September 11, 2013 3:59 AM EDT

Like the soldiers he was photographing, Art Greenspon was in his 20s when he traveled to Vietnam to document the war. After five months in-country, Greenspon went on a two-day patrol with soldiers in the A Shau valley, just inside the Laotian border. There, after an ambush and subsequent firefight, Greenspon made a photograph that David Douglas Duncan, the famous TIME-LIFE war photographer, lauded as the “best picture yet of the Vietnam War.”

One week after that fateful patrol, Greenspon was wounded when a spent shell hit him in the face. Greenspon returned to the U.S., worked as a photographer for the The New York Times, and transitioned to a successful career in finance.

But he wasn’t done. At the age of 69, Greenspon earned a masters degree in clinical social work with the goal of helping veterans. “I know how hard it is to recover from PTSD, trauma and addictions,” he says. “In the final years of my life, I am dedicated to helping troops recover from the horrors of war.”

TIME asked photographer Peter van Agtmael to speak with Greenspon about his career. Van Agtmael, age 32, has spent the past seven years documenting the United States’ extended conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their affects back home. Their edited conversation appears below.

Peter van Agtmael: Tell us about your background. Why did you become a photographer?

Art Greenspon: My father had an old Zeiss Ikon he brought back from World War II. I loved it, but he would never let me use it. Instead he bought me a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. I have fond memories of taking over the downstairs bathroom making contact prints under the red light we screwed in above the sink.

While I was working at WCBS-TV in New York I drove the old-time cameramen crazy asking them how their cameras worked and why they were shooting this or that angle. I was more interested in what they were doing than in some of the bullshit stories I had to cover. I quit the glamour job in TV news and took one as a darkroom assistant in a small commercial studio paying sixty dollars a week. I was happy as a clam!

Why did you go to Vietnam? Tell me a little bit about your time there before taking the famous picture.

The biggest news story in the mid-Sixties was Vietnam. On the weekends, I’d go out into the streets to shoot the protest and the support-the-troops demonstrations — but I always seemed to come away with better snaps of the “Support Our Boys” folks.

