Unseen Pictures of The Vietnam War From The Other Side

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What the western world remembers about the Vietnam War is defined by a handful of iconic photographs taken through the lenses of American and other western photographers. But the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had hundreds of photographers of their own who worked in perilous conditions documenting every facet of the war. They worked for the Vietnam News Agency, the National Liberation Front, the North Vietnamese Army or various newspapers. Others were self-taught civilians, many of whom anonymously sent their films to news agencies. Many of these photographs are rarely seen, even in Vietnam.

When photojournalist Doug Niven first went to Hanoi, he expected to see the war from the Vietnamese perspective, but to his surprise, there was not even a North Vietnamese book on the war. There were a few Vietnamese publications with pictures from the war, but not a single comprehensive attempt to put all the war images together. So in the early 1990s, he started tracking down the surviving photographers.

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Niven started off with the official channels and the government news agency. He then worked through a large photographers association and eventually, by word of mouth, he came across photographers who served in the war. Nine out of ten Vietnamese photographers were killed in the field, taken by bullets and bombs, while others succumbed to dysentery and malaria. Many of the surviving ones he interviewed didn't even know each other.

Niven recovered thousands of images, many of which were still in negatives —never printed.

“There was one photographer, actually a reporter who had a camera. He used only one roll of film for the duration of the war because didn't know how to change it and he was too scared to open the camera in case he ruined the film,” Doug Niven tells National Geographic.

Many photographers worked in very difficult and dangerous conditions. They didn’t have dark rooms so they would process their film in the middle of the night, under the stars. Some photographers mixed their chemicals in little teacup saucers, and often they would process only half a roll at a time because they did not want to risk ruining the entire roll. For flash photography, some used gunpowder from rifle cartridges and set a match to it.

“We had to be extremely careful because we had limited amounts of film that had been distributed to us by our paper. For us, one photo was like a bullet,” said Nguyen Dinh Uu, one of the photographers.

Out of thousands of images found, one hundred eighty were selected, and along with the stories of the courageous men who made them, were printed into a book “Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side”, published by the National Geographic.

“I was curious about what pictures filled the memories of the Vietnamese people and if their view of the war was impacted by images in the same way. This book is an attempt to put together pictures showing how Vietnamese people viewed the war, and what those photographs looked like,” said Doug Niven.

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1970. A guerrilla in the Mekong Delta paddles through a mangrove forest defoliated by Agent Orange. The Americans denuded the landscape with chemicals to deny cover to the Viet Cong. The photographer was sickened by what he saw, since the Vietnamese regard mangrove forests as bountiful areas for agriculture and fishing.

Image: Le Minh Truong/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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1972. Activists meet in the Nam Can forest, wearing masks to hide their identities from one another in case of capture and interrogation. From here in the mangrove swamps of the Mekong Delta, forwarding images to the North was difficult. "Sometimes the photos were lost or confiscated on the way," said the photographer.

Image: Vo Anh Khanh/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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1974. Women haul in heavy fishing nets on the upper branch of the Mekong River, taking over a job usually done exclusively by men.

Image: Le Minh Truong/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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June 1972. Militia members sort through the debris of an American plane downed by small-arms fire in the Hanoi suburbs. The pilot had been flying at treetop level to avoid radar detection, but such low-flying planes were more vulnerable to small arms. U.S. planes targeted Hanoi industrial sites, but most industries were relocated to the countryside.

Image: Doan Cong Tinh/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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1972. Guerillas guard an outpost on the Vietnam-Cambodia border protected by poisoned bamboo punji stakes. Sharpened then hardened with fire, punji stakes were often hidden where enemy soldiers would step on them. Such booby traps were meant to wound, not kill, because wounded soldiers slowed down their unit, and medevacs gave away its position.

Image: Le Minh Truong/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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Date unknown. Viet Cong meet the enemy face-to-face, most likely in the Mekong Delta or Plain of Reeds. This rare image shows both sides in combat, ARVN soldiers at the top and Viet Cong in the foreground. The VC have flanked the enemy at left and right, which likely meant the ARVN unit was wiped out.

Image: Hoang Mai/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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April 30, 1975. Combat boots litter the road on the outskirts of Saigon, abandoned by ARVN soldiers who shed their uniforms to hide their status. "I'll never forget the shoes and the loud 'thump, thump, thump' sound as we drove over them," recalled the photographer. "Decades of war were over and we finally had peace."

Image: Duong Thanh Phong/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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May 1975. Elders from North and South embrace, having lived to see Vietnam reunited and unoccupied by foreign powers.

Image: Vo Anh Khanh/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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July 1967. New recruits undergo physical examinations in Haiphong. The North's volunteer system was transformed into a mandatory system in 1973, when all able-bodied males were drafted. From a corps of around 35,000 men in 1950, the NVA grew to over half a million men by the mid-'70s, a force the U.S. military conceded was one of the finest in the world.

Image: Bao Hanh/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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September 1965. Using overhead targets, a militia company practices firing ahead of speeding aircraft in Thanh Tri. Even using antiquated WWII rifles such as these, the Vietnamese were able to cripple or down many U.S. aircraft. This militia group, Company #6 of the Yen My Commune, earned the title of "Excellent Militia" three years in a row.

Image: Minh Dao/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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1973. Construction workers discuss repairs of the bombed out Ham Rong Bridge, in central North Vietnam. The only route across the Ma River for heavy trucks and machinery, the bridge was heavily defended, and several U.S. planes were shot down nearby. An American MIA search team found pilot remains there.

Image: Unknown Photographer/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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1966. Troops walk the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the Truong Son Mountains, which form the 750-mile-long spine of Vietnam, stretching along much of the country's western border. To the soldiers of the North, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was known as the Truong Son Road.

Image: Le Minh Truong/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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March 1971. Laotian guerrillas haul supplies by elephant and foot to NVA troops near Route 9 in southern Laos during South Vietnam's attempted interdiction of the trail. The invasion, Operation Lam Son 719, was intended to test ARVN's ability as U.S. support was winding down. It proved disastrous, with Southern troops fleeing in panic.

Image: Doan Cong Tinh/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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1973. A Viet Cong guerrilla stands guard in the Mekong Delta. "You could find women like her almost everywhere during the war," said the photographer. "She was only 24 years old but had been widowed twice. Both her husbands were soldiers. I saw her as the embodiment of the ideal guerrilla woman, who'd made great sacrifices for her country."

Image: Le Minh Truong/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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Sept. 15, 1970. A victim of American bombing, ethnic Cambodian guerrilla Danh Son Huol is carried to an improvised operating room in a mangrove swamp on the Ca Mau Peninsula. This scene was an actual medical situation, not a publicity setup. The photographer, however, considered the image unexceptional and never printed it.

Image: Vo Anh Khanh/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

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1972. NVA soldiers dash across open ground near strategic Highway 9 in southern Laos during Operation Lam Son 719, the South's failed attempt to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Image: Nguyen Dinh Uu/Another Vietnam/National Geographic Books

via Mashable

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5 comments:

  1. excellent point of view.
    The western world never had any business in that part of the world. Nor French or USA.

    Trapped in the last remnants of an old world collonialism mentality we seem to feel the need to police world. Usually leaving a bigger mess then the one we found when we arrived.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Greate pictures! War really is hard for anyone.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Decades of war were over and we finally had peace." Is it really?? This is totally propaganda.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Not my coffee table book at $1000.

    ReplyDelete

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