Another Vietnam
February 13, 2016 12:03 PM   Subscribe

These are great. Never having thought about it before it is kind of weird how I never saw images from the winning side and more importantly never thought that was weird before.
One photographer, Tram Am, only had a single roll of film, 70 frames, for the duration of the war.
It's too bad none of the selected images were from Tram Am; I would have liked to see what kind of work they managed under that kind of constraint.

I wonder if this book is the kind of thing one can get via ILL.
posted by Mitheral at 12:36 PM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

That operating theater in the swamp!
posted by jacquilynne at 12:41 PM on February 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Thanks infini.
This is the End
"In the early 1990s, photojournalists Tim Page and Doug Niven started tracking down surviving photographers".
Another Vietnam
posted by adamvasco at 12:42 PM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Great pictures!
posted by grubby at 12:43 PM on February 13, 2016

These are extraordinary. The one of the woman pulling chains out of the swamp is like a Renaissance master.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:57 PM on February 13, 2016

Can't wait to get back to broadband and see these photos.
posted by glasseyes at 1:00 PM on February 13, 2016

posted by colie at 2:03 PM on February 13, 2016

These photos are great, but man, this amazing.
posted by NoMich at 2:20 PM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Worldcat shows it in 536 libraries, and at least a handful of the ones by me are public libraries-- I think there is a very good chance one could get this through ILL.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:28 PM on February 13, 2016

I work in ILL for a major library, and yes, you should be able to get that through ILL without any problem.
posted by teponaztli at 3:39 PM on February 13, 2016

Amazing. This is the one that really grabs me. When I travelled to Vietnam in 2002 I remember being surprised to hear about "The American War". It had never occurred to my younger self that of course the war would have a different name in Vietnam. Visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City was also eye opening, even more so when I learned that the museum had previously been called the Museum of American War Crimes (though the translation is different in the Wikipedia article, so maybe I got a bad translation back then).

Photography played such a huge role in the war, from Malcom Browne's photo of Thích Quảng Đức, the colour images by Larry Burrows and others in LIFE magazine, and later the My Lai images, and of course Nick Ut's famous photo of Phan Thị Kim Phúc.

Fascinating to see some of these images from the other side.
posted by Cuke at 4:38 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unseen, rare images of the Vietnam War from the winning side

Now that is out of the way, Elephant Division is amazing and the discarded shoes are chilling.
posted by Mezentian at 6:20 PM on February 13, 2016

Amazing photos. It's so important to see both sides of any given conflict.

My father was in Vietnam in 1969 as a Commonwealth observer, stationed in Hanoi. He made a number of trips to the south and on one such trip he and a few friends decided to drive from Saigon down to the beach. My dad had a slide film camera with him. After a short while on the beach they noticed huge explosions detonating on the nearby hills. At that point they decided it was time to leave, and they piled into their cars and started driving back to Saigon. On the road off the beach they had to squeeze past a number of Australian Centurion Tanks that were in the process of shelling the mountainside. The Aussie tank crews, shirtless and drinking beers, gave my dad one of the 105mm shell casings. It sits in my study now - I'm looking at it as I type this.

I visited Vietnam a number of years ago. I visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon and saw the defoliant/Agent Orange display, the displays on napalm and the guillotine and tiger cages used on captured insurgents. I went to the Cu Chi tunnels, crawled through the tiny, claustrophobic passages and saw the punji pits and booby traps. I was brought to a clearing in the jungle where my guide pointed up to the sky poking through the canopy and then pointed at the mangled chunk of scar tissue on his arm and shoulder and told me about the American helicopter that was once hovering there, shooting at him.

Driving back to the city from the tunnel site I noticed how the jungle was fairly sparse, enough that you could see quite far into it, and as far as you could see the ground undulated every ten meters or so, like giant inverted bubble wrap. They were bomb craters - more bombs were dropped on Vietnam during the war than were dropped by all the combatants of World War II combined.