Knowing how to program a computer is good for you, and it's a shame that more people don't learn to do it. For years now, that’s been a hugely popular stance. It's led to educational initiatives as effortless-sounding as the Hour of Code (offered by Code.org) and as ambitious as Code Year (spearheaded by Codecademy). Even President Obama has chimed in: Last December, he issued a YouTube video in which he urged young people to take up programming, declaring that “learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future.” I find the "everybody should learn to code" movement laudable. And yet it also leaves me wistful, even melancholy. Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC. [caption id="attachment_78040" align="alignright" width="285"] John Kemeny shows off his vanity license plate in 1967 Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] Invented by John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz of Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, BASIC was first successfully used to run programs on the school’s General Electric computer system fifty years ago this week--at 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964, to be precise. The two math professors deeply believed that computer literacy would be essential in the years to come, and designed the language--its name stood for "Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code"--to be as approachable as possible. It worked: at first at Dartmouth, then at other schools. In the 1970s and early 1980s, when home computers came along, BASIC did as much as anything else to make them useful. Especially the multiple versions of the language produced by a small company named Microsoft. That's when I was introduced to the language; when I was in high school, I was more proficient in it than I was in written English, because it mattered more to me. (I happen to have been born less than a month before BASIC was, which may or may not have anything to do with my affinity for it.) BASIC wasn't designed to change the world. "We were thinking only of Dartmouth," says Kurtz, its surviving co-creator. (Kemeny died in 1992.) "We needed a language that could be 'taught' to virtually all students (and faculty) without their having to take a course." Their brainchild quickly became the standard way that people everywhere learned to program computers, and remained so for many years. But thinking of its invention as a major moment only in the history of computer languages dramatically understates its significance. In the mid-1960s, using a computer was generally like playing chess by mail: You used a keypunch to enter a program on cards, turned them over to a trained operator and then waited for a printout of the results, which might not arrive until the next day. BASIC and the platform it ran on, the Dartmouth Time Sharing System, both sped up the process and demystified it. You told the computer to do something by typing words and math statements, and it did it, right away. Today, we expect computers--and phones, and tablets and an array of other intelligent devices--to respond to our instructions and requests as fast as we can make them. In many ways, that era of instant gratification began with what Kemeny and Kurtz created. You might assume that a programming language whose primary purpose was to help almost anybody become computer literate would be uncontroversial—maybe even universally beloved. You'd be wrong. BASIC always had its critics among serious computer science types, who accused it of promoting bad habits. Even its creators became disgruntled with the variations on their original idea which proliferated in the 1970s and 1980s. And eventually, BASIC went away, at least as a staple of computing in homes and schools. Nobody conspired to get rid of it; no one factor explains its gradual disappearance from the scene. But some of us miss it terribly. When it comes to technology, I don't feel like a grumpy old man. Nearly always, I believe that the best of times is now. But I don’t mind saying this: The world was a better place when almost everybody who used PCs at least dabbled in BASIC. BASIC Beginnings Sooner or later, it was inevitable that someone would come up with a programming language aimed at beginners. But BASIC as it came to be was profoundly influenced by the fact that it was created at a liberal arts college with a forward-thinking mathematic program. And Dartmouth was that place largely because of the vision of its math department chairman, John Kemeny. Born in Budapest in 1926 and Jewish, Kemeny came to the United States in 1940 along with the rest of his family to flee the Nazis. He attended Princeton, where he took a year off to contribute to the Manhattan Project and was inspired by a lecture about computers by the pioneering mathematician and physicist John von Neumann. Kemeny worked as Albert Einstein’s mathematical assistant before arriving at Dartmouth as a professor in 1953, where he was named chairman of the mathematics department two years later at the age of 29 and became known for his inventive approach to the teaching of math. When the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gave the university a $500,000 grant to build a new home for the department in 1959, TIME noted the news and said it was mostly due to Kemeny’s reputation. http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,825616,00.html BASIC sprung from “a general belief on Kemeny's part that liberal arts education was important, and should include some serious and significant mathematics--but math not disconnected from the general goals of liberal arts education,” says Dan Rockmore, the current chairman of Dartmouth’s math department and one of the creators of a new documentary on BASIC’s birth. (It’s premiering at Dartmouth’s celebration of BASIC’s 50th anniversary this Wednesday.) In the early 1960s, average citizens--even those who happened to be students at Ivy League schools with computing centers--had never encountered a computer in person. The machines were kept "behind locked doors, where only guys--and, once in a while, a woman--in white coats were able to access them," Rockmore says. Kemeny believed that these electronic brains would play an increasingly important role in everyday life, and that everyone at Dartmouth should be introduced to them. “Our vision was that every student on campus should have access to a computer, and any faculty member should be able to use a computer in the classroom whenever appropriate,” he said in a 1991 video interview. “It was as simple as that.” Of course, Dartmouth couldn’t give a computer to every student and faculty member: Computers were a pricey shared resource, normally capable of performing only one task at a time. That’s why you typically handed your program over on punch cards and waited your turn. Tom Kurtz, who had joined Dartmouth’s math department in 1956, proposed using a relatively new concept called time-sharing. It would divvy up one system’s processing power to serve multiple people at a time. With what came to be known as the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, or DTSS, a user sitting at a terminal would be able to compose programs and run them immediately. “If you're trying to get a student interested in the idea of computing, you need some immediacy in the turnaround,” says Rockmore. “You don't want to ship a ten-line program off to a computer center before you know if you've got it right.” [caption id="attachment_78044" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Tom Kurtz (standing) works with Michael Busch, co-programmer of the DTSS, with the GE-225 mainframe in the background Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] But what sort of programs? In the past, Kemeny and Kurtz had made two unsuccessful stabs at creating computer languages for beginners: Darsimco (Dartmouth Simplified Code) and DOPE (Dartmouth Oversimplified Programming Experiment). But this time they considered modifying an existing language. "I tried, briefly, to develop simple subsets of Fortran and ALGOL, but found quickly that such could not be done," Kurtz says. Even the most common of tasks could be tricky in Fortran, which had an "almost impossible-to-memorize convention for specifying a loop: 'DO 100, I = 1, 10, 2.' Is it '1, 10, 2' or '1, 2, 10', and is the comma after the line number required or not?" Kemeny and Kurtz decided they needed something so straightforward that it almost didn't involve memorization at all. "We wanted the syntax of the language to consist of common words, and to have those words have a more-or-less obvious meaning," says Kurtz. "It is a slight stretch, but isn't it simpler to use HELLO and GOODBYE in place of LOGON and LOGOFF?" BASIC was primarily Kemeny's idea, and he wrote the first version himself. Starting in September 1963, he and Kurtz began the overarching effort to get the language and the DTSS up and running. They led a team of a dozen undergraduate students. “We used to work all night and then go to sleep,” remembers John McGeachie, the co-author of the DTSS software. “Kemeny would work with us, and then go teach math to undergraduates.” A $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation helped fund the undertaking, which required not one but two powerful computers, both from General Electric. A GE-225 mainframe (quickly replaced with a GE-235) did the heavy lifting of performing floating-point math, while a smaller Datanet-30 coordinated communications with Teletype machines--essentially glorified typewriters--which students would use to do their programming. "We were not working under much constraints," Kurtz says. "We had 16K of 20-bit words to work with." Though a rounding error by today’s standards, it was a generous amount of memory at the time: Years later, when others adapted BASIC for PCs, they sometimes had to cram it into as little as 3K of 8-bit memory, resulting in cut-down, ungainly implementations of the language which Kemeny and Kurtz bemoaned. [caption id="attachment_78033" align="aligncenter" width="3500"]An early Dartmouth BASIC program, performing a simple math exercise, as run on a simulator of the university's time-sharing system Harry McCracken / TIME[/caption] Unlike many BASICs to come, Dartmouth BASIC was a compiler, which meant that it converted your entire program into machine code which the computer could understand in one fell swoop, rather than line by line every