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Remembering Vietnam Through Photographs

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Many of the iconic images from the Vietnam War were pictures taken by AP photographers: A monk setting himself on fire in a city square; a general, his arm outstretched, about to shoot a man; a little girl, naked and crying, her clothing burned off by napalm.

Some of these images are as familiar to many Americans as their own family photo albums. Now these photos are collected in a book called “ Vietnam: The Real War: A Photographic History by the Associated Press.”

Santiago Lyon, director of photography for the Associated Press, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the images. To see 11 images from the book, see the slideshow above.

Interview Highlights: Santiago Lyon

On photographer Horst Fass’s work in Vietnam

“When we look at his work, I think the picture that you mentioned in the introduction that stands out to me, is the image of the South Vietnamese farmer holding up his dead child to an armored personnel carrier full of South Vietnamese troops. It’s just a heartbreaking image that sort of reflects the futility that people often feel in a war, where they feel absolutely helpless and overwhelmed by circumstances and violence beyond their control.”

On the Buddhist monk photo by Malcolm Browne

“Malcolm was a correspondent, so his specialty was the written word. But like many correspondents in that day, they were given cameras and encouraged to make photographs, so they were doing cross-format journalism 40 years ago. The particular image in question of the monk sitting there, with a grimace of sorts on his face as he’s engulfed in flames, that image really resonated because it was so dramatic. And it’s said that President Kennedy remarked to his ambassador at the time, having seen the picture, “We’re going to have to do something about that regime.” So it’s an example of photojournalism reaching into the halls of power, and through its power, having an effect on all the seen events.”

On  whether or not the photographer intervenes

“It’s always a difficult dynamic for a photographer in the field when faced with such dramatic scenes and circumstances. At what point do you put the camera down and intercede, or do you conversely maintain your journalistic objectivity and keep making pictures? And I think, as in the case of Nick Ut, who made the picture of the napalm-covered girl running down the road — after he saw that she was in terrific pain because of the injuries she had, he made sure that she got to the hospital by taking her in his own car and made sure that she was looked after and survived. And she’s still alive and lives in Canada and does activism work around peace, the end of warfare and all that, and she and Nick are still close friends. So I think at some point, the photographer reverts to their original condition of compassionate human being.”

Guest

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As fellow troopers aid wounded comrades, a paratrooper of A Company, 101st Airborne Division, guides a medevac helicopter through the jungle foilage to pick up casualties suffered during a five-day patrol near Hue, April 1968. (Art Greenspon/AP)
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As fellow troopers aid wounded comrades, a paratrooper of A Company, 101st Airborne Division, guides a medevac helicopter through the jungle foilage to pick up casualties suffered during a five-day patrol near Hue, April 1968. (Art Greenspon/AP)

A distraught father holds the body of his child as South Vietnamese Rangers look down from their armored vehicle, March 19, 1964. The child was killed as government forces pursued guerrillas into a village near the Cambodian border.
From the portfolio by photographer Horst Faas that received the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Photography.
(Horst Faas/AP)
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A distraught father holds the body of his child as South Vietnamese Rangers look down from their armored vehicle, March 19, 1964. The child was killed as government forces pursued guerrillas into a village near the Cambodian border. From the portfolio by photographer Horst Faas that received the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Photography. (Horst Faas/AP)

In the first of a series of fiery suicides by Buddhist monks, Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death on a Saigon street to protest persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government, June 11, 1963. The photograph aroused worldwide outrage and hastened the end of the Diem government. With the photo on his Oval Office desk, President Kennedy reportedly remarked to his ambassador, “We’re going to have to do something about that regime.” (Malcolm Browne/AP)
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In the first of a series of fiery suicides by Buddhist monks, Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death on a Saigon street to protest persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government, June 11, 1963. The photograph aroused worldwide outrage and hastened the end of the Diem government. With the photo on his Oval Office desk, President Kennedy reportedly remarked to his ambassador, “We’re going to have to do something about that regime.” (Malcolm Browne/AP)

An unidentified American soldier wears a hand-lettered slogan on his helmet, June 1965. The soldier was serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade on defense duty at the Phuoc Vinh airfield. (Horst Faas/AP)
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An unidentified American soldier wears a hand-lettered slogan on his helmet, June 1965. The soldier was serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade on defense duty at the Phuoc Vinh airfield. (Horst Faas/AP)

