Examine the qualities that help to make Vietnam war photos particularly powerful.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Any photographs from war are powerful.  They are powerful because they convey the saddest of conditions where human suffering is evident.  They are also powerful because they speak of informational elements in a more compelling manner than the most expository of writing.  This is especially so in photographs of the Vietnam War.

One quality that makes Vietnam War photos particularly powerful is that they show a situation in which there is little or no joy for any of the participants.  There is little in way of victory for the American forces.  Photographs cannot convey victory by attrition.  At the same time, the Viet Cong forces were suffering such heavy casualties that there could be little joy from their point of view.  Victory for the Viet Cong was simply the desire to be left alone.  Finally, the heavy toll suffered by civilians helped to make the Vietnam War a particularly painful exercise in the hell of war.  The photos from the Vietnam War serve as primary sources in conveying this condition of war in which there is little visual evidence of a "winner."

In this light, the photos from the Vietnam War become especially powerful.   They showcase the pain of war.  The photographs bring to light how much suffering and hurt resulted from the terror of the war.  Little tangible evidence is seen as to why the war was effective or how it helped improve the lives of Vietnamese citizens or American soldiers who fought in it.  The photographs of the war were taken without any government limitation, so much of what suffering looks like was captured.  These help to supplement the information and textual data understood about and from the war.  The photographs communicate experience and factual understanding.  Facial expressions, backgrounds, and raw human experience were put to film to illuminate the reality of the war.