time you ran the program. It performed that task rapidly, especially by the leisurely standards of 1960s computing: "If you were writing a very simple program, you'd get your answer in a second or so," McGeachie says. "It might take longer to print it out, because the Teletypes were only capable of doing ten characters a second." In June 1964, the DTSS and BASIC became available to Dartmouth students, initially on eleven Teletype machines. It had fourteen commands, all with straightforward names and syntax which made sense: PRINT output text and numbers to the Teletype (and, later on, displayed it on the screens of time-sharing terminals and PCs); LET told the computer to perform calculations and assign the result to a variable, in statements such as LET C = (A*2.5)+B; IF and THEN let the program determine if a statement was true, vital for anything involving decision-making;. FOR and NEXT let a program run in loops; END, which was required in Dartmouth BASIC, told the computer that it had reached the program’s conclusion. Then there was INPUT, a command which let a BASIC program accept alphanumeric characters typed in by a user. It wasn’t among the initial fourteen, arriving only in the third revision of the language in 1966. But when it did, it made it possible to write far more interactive programs. Without INPUT, BASIC was mostly for solving math problems and doing simple simulations; with it, the language could do almost anything. Including play games, which many people came to consider the language’s defining purpose. You could write a fairly long and sophisticated program in BASIC. (An early manual stated the maximum program length as “about two feet of teletype paper.”) But you could also make the computer do something interesting and useful with just a few lines of code, shortly after you’d encountered the language for the first time. That was the whole point. It mattered to Kemeny and Kurtz that access to BASIC and the DTSS be as open as possible. “Any student can enter the Library, browse among the books or take some back to his room. No one asks him why he wants the book, and he does not need anyone’s permission,” Kemeny wrote in a brochure for the university’s Kiewit Computation Center, which opened in 1966. “Similarly, any student may walk into the Kiewit Computation Center, sit down at a console, and use the time-sharing system. No one will ask if he is solving a serious research problem, doing his homework the easy way, playing a game of football, or writing a letter to his girlfriend.” (Dartmouth, incidentally, was a male-only institution at the time of BASIC’s creation: Kemeny himself took it co-ed in 1972 as president of the university, a position he held from from 1970-1981.) What Kemeny was describing in the Kiewit brochure was personal computing. It’s just that the term hadn’t been invented yet. Even the concept was still audacious. Dartmouth BASIC did everything that Kemeny and Kurtz hoped it would, and more. In a triumphant 1967 report, they said that by the end of that academic year, 2000 Dartmouth students--representing 80 percent of the three incoming freshman classes who had arrived since BASIC’s invention--would have learned about computers by writing and debugging their own programs. Many continued to do so after completing the BASIC classwork that was a mandatory part of the school’s math program. Forty percent of faculty members--not just math and science teachers--also used the system. "Anyone who tries to convince a Dartmouth undergraduate either that computers are to be feared or that they are of little use, will be met with well-founded scorn," the report said. "The Dartmouth student knows better--and knows it from personal experience." Dartmouth provided access to the DTSS over telephone lines to other east coast schools, including Harvard and Princeton, as well as to some high schools. It also helped other institutions implement time-sharing systems and BASIC, while General Electric commercialized the DTSS and Dartmouth BASIC and sold them to business customers. Other computer companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation and HP introduced their own BASICs. Dartmouth’s effort to democratize computing was, in short, a huge success. “Qualitatively, I was right on the impact,” Kemeny said in the 1991 interview. “Quantitatively, I vastly underestimated it. That is, it had impact on many, many more courses than I thought, and the amount of impact was much greater--courses being totally changed because of the availability of computers. I also underestimated, of course, how far educational computing would spread all over the world.” Not everybody was happy with the way the language put computing within reach of mere mortals. Its most articulate and vociferous opponent was Edsger Dijkstra (1930-2002), an influential computer scientist. “It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC,” he wrote in 1975, in an essay titled How Do We Tell Truths That Might Hurt. “As potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.” Now, it’s possible that Dijkstra was exaggerating for dramatic effect. BASIC wasn’t his only bete noire among programming languages: He also spewed bile in the direction of FORTRAN (an “infantile disorder”), PL/1 (“fatal disease”) and COBOL (“criminal offense”). Still, his point is disproven by the countless programmers who started out with BASIC and went on to have thriving careers. And the thing is, some of the characteristics which have given BASIC a bad reputation are precisely the same ones which made it so easy to learn. For instance, BASIC offered GOTO, a command which let you jump from anywhere in your program to anywhere else in it—a practice which could result in messy “spaghetti code.” (In 1968, Dijkstra devoted an entire essay to his contempt for the command, “Go To Statement Considered Harmful.” ) A thoughtful programmer could indeed compose fastidious code which didn’t GOTO. But insisting that liberal arts students obsess about tidy programming techniques was hardly a way to make computers less threatening. For them, GOTO was a godsend. In its classic form, BASIC also made you organize your programs with line numbers—such as the 10 in 10 PRINT “HELLO”—a convention that was arguably superfluous and eventually fell by the wayside. But line numbers helped emphasize the sequential nature of computer programs, which, regardless of the language in question, consist of a task broken down into steps. In How Do We Tell Truths That Might Hurt?, Dijkstra tips his hand by calling programming “one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics” and suggesting that less talented mathematicians not even bother with it. If that was his take in 1975, he couldn’t simultaneously approve of BASIC. Either the programming of computers was exceptionally hard and should be left to the experts, or it was something that could and should be democratized, as BASIC had already done. Not both. Today, Kurtz is blunt about criticism of the language he co-created as being insufficiently serious or a dangerous way to begin learning about computer programming. “It's B.S.,” he says. “I'll go out on a limb and suggest the degrading of BASIC by the professionals was just a little bit of jealousy--after all, it took years for us to develop our skill; how is it that complete idiots can write programs with just a few hours of skill?” BASIC may not have made sense to people like Edsger Dijkstra. That was O.K.—it wasn’t meant for them. It made plenty of sense to newbies who simply wanted to teach computers to do useful things from almost the moment they started to learn about programming. And in 1975, as Dijkstra was accusing it of mutilating minds, there were about to be far more of those people than ever before. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHi3VFOL-AI [caption id="attachment_78042" align="aligncenter" width="560"] John Kemeny teaches BASIC to students at Dartmouth (not yet a co-ed institution) Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_78035" align="alignright" width="272"] Member of Dartmouth's Glee Club perform a very early form of computer dating with women in California via the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_78038" align="alignright" width="294"] John Kemeny checks out program written by his daughter Jennifer on the family's "home computer," a terminal on the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_78040" align="alignright" width="285"] John Kemeny shows off his vanity license plate in 1967 Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] This one-line Commodore 64 program, which prints a never-ending , maze-like pattern, inspired an entire book of essays in 2012[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] Android Nim[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] This very early Apple II clone of Atari's Breakout--later known as Brick Out and Little Brick Out--was written by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak himself, in Integer BASIC, which he also wrote[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] David Plotkin's Munchkin Attack, an Atari game published as a type-in in SoftSide magazine in 1982, may remind you of a more famous arcade game. Being in BASIC, it can just barely manage to move two on-screen characters at once[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] DONKEY.BAS shipped with the original IBM PC in 1981. The most notable thing about it is its co-author, a fellow by the name of Bill Gates[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69329" align="alignright" width="208"] BASIC creators Thomas Kurtz (left) and John Kemeny in the mid-1980s, showing their True BASIC running on a Mac and an IBM PC Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69331" align="alignright" width="300"] Paul Allen (left) and Bill Gates in 1981, surrounded by some of the computers which ran their version of BASIC Microsoft[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69331" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Paul Allen (left) and Bill Gates in 1981, surrounded by some of the computers which ran their version of BASIC Microsoft[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69334" align="aligncenter" width="560"] David Ahl's seminal anthology of BASIC games, in its original form as published by Digital Equipment Corp. and a later version rejiggered for PCs David Ahl[/caption]
Courtesy Art Greenspon

