For Americans of my generation–a little too young to be drafted into it–there are three iconic photos of the Vietnam War. One is of Saigon’s Chief of Police conducting a summary execution of a Viet Cong officer. A second is of a naked child fleeing down a road after being napalmed, aka the ‘Napalm Girl’ photo. And the third is the famous picture of people clinging to a helicopter’s landing gear as it took off, overladen, from the US’s Saigon embassy as the war effort collapsed.
That third picture, we now know, was to be only the first of a series of photos of ignominious retreat from ill-considered colonial Great Power maneuvers, with the latest coming out of Afghanistan.
That second photo has a subsequent history too, although it is more inspiring, as the victim not only survived, but surmounted the trauma caused by her injuries and also the injuries caused by the world-wide publicity of the photo; eventually she founded an international charity.It turns out, however, that the subsequent history of the first photo is perhaps the most amazing. The man executed had killed a South Vietnamese Colonel and six of his children. The seventh, then nine, survived and after the fall of Saigon, managed to reach the US. He later joined the US Navy. Yesterday he was promoted to the rank of Admiral.