Back in my hotel in Ho Chi Minh city I ran into an older American gent at the bar. We got to talking, and he told me in his thick Texan accent about the construction company he owned back in the States. He told me about how he'd been an infantryman back in the sixties. He told me about how he's visited the country almost every year for a decade to do charity work, trying to build where he once tried to tear down.
posted by dazed_one at 8:57 PM on February 13, 2016 [13 favorites]

These photos are unbelievably stunning. I wish I knew more people who were ready to thoughtfully reconsider and reexplore their understanding of the war in Vietnam.
posted by desuetude at 9:18 PM on February 13, 2016

Saw this on Reddit last week. A comment there that completely changed how I viewed one of the photos (already impressed, but now I like it even more): in the 1973 photo of the woman standing guard in the Mekong Delta, check out the illusory skull formed by the shadows in her shirt.
posted by barnacles at 10:27 PM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

check out the illusory skull formed by the shadows in her shirt.

This one?

Clearly PsyOps photoshopping, while they were too busy staring at goats.

But, really, as soon as I saw it, I could not unsee it.
That (and the brain) is amazing.
posted by Mezentian at 10:35 PM on February 13, 2016

Given they lost almost 3 million people in the conflict and its aftermath, I have a major problem with the idea that the Viet Cong could be described as the "winners" of the Vietnam war. Everyone lost in this pointless, unnecessary and immoral war.
posted by smithsmith at 12:43 AM on February 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

These are amazing.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:15 AM on February 14, 2016

I have a major problem with the idea that the Viet Cong could be described as the "winners" of the Vietnam war.

I can't speak for infini, but I'm guessing it's a nod at the US arguing it won this war, more than any actual victory.
posted by Mezentian at 7:11 AM on February 14, 2016

Well, for what it's worth, the Vietnamese i spoke with about it all definitely felt that the north won the war.

Seeing as the Viet Cong essentially ceased to exist after the Tet offensive it would be hard to say that they specifically won, but the NVA really did accomplish it's strategic aims.
posted by dazed_one at 8:07 AM on February 14, 2016

The ones who get to write the history are the winners

What's the time? It's time to get interlibrary loan.
posted by otherchaz at 8:49 AM on February 14, 2016

tl;dr / winners v losers: it's about the dead, but not about the body count.

I read an autobiography a couple years ago about a North Vietnamese photographer who rinsed his negatives in a puddle in the mouth of a cave. Also, about the porters who marched sections of the HCM trail pushing bicycles. A popular saying in those days was "Born in the North to die in the south." Small villages, many hidden underground, were built at certain points along the way south, where permanent cadres of medics and other support personnel gave food and shelter to those marching south. Tales of those trips, the layover points, were numerous, almost like soap operas. Going South. Short romances, people left behind, people who never returned. The article I read mentions personal items gathered from fallen soldiers left at these way stations, to be sent, if possible, up north. For me, this was a painful read.

Watching American TV I would assume that the American Air Force won the war. We like to have bags over our heads, I guess. I know people who have returned there to see what the place is like when you aren't looking for targets or booby traps or ambushes. They don't see the same place. Most of them don't even see the government anymore, just the people. One of my friends took a few of his old combat buddies back to Zulu-Zulu. It was a tough hike for those old farts, because only trails were available, and it was a couple of miles from the road. The jungle had healed, but the area was familiar, and he found a corroded M-16 round, left over from that battle. He brought it back for reasons I can only guess at. One of the guys who went back with him was a helicopter pilot whose Huey was shot down during the battle; he survived the crash and spent the next few days as an infantryman.

