Behind the Image: Protesting the Vietnam War with a Flower • Marc Riboud •Magnum Photos

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Politics

Behind the Image: Protesting the Vietnam War with a Flower

Today marks 50 years since Marc Riboud took the famous image that would become emblematic of the anti-Vietnam war movement

Marc Riboud

Marc Riboud An American young girl, Jan Rose Kasmir, confronts the American National Guard outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march. This march helped to turn public opinion against the US war i (...)

On October the 21st, 1967, almost 100,000 people marched on Washington, D.C. to peacefully demonstrate around the buildings of the Pentagon in protest against the war in Vietnam. Then a Magnum photographer, Marc Riboud documented proceedings. The last frame he captured was that of 17-year-old Jan Rose Kasmir as she held up a chrysanthemum flower to a row of bayonet-wielding National Guard soldiers.

Kasmir was not aware of the photograph being taken at the time, but the image has come to represent bravery and the power of peaceful protest. Speaking to the Guardian in 2015, Jan Rose Kasmir said: “It wasn’t until I saw the impact of this photograph that I realized it wasn’t only momentary folly – I was standing for something important.”

Marc Riboud American National Guards defending the Pentagon building. Anti-Vietnam Peace March around the Pentagon. Arlington, Virginia, USA. Oct 21st, 1967. © Marc Riboud | Magnum Photos
Marc Riboud Anti-Vietnam Peace March around the Pentagon. Arlington, Virginia. USA. 1967. © Marc Riboud | Magnum Photos
Marc Riboud Anti-Vietnam Peace March around the Pentagon. Arlington, Virginia, USA. Oct 21st, 1967. © Marc Riboud | Magnum Photos
Marc Riboud Anti-Vietnam war march. Washington, D.C., USA. October 21st, 1967. © Marc Riboud | Magnum Photos

Marc Riboud made several trips to Vietnam in the 1960s, seeing for himself the war that he had heard reported on and debated over in the press. “It was hard not to feel sympathetic towards those Vietnamese putting up such a brave resistance to the relentless bombing,” he said, “and sympathy helps one understand a country, for a person, rather better than indifference or ‘objectivity’ (which is a spurious notion in any case).”

His work covering the Pentagon protests were a continuation of this line of interest. A handful of further frames, taken on the same day, show what the protestors must have seen when face to face with a row of bayonets, and give some idea of the scale of the event.

Marc Riboud An American young girl, Jan Rose Kasmir, confronts the American National Guard outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march. This march helped to turn public opinion against the US war i (...)

Riboud remembered the day’s event for an essay about his career, which was published in 1989:

“One day in October 1967, I found myself in Washington, swept along in the slipstream of a cause at the time simple and straightforward. A vast, ecstatic crowd was marching for peace in Vietnam as the sunlight of an Indian summer flooded the city’s streets. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women, both black and white, were defiantly closing in on the Pentagon, the citadel of the most powerful army in the world and for a day America’s youth presented America with a handsome face. I was taking photographs like mad, running out of film as night fell. The very last photo was the best. Framed in my viewfinder was the symbol of that America youth: a flower held before a row of Bayonets. America’s might that day, presented America with a sad face.”