Every Memorial Day, my dad would take the whole family to see the parade in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His eyes would well up with tears every time an American flag went by. He obviously had been very moved by his own war experience and my brother and I had been raised to honor and respect our country and the men and women of the armed services. I had no strong personal feelings one way or the other on Vietnam at first, but I knew I would never find the “truth” at home. The truth was over there in Vietnam.

And Tim Page! He blew into my life, into everyone’s life, like a twister. Chain smoking, hard drinking, reefer madness personified. Sex, drugs and rock and roll — that was Page. And he liked my pictures! “Garspon” he nicknamed me. “You’ve got to go. I’ll introduce you to Bill Snead at UPI.” And Snead liked my pictures, too. “I can’t get you there” Snead told me. “But if you get to Saigon, you can string for us.”

I got $600 for my Volkswagen beetle, bought a one-way ticket to Saigon, got a 10-day tourist visa and set out to show the world “the truth” about Vietnam. I arrived on Christmas Day of 1967. I was too naive to be scared.

Bill Snead and some friends at CBS showed me the ropes. I spent a few weeks going out with various units without much success. But I turned in my film to Snead, and he bought three pictures, let me crash at the UPI barracks, and was OK with me taking the outs over to Horst Faas at AP. Faas bought another eight, so I was flush with $165 and a safe place to flop. And so it went. I would go north — Khe Sanh, Hue — come back with my film, sell pics, eat well, prowl the streets and alleys and then do it all over again. And I wasn’t alone. Page was there with Sean Flynn and Dana Stone and quite a cast of characters. As Mike Herr wrote in Dispatches, “Vietnam was what we had instead of a happy childhood.”

On the personal side, I was beginning to suffer. I was having more sleepless nights and intrusive thoughts of previous combat experiences. I would always sit with my back to a wall, and shudder at loud noises. These are all classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. I had been covering lots of combat for three and a half months, and it was beginning to take a toll.

Under what circumstances did you take the picture? Can you tell me a little bit a bit about that day?

By April of 1968, I felt I had developed into an accomplished war photographer. I really enjoyed talking war and photography with Fass and Eddie Adams, and Larry Burrows from time to time. You need to understand that of the six hundred accredited journalists in country at the time, only about fifty of us went into the field on a regular basis. The rest got their stories at the military briefings, the “five o’clock follies,” as we called them. Many newsmen earned their stripes from inside Saigon’s gin mills and whore houses. We all knew who had balls and who didn’t, who cared about the grunts and who didn’t. It was a camaraderie that I have never again experienced.

President Barack Obama and Miami Heat star LeBron James condemned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for allegedly making racist remarks in a taped conversation with his girlfriend. Sterling's comments are causing a firestorm over after a purported conversation between him and his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, was posted on TMZ's website. A voice believed to be the Clippers owner can be heard telling Stiviano “not to bring [black people] to my games." The voice adds, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” President Obama on Sunday called Sterling's alleged remarks "racist," framing them in a broader context of discrimination in the United States. Obama said that "we constantly have to be on guard on racial attitudes that divide us rather than embracing our diversity as a strength." "The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation, that's still there, the vestiges of discrimination," added Obama, who is in Malaysia as part of a four-country tour of Asia. It was a moment that exemplified Obama's increasing willingness to discuss race in America, a topic he mostly eschewed during his campaign and his first term. The president spoke about the shooting of Trayvon Martin in the context of race relations last summer. James, an iconic Miami Heat star, called on National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver to take aggressive measures in light of the conversation, saying "there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league," the Associated Press reports. "Obviously, if the reports are true, it's unacceptable in our league," James said. "It doesn't matter, white, black or Hispanic — all across the races it's unacceptable. As the commissioner of our league, they have to make a stand. They have to be very aggressive with it. I don't know what it will be, but we can't have that in our league." Silver said the NBA needs to confirm the authenticity of the recording. Some Clippers players considered boycotting an upcoming playoffs game, but decided against it. Former NBA star Magic Johnson said he would boycott all Clippers games while Sterling was owner, calling on Sterling to sell the team if the remarks turn out to be authentic. A slew of other sports and political leaders have lambasted Sterling for his alleged remarks, including Al Sharpton and Shaq, TMZ reports. It's not the first time Sterling has been accused of discrimination: In November 2009, he agreed to pay $2.73 million in a settlement with the Justice Department over allegations that he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics and blacks and to families with children. [AP]
Book courtesy Associated Press/Abrams Books

The U.S. military had been embarrassed by the first Tet offensive, and several divisions of NVA were operating freely just inside the Laotian border in the hills surrounding the A Shau valley. In mid-April, High Command decided to airlift nearly the entire First Air Cavalry Division into those hills to drive out the NVA. As I hustled out of my chopper with Dana Stone and some TV crews, I was expecting heavy fire. But nothing — nothing but wave after wave of choppers and a swarm of journalists and photographers from around the world. I didn’t make a picture.

I jumped on an empty slick [supply helicopter] and headed back to Quang Tri city. I felt awful. Biggest operation of the war, and I get nothing.

I found my way to a PIO [public information office] and they told me several battalions from the 101st and 173rd Airborne Divisions were acting as a blocking force to the southwest of Hue. The aviation battalion supporting them was reporting heavy contact. Best of all, there were no other journalists out there. They were flying in ammo on a regular basis, and I was welcome to hitch a ride. But they warned me the weather was very bad, so they couldn’t guarantee I could get out when I wanted. That was fine with me.

It was about four in the afternoon when I got on the ground. We never really landed. I had to jump about six feet after they kicked out the ammo. It hurt hitting the ground with a 30-pound pack. But the landing zone wasn’t hot, thank God.

I found the CO and he briefed me. Alpha company, where I had landed, had been experiencing intermittent contact for several days. Charlie company, on the other hand, had been in nearly constant contact for nearly two days. It was getting dark and Alpha company planned to move down through the valley of elephant grass and then up the opposite hill to link up with Charlie company. The company first sergeant wasn’t shy about telling his superiors he thought the whole idea of moving through elephant grass full of NVA in total darkness was both suicidal and dumb.