I came to Vietnam after having spent a year on Okinawa. I was a soldier. I was 19 years old, and went on to spend a couple months shy of two years in Vietnam. My teams sat on trails that branched off from the area we call "The HMC trail," along the Vietnam border with Laos. We watched new recruits and porters coming down from the north. In our area it was all foot traffic, or push-cycles. They could get two or three hundred pounds of stuff in side boxes on each bike. They used trail crews to keep the trails in shape--packed earth, culverts, other sophisticated engineering tactics. In some places the crews put ropes from one treetop to another, and pulled the limbs together a bit to hide the trails from aerial observation. In triple canopy jungle the ground is not usually thick with secondary brush--a huge green room, a three-hundred foot ceiling, vague walls. Light filtering in reaches you only after it's been tinted and softened. Rare clearings create dramatic and wonderful scenes. At night its as dark as a cave. Our mission at these places was to find the trails leading to the supporting encampments, and locate clearings that might support a helicopter assault. A typical day was spent lying in brush near a trail waiting for them to come by. We counted heads, noted equipment, and sent the information back by radio. Some days we were well enough hidden that I never saw any of my team mates the whole day, until we pulled off the trail for the night. We each kept a notebook, and tallied our notes before each report, to be as accurate as possible: S.A.L.U.T.E. = Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Terrain, Equipment. We had a shackle code, so that we could transmit each line using squelch breaks, if we weren't able to talk or whisper.

Although we had Vietnamese Rangers on our teams for a while, I never learned more than a few words and phrases of their language--combat pidgin, I guess. Among the persistent images I retain is the view from the door of a Huey coming in on a hot combat assault, thin columns of smoke rising from the spotting rounds used by either bird dogs or artillery batteries. Soundless concussive waves from rockets and artillery pushing at my eardrums--can't hear much else over the noise of the rotors--tracers green and red passing one another. At a thousand feet elevation the spectacle was unique, and my perspective collapsed as soon as we dropped into the LZ.

I always wanted to know more. The people there were beautiful. But beauty is fickle. Walking through a village the people gather outside their dwellings, moving slowly, stoic. We watched them over the muzzles of our rifles. I was in a fight one day when a platoon of Main Force VC had not had time to slip away before we entered. Gunfight in a village. It's just like it seems, no place to hide, no time to think. We searched their villages without their permission, looked under their beds for bolt-holes to tunnels and weapons caches; we might drop a grenade in the well to see if it led to a water trap--they built entrances to tunnels, sometimes, that were like the water trap in your sink. A grenade would empty the trap, and we would send a tunnel rat in to see what was there. That's a lot of what we saw up in the Cu chi area, and down in C-Zone.

Another image I retain is at the dump, back at our base in Bien Hoa. Mothers brought their children out there to scavenge our mess haul slop for edibles. The theory is that we would let children approach, but not adults, because, well, a lot of the adults would try to kill us, but they were reluctant to put their children in harm's way. We let them forage our slop. Their mothers looked at us with hard eyes--shame and hatred? I don't know, but I hated that duty more than I did our combat assignments. I say I always wanted to know more, actually have thought about going back for a visit, but I will never do that.

Erratum: The rifles in this picture aren't anymore antiquated than was the AK-47. They are Type 56 SKS carbines, probably Chinese, possibly Soviet, a 7.62 mm, gas operated semi-automatic weapon that holds (I believe) ten rounds in its clip--as far as I know this rifle (typ56) didn't use a magazine. Also, the bayonet--these have a spike bayonet that's maybe 18 inches long. The open sights are as good as anything you'll find anywhere. At 100 meters they perform as well as any rifle in any army anywhere. They are slightly heftier than the American M2 carbine. Also, the goddam bayonet.

"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."

posted by mule98J at 12:04 PM on February 14, 2016 [20 favorites]

@Cuke, I was in Vietnam in the Fall of 2001 (I visited My Lai the day after the US started raining bombs on Afghanistan following Sept 11). I recall seeing photos from Tim Page's Another Vietnam in the War Remnants Museum.
posted by thaths at 9:41 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Growing up as an expat in the emerging newly independent nations of the ASEAN, just miles south of this arena, in the 70s & 80s, meant that the spectre of "communists in the jungle" was the backdrop to all the news of the day. Reminiscent, faintly, of "terrorists on the plane" that's this era's theme
posted by infini at 11:42 PM on February 14, 2016

Certainly, one of the most touching series of Vietnam War.
posted by pashminu at 8:40 PM on February 25, 2016

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