Swanson, "1st Air Cavalry Choppers, 1966" © Dick Swanson
A giant passed this way, its footsteps leaving craters where
children will swim during the rainy season and lovers bathe in
secret when the jungle grows back.
There is Vietnam the war and Viet Nam the country. One word
and two. Different things. This image contains both. What was
done to this land in the name of abstractions was felt by its
people as pain.
When people are told they are to be saved, they shiver, their
skin crawls, they bury their possessions and fear for their
children, wondering where to hide them until the giant passes,
and weep anxiously in their beds. They know days are coming
when some will only weep at graves. They have religions, and
some have always prepared for death, but none wants it, no one
voluntarily wants that silence.
We will save you from yourselves, the giants say. So the
people prepare to die. They may all rise up to defend
themselves from being saved, but still they prepare to die.
A dirt road threads from the upper right out of dense brush,
weaving through a burst of trees across the landscape in a
scar above the ruins. Just before it curves upward and
disappears into jungle, a T is formed by a trail dropping to a
tree shadow or log or trench, and at the top of it, to the
right, a lone figure stands looking down at the shadow or log
or trench, then out at the jungle flesh peeled and blown and
burned from the skull of earth, then up at the metal
hummingbirds, territorial like their avian models.
He is holding a weapon smaller than noise, smaller than his
dreams, and his hand is frozen on the trigger. He is frozen in
time, in a moment that won't come again but will not stop
being, however much he wants to be transported to another
time, a time when he walked that thread with joss sticks to
visit ancestors, a boy who believed in everything.
Footsteps fade. Helicopters pass. In war, the people and the
earth always lose.
The award-winning photographer Dick Swanson went to Vietnam
in 1966, where he worked on contract for Life magazine.
After five years in Vietnam, Life moved him to its
Washington, D.C., bureau where he was White House
Swanson has photographed for People, Money, National
Geographic, The Washington Post, and Newsweek.
The poet and writer George Evans spent two years as a U.S.
Air Force medic in Vietnam. The author of four books of
poetry, he is the founder and editor of Streetfare
Journal, which displays modern poetry and art on 14,000
buses in 16 American cities.
Under Fire: Images from Vietnam
is a multimedia project that sells museum-quality prints of
exclusive images of the Vietnam War by top war photographers