After discussion of the pros and cons, the CO decided against moving out in the darkness. We moved out at first light, in total fog. We went into the elephant grass, which made the visibility worse. The first sergeant [the man with his arms raised in the photo] said he knew we would be ambushed and he was just glad he wasn’t walking point. Suddenly, chaos everywhere. Somebody pushed me to the ground from behind and held me down. I tried to crawl inside my helmet which was my usual first reaction to close-in combat. The bullets were whizzing through the grass, and I squeezed off maybe eight shots. Nobody near me dared fire. We couldn’t see more than three feet in any direction. The NVA fire lasted a minute or two. And then nothing. We were in it now, but nobody knew how bad it was going to be.

The man walking point was killed and the whole lead squad was decimated. After a few minutes of walking forward I came to where the wounded were being treated. I raised my Leica but the medic put his hand up and shook his head. This was bad, too many dead, too much loss too soon. I walked on.

We linked up with Charlie company, which had suffered heavy casualties. Nearly half the company had been killed or wounded. They were low on ammo, short on food and water and needed medical supplies. I wandered around handing out the cans of fruit I always had stuffed in my pack. I must have passed up 25 good pictures that day while troops were getting to know and trust me.

“Hey, camera guy,” they told me. “You don’t have to be here. You’re nuts, man.” I took pictures they wanted me to take. Buddies arm in arm and head shots for the local newspapers.

The weather was awful. Low dense fog, rain showers. Battalion told us no supply or medical missions were possible until the weather broke. We were alone on our hilltop in the middle of division-sized NVA units.

It rained hard that night and nobody slept. I was having trouble keeping my cameras dry.

Our challenge was to get the dead and wounded out. About two in the afternoon it started to brighten and a resupply slick was able to make a brief visual on us. We got ammunition first and then some medical supplies, but no food or water.

Battalion told us to be ready for a lift out of some of the wounded the following morning if the weather was better. I had powered milk in hot water for dinner that night. I had given everything else away.

By the next morning the wounded were being moved to the new LZ. I was making pictures. As the first medevac chopper hovered overhead I saw the First Sergeant with his arms in the air. I saw the medic shouldering wounded and then I saw the kid on his back in the grass. I have got to get all this in one picture, I thought. My heart was pounding. Was 1/60 fast enough? Screw it. Shoot pictures. I got three frames off, and the moment was gone.

I knew what was in the camera, but when I went to wind back the film, I couldn’t. The film in my Nikon had become stuck to the pressure plate from all the moisture. My Leica was soaked, too, and I wasn’t sure what kind of pictures it was producing.

The weather closed in again. I had given all of my food away so I didn’t eat for two days. I wrapped my cameras in a damp towel and put them in my pack. I guarded that pack like a mother hen.

I flew out with the second chopper loaded with body bags. A kid headed out for R&R and a floor stacked with KIAs [killed in action]. War sucks.

In Saigon, I told Fass what I had but I wasn’t sure my exposures were correct. I described the lighting as best as I could and we decided to push the Tri-X three stops. It wasn’t enough to save the elephant grass ambush pictures, and most of the hometown portraits were too thin to print. I’m grateful for what I got, but I’m still a little sad for what I lost. Mine was no lucky picture.

You were wounded about a week later in an incident that killed the photographer Charles Eggleston. After you recovered, did you continue to work in Vietnam?

