Symbols-Part 1

by Happy Daze


The above photo is one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War. Taken during the Tet offensive by Edie Adams, it shows the South Vietnamese National Chief of Police killing a Viet Cong operative. Many have stated that this one image did more to galvanize the anti-war movement in the U.S. than any other factor. The brutality, lawlessness, and desperation of the cause seemed to be captured in this one instance.

But the truth is trickier. The Chief of Police was General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The man being shot was the head of a 20 man Viet Cong assassination team tasked with killing Nguyen and his family. There was a mixup, and they arrived at the home of his Deputy and friend, killing him and his entire family, with Nguyen being godfather to several of the children. Shortly afterward a Marine patrol came across the group and in a firefight everyone but the head of the hit team was killed. He was captured next to a ditch that contained the bodies of Nguyen’s Deputy and family, as well as others (34 total). After the Marines questioned him, they turned him over to the South Vietnamese, along with the information gained during interrogation. At some point he was taken into the streets and Nguyen ordered his men to shoot him. They were wary with the cameras around, so Nguyen did the job himself.

Many bylines characterized the shooting as a “murder.” Sorry. Nguyen Ngoc Loan was within the law when he shot the VC commander. Under the Geneva Convention anyone operating in civilian clothing is considered a spy, and is subject to summary execution. And considering the full context, I would have done the same, then finished my breakfast.

Again, this wasn’t even considered. Simple answers for simple minds, I guess. But context is everything. Without it there can be no understanding. I read something once that said “text without context is pretext.” Indeed. As brutal and grotesque as the Nguyen shooting was, it didn’t tell the whole story.

We’re experiencing this now with the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman tragedy. Nearly everyone seems to have their mind made up about this. The Trayvon narrative is this. A psychopathic, racist white man with a gun stalked and murdered an angelic child whose only crime was carrying an iced tea and pack of skittles. The Zimmerman narrative is that a conscientious member of Neighborhood Watch was viciously attacked by a street thug and would have been killed if not for the use of his legally licensed firearm.

To be honest, none of us knows what the hell happened. Two people know, and one is dead. The Sanford police were actually in the process of investigating, and there was conflict within and between the DA’s office and the police department about the evidence, whether Zimmerman should be arrested or not, and whether or not he should be charged. But that apparently wasn’t quick enough, or thorough enough, for some. The Media Assault commenced.

The symbols. A cherubic looking Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman in an orange shirt that looked like a prison jumpsuit. Cut and dried man, cut and dried.

Then we find out that the Martin pictures were 5 years old. His recent pics looked like something in an old Tupac video. Shoes on the other foot now. Cut and dried. Cut and dried.

No one really knows where the term “cut and dried” came from, but I do know this. To cut something is to remove it from its whole. The sample may be representative of the whole, but then again, maybe not. Sometimes you can’t identify the object because you need the greater parts to make sense of it. An example is from the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” In the episode “Crossroads,” we see Dick Winters running full speed, stopping in front of a very young German soldier who has just arisen, sans weapon, and Winters shooting him. We see this again and again, and the memory of the event apparently bothers Winters. We eventually see the entirety of the event. Winters, after shooting the boy, kneels and starts shooting in all directions because he has surprised an entire battallion of Waffen SS in a clearing.

As Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.

As far as something being “dried,” I can tell you that as an amateur winemaker, I have used dried fruit before to make a batch. No matter how close the reconstituted fruit resembles the original, it’s never really the same. Something’s missing.

In the end, that’s the tragedy of the Martin-Zimmerman incident. In an attempt to frame the issue, the truth has been lost. If Trayvon Martin was unjustly killed, then George Zimmerman should be held accountable. If George Zimmerman was defending his life against an unjust attack, he should be freed. Justice is about the whole picture, not pieces and parts. I fear that whatever outcome will occur, it will be based upon an incomplete picture. And that is truly an injustice.