Combat cameraman Neil Davis discusses one of the most memorable images of the Vietnam War, when the national police chief shot dead a Vietnamese suspect. Davis tells the full story of how the prisoner was suspected of killing the police chief’s friend, together with his wife and six children. Summary by Damien Parer.
Frontline was nominated for Best Documentary (Feature) at the 1980 Academy Awards.
A fascinating and little-heard first hand account of the circumstances around one of the most famous images to come out of the Vietnamese war.
A biographical documentary about the working life of combat cameraman and correspondent, Neil Davis (1934–1985). The former Tasmanian went to Vietnam in 1974, working for the London based Visnews. He worked alone filming the Vietnam War and continued on into Cambodia. As a war correspondent, he worked at the extreme front-line, filming the Vietnamese army and on several occasions filming the enemy, the Vietcong. The documentary includes a filmed interview with Davis, much of his famous war footage and historical footage.
A fascinating documentary. The viewer sees the remarkable footage taken under fire and hears Neil Davis’s description of the circumstances. He talks about the role of the war correspondent and gives the sense of being engulfed in war when your colleagues and friends are killed.
This clip shows Neil Davis talking about his experiences as an Australian combat cameraman reporting on the Vietnam War. The clip opens with Davis describing the execution of a suspected Vietcong guerilla in the streets of Saigon by the South Vietnamese police general Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Archival footage of some of the civilian victims of the War is presented as Davis’s voice-over explains the background to the execution. South Vietnamese troops are shown taking the suspected Vietcong guerilla to the police chief.
Notes by Damien Parer
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
This clip starts approximately 30 minutes into the documentary.
Cameraman Neil Davis is interviewed by a river bank.
Neil I don’t think anybody can be excused for killing an unarmed man. However, it happens in wartime a lot. General Luang wasn’t exceptional in that. He killed the man, the Vietcong, in the full view of the public in the streets of Saigon. That was exceptional, for a national police chief to do that. There was a reason, of course, from his point of view. Only an hour before, he had learnt that the Vietcong had swept over the police compound in Saigon and his best friend, who was a police colonel, and the colonel’s wife and six children, had all been killed.
Archival footage of young civilian victims of the Vietnam War is presented as Davis’s explains how the deaths of a family known to Nguyen Ngoc Loc may have triggered this shocking public execution.
Neil Of course, the colonel was killed in the course of his duty, but the six children – and General Luang was the godfather to some of those children – had been murdered. Their throats had been cut.
South Vietnamese troops are shown escorting the suspected Vietcong guerrilla down a street where he is confronted by the police general.
Neil When the Vietcong was brought before Luang in the street, he asked where he’d been captured and the troops said he’d been captured near the police compound, whereupon Luang, whatever went through his mind, one can only imagine.