Knowing how to program a computer is good for you, and it's a shame that more people don't learn to do it. For years now, that’s been a hugely popular stance. It's led to educational initiatives as effortless-sounding as the Hour of Code (offered by Code.org) and as ambitious as Code Year (spearheaded by Codecademy). Even President Obama has chimed in: Last December, he issued a YouTube video in which he urged young people to take up programming, declaring that “learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future.” I find the "everybody should learn to code" movement laudable. And yet it also leaves me wistful, even melancholy. Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC. [caption id="attachment_78040" align="alignright" width="285"] John Kemeny shows off his vanity license plate in 1967 Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] Invented by John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz of Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, BASIC was first successfully used to run programs on the school’s General Electric computer system fifty years ago this week--at 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964, to be precise. The two math professors deeply believed that computer literacy would be essential in the years to come, and designed the language--its name stood for "Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code"--to be as approachable as possible. It worked: at first at Dartmouth, then at other schools. In the 1970s and early 1980s, when home computers came along, BASIC did as much as anything else to make them useful. Especially the multiple versions of the language produced by a small company named Microsoft. That's when I was introduced to the language; when I was in high school, I was more proficient in it than I was in written English, because it mattered more to me. (I happen to have been born less than a month before BASIC was, which may or may not have anything to do with my affinity for it.) BASIC wasn't designed to change the world. "We were thinking only of Dartmouth," says Kurtz, its surviving co-creator. (Kemeny died in 1992.) "We needed a language that could be 'taught' to virtually all students (and faculty) without their having to take a course." Their brainchild quickly became the standard way that people everywhere learned to program computers, and remained so for many years. But thinking of its invention as a major moment only in the history of computer languages dramatically understates its significance. In the mid-1960s, using a computer was generally like playing chess by mail: You used a keypunch to enter a program on cards, turned them over to a trained operator and then waited for a printout of the results, which might not arrive until the next day. BASIC and the platform it ran on, the Dartmouth Time Sharing System, both sped up the process and demystified it. You told the computer to do something by typing words and math statements, and it did it, right away. Today, we expect computers--and phones, and tablets and an array of other intelligent devices--to respond to our instructions and requests as fast as we can make them. In many ways, that era of instant gratification began with what Kemeny and Kurtz created. You might assume that a programming language whose primary purpose was to help almost anybody become computer literate would be uncontroversial—maybe even universally beloved. You'd be wrong. BASIC always had its critics among serious computer science types, who accused it of promoting bad habits. Even its creators became disgruntled with the variations on their original idea which proliferated in the 1970s and 1980s. And eventually, BASIC went away, at least as a staple of computing in homes and schools. Nobody conspired to get rid of it; no one factor explains its gradual disappearance from the scene. But some of us miss it terribly. When it comes to technology, I don't feel like a grumpy old man. Nearly always, I believe that the best of times is now. But I don’t mind saying this: The world was a better place when almost everybody who used PCs at least dabbled in BASIC. BASIC Beginnings Sooner or later, it was inevitable that someone would come up with a programming language aimed at beginners. But BASIC as it came to be was profoundly influenced by the fact that it was created at a liberal arts college with a forward-thinking mathematic program. And Dartmouth was that place largely because of the vision of its math department chairman, John Kemeny. Born in Budapest in 1926 and Jewish, Kemeny came to the United States in 1940 along with the rest of his family to flee the Nazis. He attended Princeton, where he took a year off to contribute to the Manhattan Project and was inspired by a lecture about computers by the pioneering mathematician and physicist John von Neumann. Kemeny worked as Albert Einstein’s mathematical assistant before arriving at Dartmouth as a professor in 1953, where he was named chairman of the mathematics department two years later at the age of 29 and became known for his inventive approach to the teaching of math. When the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gave the university a $500,000 grant to build a new home for the department in 1959, TIME noted the news and said it was mostly due to Kemeny’s reputation. http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,825616,00.html BASIC sprung from “a general belief on Kemeny's part that liberal arts education was important, and should include some serious and significant mathematics--but math not disconnected from the general goals of liberal arts education,” says Dan Rockmore, the current chairman of Dartmouth’s math department and one of the creators of a new documentary on BASIC’s birth. (It’s premiering at Dartmouth’s celebration of BASIC’s 50th anniversary this Wednesday.) In the early 1960s, average citizens--even those who happened to be students at Ivy League schools with computing centers--had never encountered a computer in person. The machines were kept "behind locked doors, where only guys--and, once in a while, a woman--in white coats were able to access them," Rockmore says. Kemeny believed that these electronic brains would play an increasingly important role in everyday life, and that everyone at Dartmouth should be introduced to them. “Our vision was that every student on campus should have access to a computer, and any faculty member should be able to use a computer in the classroom whenever appropriate,” he said in a 1991 video interview. “It was as simple as that.” Of course, Dartmouth couldn’t give a computer to every student and faculty member: Computers were a pricey shared resource, normally capable of performing only one task at a time. That’s why you typically handed your program over on punch cards and waited your turn. Tom Kurtz, who had joined Dartmouth’s math department in 1956, proposed using a relatively new concept called time-sharing. It would divvy up one system’s processing power to serve multiple people at a time. With what came to be known as the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, or DTSS, a user sitting at a terminal would be able to compose programs and run them immediately. “If you're trying to get a student interested in the idea of computing, you need some immediacy in the turnaround,” says Rockmore. “You don't want to ship a ten-line program off to a computer center before you know if you've got it right.” [caption id="attachment_78044" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Tom Kurtz (standing) works with Michael Busch, co-programmer of the DTSS, with the GE-225 mainframe in the background Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] But what sort of programs? In the past, Kemeny and Kurtz had made two unsuccessful stabs at creating computer languages for beginners: Darsimco (Dartmouth Simplified Code) and DOPE (Dartmouth Oversimplified Programming Experiment). But this time they considered modifying an existing language. "I tried, briefly, to develop simple subsets of Fortran and ALGOL, but found quickly that such could not be done," Kurtz says. Even the most common of tasks could be tricky in Fortran, which had an "almost impossible-to-memorize convention for specifying a loop: 'DO 100, I = 1, 10, 2.' Is it '1, 10, 2' or '1, 2, 10', and is the comma after the line number required or not?" Kemeny and Kurtz decided they needed something so straightforward that it almost didn't involve memorization at all. "We wanted the syntax of the language to consist of common words, and to have those words have a more-or-less obvious meaning," says Kurtz. "It is a slight stretch, but isn't it simpler to use HELLO and GOODBYE in place of LOGON and LOGOFF?" BASIC was primarily Kemeny's idea, and he wrote the first version himself. Starting in September 1963, he and Kurtz began the overarching effort to get the language and the DTSS up and running. They led a team of a dozen undergraduate students. “We used to work all night and then go to sleep,” remembers John McGeachie, the co-author of the DTSS software. “Kemeny would work with us, and then go teach math to undergraduates.” A $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation helped fund the undertaking, which required not one but two powerful computers, both from General Electric. A GE-225 mainframe (quickly replaced with a GE-235) did the heavy lifting of performing floating-point math, while a smaller Datanet-30 coordinated communications with Teletype machines--essentially glorified typewriters--which students would use to do their programming. "We were not working under much constraints," Kurtz says. "We had 16K of 20-bit words to work with." Though a rounding error by today’s standards, it was a generous amount of memory at the time: Years later, when others adapted BASIC for PCs, they sometimes had to cram it into as little as 3K of 8-bit memory, resulting in cut-down, ungainly implementations of the language which Kemeny and Kurtz bemoaned. [caption id="attachment_78033" align="aligncenter" width="500"] An early Dartmouth BASIC program, performing a simple math exercise, as run on a simulator of the university's time-sharing system Harry McCracken / TIME[/caption] Unlike many BASICs to come, Dartmouth BASIC was a compiler, which meant that it converted your entire program into machine code which the computer could understand in one fell swoop, rather than line by line every time you ran the program. It