Women and children crouch in a muddy canal as they take cover from intense Viet Cong fire, January 1, 1966. Paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (background) escorted the civilians through a series of firefights during the U.S. assault on a Viet Cong stronghold at Bao Trai, about twenty miles west of Saigon. (Horst Faas/AP)
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Women and children crouch in a muddy canal as they take cover from intense Viet Cong fire, January 1, 1966. Paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (background) escorted the civilians through a series of firefights during the U.S. assault on a Viet Cong stronghold at Bao Trai, about twenty miles west of Saigon. (Horst Faas/AP)

Caught in a sudden monsoon rain, part of a company of about 130 South Vietnamese soldiers moves downriver in sampans during a dawn attack on a Viet Cong camp, January 10, 1966. Several guerrillas were reported killed or wounded in the action thirteen miles northeast of Can Tho, in the flooded Mekong Delta. (Horst Faas/AP)
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Caught in a sudden monsoon rain, part of a company of about 130 South Vietnamese soldiers moves downriver in sampans during a dawn attack on a Viet Cong camp, January 10, 1966. Several guerrillas were reported killed or wounded in the action thirteen miles northeast of Can Tho, in the flooded Mekong Delta. (Horst Faas/AP)

Medic Thomas Cole of Richmond, Virginia, looks up with his one unbandaged eye as he continues to treat wounded S.Sgt. Harrison Pell of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, during a firefight, January 30, 1966. The men belonged to the 1st Cavalry Division, which was engaged in a battle at An Thi, in the Central Highlands, against combined Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. This photo appeared on the cover of Life magazine, February 11, 1966, and photographer Henri Huet’s coverage of An Thi received the Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club. (Henri Huet/AP)
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Medic Thomas Cole of Richmond, Virginia, looks up with his one unbandaged eye as he continues to treat wounded S.Sgt. Harrison Pell of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, during a firefight, January 30, 1966. The men belonged to the 1st Cavalry Division, which was engaged in a battle at An Thi, in the Central Highlands, against combined Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. This photo appeared on the cover of Life magazine, February 11, 1966, and photographer Henri Huet’s coverage of An Thi received the Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club. (Henri Huet/AP)

The body of a U.S. paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near the Cambodian border is lifted up to an evacuation helicopter in War Zone C, May 14, 1966. The zone, encompassing the city of Tay Ninh and the surrounding area north of Saigon, was the site of the Viet Cong’s headquarters in South Vietnam. (Henri Huet/AP)
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The body of a U.S. paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near the Cambodian border is lifted up to an evacuation helicopter in War Zone C, May 14, 1966. The zone, encompassing the city of Tay Ninh and the surrounding area north of Saigon, was the site of the Viet Cong’s headquarters in South Vietnam. (Henri Huet/AP)

A woman mourns over the body of her husband after identifying him by his teeth, and covering his head with her conical hat. The man’s body was found with forty-seven others in a mass grave near Hue, April 11, 1969. The victims were believed killed during the insurgent occupation of Hue as part of the Tet Offensive. (Horst Faas/AP)
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A woman mourns over the body of her husband after identifying him by his teeth, and covering his head with her conical hat. The man’s body was found with forty-seven others in a mass grave near Hue, April 11, 1969. The victims were believed killed during the insurgent occupation of Hue as part of the Tet Offensive. (Horst Faas/AP)

Severely burned in an aerial napalm attack, children run screaming for help down Route 1 near Trang Bang, followed by soldiers of the South Vietnamese army’s 25th Division, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane seeking Viet Cong hiding places accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on civilians and government troops instead. Nine-year-old Kim Phuc (center) had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The other children (from left) are her brothers Phan Thanh Tam, who lost an eye, and Phan Thanh Phouc, and her cousins Ho Van Bon and Ho Thi Ting. (Nick Ut/AP) 1973 Pulitzer Prize winner for Spot News Photography
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Severely burned in an aerial napalm attack, children run screaming for help down Route 1 near Trang Bang, followed by soldiers of the South Vietnamese army’s 25th Division, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane seeking Viet Cong hiding places accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on civilians and government troops instead. Nine-year-old Kim Phuc (center) had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The other children (from left) are her brothers Phan Thanh Tam, who lost an eye, and Phan Thanh Phouc, and her cousins Ho Van Bon and Ho Thi Ting. (Nick Ut/AP) 1973 Pulitzer Prize winner for Spot News Photography