We cry about how terrible something is, empower someone to impose our considered will upon any perpetrator of that thing, and then cry in horror that we didn't mean for what then happens to take place, all while we set out to destroy those who did our bidding in our name. Police, soldiers, politicians; you name it, the list is virtually endless. We put people in a position to act with our authority, then refuse to accept responsibility for the predictable results of our decision. If we want honest and open enforcement of our societal decisions, we must be prepared to accept responsibility for what those we so empower do as a result. Further, if we want an open and honest society (government, law enforcement, whatever) we must judge all things - not least ourselves - just as openly and honestly.
In executing Capt. Lop, South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan was photographed performing his sworn duty in an entirely lawful manner. The honest image of that honorable act was subsequently used in deliberate campaigns of lies and misdirection, both here in the United States and elsewhere, which are themselves symptoms of what still ails American society - possibly fatally. We very well may not be able to elect ourselves out of our present national condition, but I suggest Gen. Loans experience is instructive of the consequences if we don't.
My thanks to Jerry Pournelle for this timely reminder at the outset of our latest national election year. Sometimes, harsh facts are best illustrated by harsh images.