performed that task rapidly, especially by the leisurely standards of 1960s computing: "If you were writing a very simple program, you'd get your answer in a second or so," McGeachie says. "It might take longer to print it out, because the Teletypes were only capable of doing ten characters a second." In June 1964, the DTSS and BASIC became available to Dartmouth students, initially on eleven Teletype machines. It had fourteen commands, all with straightforward names and syntax which made sense: PRINT output text and numbers to the Teletype (and, later on, displayed it on the screens of time-sharing terminals and PCs); LET told the computer to perform calculations and assign the result to a variable, in statements such as LET C = (A*2.5)+B; IF and THEN let the program determine if a statement was true, vital for anything involving decision-making;. FOR and NEXT let a program run in loops; END, which was required in Dartmouth BASIC, told the computer that it had reached the program’s conclusion. Then there was INPUT, a command which let a BASIC program accept alphanumeric characters typed in by a user. It wasn’t among the initial fourteen, arriving only in the third revision of the language in 1966. But when it did, it made it possible to write far more interactive programs. Without INPUT, BASIC was mostly for solving math problems and doing simple simulations; with it, the language could do almost anything. Including play games, which many people came to consider the language’s defining purpose. You could write a fairly long and sophisticated program in BASIC. (An early manual stated the maximum program length as “about two feet of teletype paper.”) But you could also make the computer do something interesting and useful with just a few lines of code, shortly after you’d encountered the language for the first time. That was the whole point. It mattered to Kemeny and Kurtz that access to BASIC and the DTSS be as open as possible. “Any student can enter the Library, browse among the books or take some back to his room. No one asks him why he wants the book, and he does not need anyone’s permission,” Kemeny wrote in a brochure for the university’s Kiewit Computation Center, which opened in 1966. “Similarly, any student may walk into the Kiewit Computation Center, sit down at a console, and use the time-sharing system. No one will ask if he is solving a serious research problem, doing his homework the easy way, playing a game of football, or writing a letter to his girlfriend.” (Dartmouth, incidentally, was a male-only institution at the time of BASIC’s creation: Kemeny himself took it co-ed in 1972 as president of the university, a position he held from from 1970-1981.) What Kemeny was describing in the Kiewit brochure was personal computing. It’s just that the term hadn’t been invented yet. Even the concept was still audacious. Dartmouth BASIC did everything that Kemeny and Kurtz hoped it would, and more. In a triumphant 1967 report, they said that by the end of that academic year, 2000 Dartmouth students--representing 80 percent of the three incoming freshman classes who had arrived since BASIC’s invention--would have learned about computers by writing and debugging their own programs. Many continued to do so after completing the BASIC classwork that was a mandatory part of the school’s math program. Forty percent of faculty members--not just math and science teachers--also used the system. "Anyone who tries to convince a Dartmouth undergraduate either that computers are to be feared or that they are of little use, will be met with well-founded scorn," the report said. "The Dartmouth student knows better--and knows it from personal experience." Dartmouth provided access to the DTSS over telephone lines to other east coast schools, including Harvard and Princeton, as well as to some high schools. It also helped other institutions implement time-sharing systems and BASIC, while General Electric commercialized the DTSS and Dartmouth BASIC and sold them to business customers. Other computer companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation and HP introduced their own BASICs. Dartmouth’s effort to democratize computing was, in short, a huge success. “Qualitatively, I was right on the impact,” Kemeny said in the 1991 interview. “Quantitatively, I vastly underestimated it. That is, it had impact on many, many more courses than I thought, and the amount of impact was much greater--courses being totally changed because of the availability of computers. I also underestimated, of course, how far educational computing would spread all over the world.” Not everybody was happy with the way the language put computing within reach of mere mortals. Its most articulate and vociferous opponent was Edsger Dijkstra (1930-2002), an influential computer scientist. “It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC,” he wrote in 1975, in an essay titled How Do We Tell Truths That Might Hurt. “As potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.” Now, it’s possible that Dijkstra was exaggerating for dramatic effect. BASIC wasn’t his only bete noire among programming languages: He also spewed bile in the direction of FORTRAN (an “infantile disorder”), PL/1 (“fatal disease”) and COBOL (“criminal offense”). Still, his point is disproven by the countless programmers who started out with BASIC and went on to have thriving careers. And the thing is, some of the characteristics which have given BASIC a bad reputation are precisely the same ones which made it so easy to learn. For instance, BASIC offered GOTO, a command which let you jump from anywhere in your program to anywhere else in it—a practice which could result in messy “spaghetti code.” (In 1968, Dijkstra devoted an entire essay to his contempt for the command, “Go To Statement Considered Harmful.” ) A thoughtful programmer could indeed compose fastidious code which didn’t GOTO. But insisting that liberal arts students obsess about tidy programming techniques was hardly a way to make computers less threatening. For them, GOTO was a godsend. In its classic form, BASIC also made you organize your programs with line numbers—such as the 10 in 10 PRINT “HELLO”—a convention that was arguably superfluous and eventually fell by the wayside. But line numbers helped emphasize the sequential nature of computer programs, which, regardless of the language in question, consist of a task broken down into steps. In How Do We Tell Truths That Might Hurt?, Dijkstra tips his hand by calling programming “one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics” and suggesting that less talented mathematicians not even bother with it. If that was his take in 1975, he couldn’t simultaneously approve of BASIC. Either the programming of computers was exceptionally hard and should be left to the experts, or it was something that could and should be democratized, as BASIC had already done. Not both. Today, Kurtz is blunt about criticism of the language he co-created as being insufficiently serious or a dangerous way to begin learning about computer programming. “It's B.S.,” he says. “I'll go out on a limb and suggest the degrading of BASIC by the professionals was just a little bit of jealousy--after all, it took years for us to develop our skill; how is it that complete idiots can write programs with just a few hours of skill?” BASIC may not have made sense to people like Edsger Dijkstra. That was O.K.—it wasn’t meant for them. It made plenty of sense to newbies who simply wanted to teach computers to do useful things from almost the moment they started to learn about programming. And in 1975, as Dijkstra was accusing it of mutilating minds, there were about to be far more of those people than ever before. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHi3VFOL-AI [caption id="attachment_78042" align="aligncenter" width="560"] John Kemeny teaches BASIC to students at Dartmouth (not yet a co-ed institution) Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_78035" align="alignright" width="272"] Member of Dartmouth's Glee Club perform a very early form of computer dating with women in California via the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_78038" align="alignright" width="294"] John Kemeny checks out program written by his daughter Jennifer on the family's "home computer," a terminal on the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_78040" align="alignright" width="285"] John Kemeny shows off his vanity license plate in 1967 Adrian N. Bouchard / Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] This one-line Commodore 64 program, which prints a never-ending , maze-like pattern, inspired an entire book of essays in 2012[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] Android Nim[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] This very early Apple II clone of Atari's Breakout--later known as Brick Out and Little Brick Out--was written by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak himself, in Integer BASIC, which he also wrote[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] David Plotkin's Munchkin Attack, an Atari game published as a type-in in SoftSide magazine in 1982, may remind you of a more famous arcade game. Being in BASIC, it can just barely manage to move two on-screen characters at once[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1" align="alignnone" width="500"] DONKEY.BAS shipped with the original IBM PC in 1981. The most notable thing about it is its co-author, a fellow by the name of Bill Gates[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69329" align="alignright" width="208"] BASIC creators Thomas Kurtz (left) and John Kemeny in the mid-1980s, showing their True BASIC running on a Mac and an IBM PC Dartmouth University[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69331" align="alignright" width="300"] Paul Allen (left) and Bill Gates in 1981, surrounded by some of the computers which ran their version of BASIC Microsoft[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69331" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Paul Allen (left) and Bill Gates in 1981, surrounded by some of the computers which ran their version of BASIC Microsoft[/caption] [caption id="attachment_69334" align="aligncenter" width="560"] David Ahl's seminal anthology of BASIC games, in its original form as published by Digital Equipment Corp. and a later version rejiggered for PCs David Ahl[/caption]
Courtesy Art Greenspon

