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Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 10:55:40 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: 'Another Vietnam' photo exhibit: Seeing why the Vietnamese won
'Another Vietnam' photo exhibit: Seeing why the Vietnamese won
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the March 28, 2002
issue of Workers World newspaper
"ANOTHER VIETNAM" PHOTO EXHIBIT:
SEEING WHY THE VIETNAMESE WON
By Paddy Colligan
"Obstacles make you clever," said Ho Chi Minh to Dinh Dang
Dinh, the photographer charged with taking pictures of the
Ho was referring to Dinh's immediate difficulties in finding
photographic supplies and the rest of the stuff he would
need to do his job in a Vietnam immersed in the French phase
of its long national liberation struggle. This observation
might as well have been a metaphor for the entire war
Images of that effort are now available in "Another Vietnam:
Pictures from the Other Side," a photo exhibit and catalog
of photos by Vietnamese photographers.
The photographers worked throughout the U.S. war with the
mandate to document the Herculean efforts of the Vietnamese
people. The Vietnamese struggle became the inspiration for
the oppressed throughout the world struggling for their
freedom in the second half of the bloody 20th century.
Vietnamese photographers took these pictures to inspire
their people conducting the war.
THIS IS WHAT COURAGE LOOKS LIKE
Their assignment was carried out under particularly
difficult circumstances. They traveled and lived the life of
the people whose lives and deaths they documented. They
themselves often fell victim to the bombs and disease.
They usually had only one camera and lens, necessitating
great risks, since without telephotos they had to be in the
thick of the action to get good shots. They often had to
process their own film in underground tunnels or outdoors at
night, washing film and prints in streams and hanging them
on trees to dry.
The photos in this exhibit could illustrate a manual on
People's War. As much as photographs can, this collection
captures what it was that enabled the Vietnamese to defeat
the enormous, better armed, endlessly financed U.S. war
After seeing the pictures, you know why the Vietnamese won.
Their victory over the U.S. invasion was neither accidental
nor enigmatic. It was to be expected from a people who
obstinately devoted themselves to the war effort, continuing
on in the face of millions of dead, injured or missing,
focusing their considerable energy, strength, cleverness,
righteousness, enthusiasm and will to achieving victory.
Their determination was given focus and organization by
their political leaders, shown in a few frames in a huge
open-air meeting with village militias and soldiers.
PHOTOS TELL POWERFUL STORY
The photos are grouped into five sections to give a rough
continuity to the narrative, and are accompanied by
informative captions. The first and last sections, "The
Waning Days of French Indochina" and "Birth of a Nation,"
are overshadowed by the middle three sections, which contain
the main story.
"The Home Front: A House Divided" refers both to the
division of Vietnam into North and South after its victory
over French colonial rule in 1954 and to the fact that the
war was conducted in the midst of the villages and paddies
of the countryside.
"The Trail" is a look at the incredible and vital effort
embodied in the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The equally enlightening "Quyet Thang: Resolve to Win" shows
the many civilian fronts of the war effort.
There is necessarily considerable overlap among these
sections, but it is not distracting--nothing can take away
the power of the story told by these photographs.
If this exhibit contains one formal lesson, it is that a
photographer exercises judgment when taking a photograph,
selecting from many possible images and perspectives to tell
a story. As much as equipment and location, this choice
shapes the work and its message.
The photos of the Vietnam War available in the U.S. during
and since the war have almost entirely been limited to the
work of photographers who were showing the U.S. war,
including its horrific effects on the Vietnamese. These
photos helped fuel the massive antiwar movement in the U.S.
But something different was needed in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese photographers documented their tumultuous
revolutionary struggle to help their own people understand
and be encouraged by their role in achieving victory. We in
the U.S. sometimes caught a glimpse of this inspiring
perspective when Vietnamese photographers' work was
reprinted in progressive antiwar publications--like Workers
Seeing these inspiring photographs--large, powerful and well-
printed--displayed on the wall of a museum in New York is an
experience that moves you through a range of emotions. Our
movement in the U.S. owes so much to the Vietnamese, and
here we can at last see them at the very moments when they
were doing the ordinary and the extraordinary things that
comprised their struggle. There is no question about the
heroism of those pictured--and those taking the pictures--
but it is the joy, comradeship and determination in going on
with life in the midst of incredible effort and mortal
danger that makes the pictures so striking.
Some observations from seeing the photographs:
* This was a war that could not have been won without the
youth. A teenaged girl is shown pensively playing a guitar,
one of a unit of young girls whose job was to deactivate the
criminal, delayed-fuse bombs the U.S. dropped on the
Vietnamese countryside. The caption states that she and her
entire unit were killed the following day; only bits of
their clothing were left. There is the astonishing picture
of elated young men who have just learned that their
applications to go into the military to fight the U.S. have
been accepted. North Vietnam had no draft until late in the
* It was a war with a role for everyone. A very old man fans
a young truck driver resting in a hammock on break from the
arduous trek on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. A puppet troupe is
shown in the jungle on tour to play for the troops. Women
haul heavy fishing nets on the Mekong, work traditionally
done by men.
* The Ho Chi Minh Trail was an amazing undertaking. It was
begun in 1959 to solve the problem of supplying the forces
operating inside South Vietnam. An early picture shows
people laden with heavy packs laboring up a narrow, rocky
path. Later pictures from the 1970s show trucks traveling in
daylight along the trail, six lanes wide at places, with gas
stations, underground fuel and telegraph lines, and rest
* The battle scenes are very dramatic and were obviously
captured at great risk. There are forests blazing with
napalm. One shot shows soldiers from both sides exchanging
fire. The ARVN unit--the U.S.-backed puppet army of South
Vietnam--was wiped out a short time after the picture was
taken. A shot shows troops moving through a row of houses
using passageways punched through interior walls of adjacent
buildings. This enabled them to move through neighborhoods
with minimum exposure. There are many photos of armed women
militia patrolling, practicing anti-aircraft fire, and with
a captured U.S. pilot.
The exhibit will be shown from April 17 to July 7 at the
National Geographic Explorers Hall in Washington, D.C. A
high-quality catalog has been published which includes all
the pictures and captions plus some additional text:
"Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side"
by Tim Page (National Geographic, 2002, $50.00). The exhibit
appeared earlier at New York's International Center for
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