On May 5, 1968, while on assignment for LIFE, I was shot in the face. A spent round which [likely] had just exited the hand of another photographer smacked into the left side of the bridge of my nose and burrowed its way into my left sinus cavity. The wound itself was not grave. The military surgeons took the round out in a dentist chair by breaking my cheekbone from inside my mouth. No facial scarring that way.

What nearly killed me was dysentery. They had to pack me in ice to lower my 106 fever. The cold made the pain in my face worse, but I kept it all inside. I was on a ward with GIs who had lost limbs and two who were in casts from head to toe.

Following my discharge, I tried to keep shooting, but my hands trembled so badly I couldn’t work my cameras. I knew it was time to get out.

LIFE paid my hospital bills and bought me a plane ticket home. The Vietnamese staff at the CBS bureau told me how to bribe my way through the exit visa process. I had been an illegal alien the whole time after my tourist visa had expired.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday called the Holocaust "the most heinous crime" of modern history. "[W]hat happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era," Abbas said in a meeting with the American rabbi Marc Schneier, the Associated Press reports. The official Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted Abbas as expressing his "sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed." [video id=0Cv46U2a ] Abbas' comments mark a rare acknowledgement by an Arab leader of Jewish suffering during the Nazi-driven genocide of the 1930s and 1940s. His remarks appeared to in part be an attempt to connect with Israelis even as U.S.-orchestrated peace talks appear to be on the verge of collapse. Abbas' remarks also come as the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which Abbas leads, arrived at a reconciliation deal last week with Hamas, its political rival. Hamas, which generally refrains from acknowledging the Holocaust, has claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis. The group has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, however, dismissed Abbas' comments. "President Abbas can't have it both ways. He can't say the Holocaust is terrible but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people," Netanyahu said in an interview on CNN. [AP]
Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

Psychologically, I was a basket case. All I wanted to do was smoke opium or get drunk.

What did you do after Vietnam? Did you remain a photographer?

John Morris, the picture editor at the New York Times, a man very familiar with stressed-out war photographers, hired me to do some vacation replacement work during the summer of 1968. In the fall, he hired me on staff. I worked for the Times from 1969-1971.

Channel 13 in New York hired me as a segment producer to develop essays using filmed stills for their avant-garde news program, “The 51st State.”

At the same time I had linked up with some artists and filmmakers who were doing single-frame animation of paste-up collages, but by 1975, nobody was making any real money. I was working part-time in a post production sound studio, and I even have a small credit for working on Barbara Kopple’s Oscar- winning documentary, “Harlan County USA.” One of the highlights of that period was a heated, drunken argument I had with Susan Sontag in a Greenwich Village bar over whether documentary photography depicts reality!

By 1976, I was tired of being broke. I wouldn’t do commercial photography and the film work I was getting was too irregular. I didn’t feel I had the talent to be an artist of any real distinction. I did want to get married and raise children.

I drove a cab, became a salesman, worked my way through night school at Fordham and, BA in hand, talked my way into a Wall Street training program. If I was going to go for bucks, I was going to go for big bucks!

I made a fair amount of money on Wall Street in 25 years as a portfolio manager for elite private banks. I retired in 2007.

At a reunion of Vietnam journalists some years ago, Horst Fass told the group we were standing in, “Greenspon did it right. He took one famous photograph and then became a proper businessman and lived happily ever after.” It wasn’t so easy.

You’re now a social worker advocating for better veterans’ mental health care. Why did you decide to work with veterans?

I got my masters degree in clinical social work in 2011 at the age of 69. I know personally how hard it is to recover from PTSD, trauma and addictions. The military’s suicide rate is the highest it has ever been. It has been estimated that something like 20 percent of our vets are coming home with some form of mental distress. Unfortunately, less than half of them are getting the help they need. In the final years of my life, I’m dedicated to helping them recover from the horrors of war.

After years of thinking about what a photograph is I’ve concluded that, for me, it’s a snapshot taken with a Brownie Hawkeye. For decades I’ve been trying to unlearn my knowledge of photography, to recapture the spontaneity and simplicity I had in my early pictures. I will know it when I see it, but so far it has eluded me.


Peter van Agtmael is a photographer represented by Magnum. In 2012, van Agtmael received the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography.

Vietnam: The Real War is available through Abrams. An exhibition of the images from the Associated Press’ book will open at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York on Oct. 24, 2013.


Contact us at letters@time.com.

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