The Terror of War
June 8, 1972
June 8, 1972: Kim Phúc, center left, running down a road nude near Trang Bang after a South Vietnamese Air Force napalm attack. (Nick Ut /AP)
|Born||Phan Thị Kim Phúc|
(1963-04-02) April 2, 1963
Trang Bang, South Vietnam
|Other names||Kim Phúc|
|Alma mater||University of Havana, Cuba|
|Occupation||Author, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador|
|Known for||Being “The Girl in the Picture” (Vietnam War)|
|Spouse(s)||Bui Huy Toan|
|Awards||Order of Ontario|
Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt (born April 2, 1963) is a Vietnamese-Canadian best known as the child depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. The iconic photo taken in Trang Bang by AP photographer Nick Ut shows her at nine years of age running naked on a road after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese attack.
Kim Phúc and her family were residents of the village of Trang Bang, South Vietnam. On June 8, 1972, South Vietnamese planes dropped a napalm bomb on Trang Bang, which had been attacked and occupied by North Vietnamese forces. Kim Phúc joined a group of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers who were fleeing from the Caodai Temple to the safety of South Vietnamese-held positions. A South Vietnamese Air Force pilot mistook the group for enemy soldiers and diverted to attack. The bombing killed two of Kim Phúc’s cousins and two other villagers
Carpet Napalm Bombing
Kim Phúc was badly burned and tore off her burning clothes. Associated Press photographer Nick Ut‘s photograph of Kim Phúc running naked amid other fleeing villagers, South Vietnamese soldiers and press photographers became one of the most haunting images of the Vietnam War. In an interview many years later, she recalled she was yelling, Nóng quá, nóng quá (“too hot, too hot”) in the picture. New York Times editors were at first hesitant to consider the photo for publication because of the nudity, but eventually approved it.
A cropped version of the photo—with the press photographers to the right removed—was featured on the front page of the New York Times the next day. It later earned a Pulitzer Prize and was chosen as the World Press Photo of the Year for 1972.
After snapping the photograph, Ut took Kim Phúc and the other injured children to Barsky Hospital in Saigon, where it was determined that her burns were so severe that she probably would not survive.After a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures including skin transplantations, however, she was able to return home. A number of the early operations were performed by a Finnish plastic surgeon Aarne Rintala (1926–2014).
Ut continued to visit Kim Phúc until he was evacuated during the fall of Saigon.
After the release of this tape, Út commented,
“Even though it has become one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century, President Nixon once doubted the authenticity of my photograph when he saw it in the papers on 12 June 1972…. The picture for me and unquestionably for many others could not have been more real. The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam War itself. The horror of the Vietnam War recorded by me did not have to be fixed. That terrified little girl is still alive today and has become an eloquent testimony to the authenticity of that photo.
That moment thirty years ago will be one Kim Phúc and I will never forget. It has ultimately changed both our lives.”
Less publicized is film shot by British television cameraman Alan Downes for the British ITN news service and his Vietnamese counterpart Le Phuc Dinh who was working for the American station NBC, which shows the events just before and after the photograph was taken (see image on right). In the top-left frame, a man (possibly Nick Út) stands and appears to take photographs as a passing airplane drops bombs. A group of children, Kim Phúc among them, run away in fear.
After a few seconds, she encounters the reporters dressed in military fatigue, including Christopher Wain who gave her water (top-right frame) and poured some over her burns. As she turns sideways, the severity of the burns on her arm and back can be seen (bottom-left frame). A crying woman runs in the opposite direction holding her badly burned child (bottom-right frame). Sections of the film shot were included in Hearts and Minds, the 1974 Academy Award-winning documentary about the Vietnam War directed by Peter Davis.
Kim Phúc, NPR in 2008
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
As a young adult, while studying medicine, Phúc was removed from her university and used as a propaganda symbol by the communist government of Vietnam. In 1986, however, she was granted permission to continue her studies in Cuba. She had converted from her family’s Cao Đài religion to Christianity four years earlier. Phạm Văn Đồng, the then-Prime Minister of Vietnam, became her friend and patron. After arriving in Cuba, she met Bui Huy Toan, another Vietnamese student and her future fiancé. In 1992, Phúc and Toan married and went on their honeymoon in Moscow. During a refuelling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, they left the plane and asked for political asylum in Canada, which was granted. The couple now lives in Ajax, Ontario near Toronto, and have two children. In 1996, Phúc met the surgeons who had saved her life. The following year, she passed the Canadian Citizenship Test with a perfect score and became a Canadian citizen.
Kim Phúc Foundation
In 1997 she established the first Kim Phúc Foundation in the US, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war. Later, other foundations were set up, with the same name, under an umbrella organization, Kim Phúc Foundation International.
Visit The Kim Phúc Foundation International.
In 2004, Phúc spoke at the University of Connecticut about her life and experience, learning how to be “strong in the face of pain” and how compassion and love helped her heal.
On December 28, 2009, National Public Radio broadcast her spoken essay, “The Long Road to Forgiveness,” for the “This I Believe” series. In May 2010, Phúc was reunited by the BBC with ITN correspondent Christopher Wain, who helped to save her life. On May 18, 2010, Phúc appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme It ’s My Story.
In the programme, Phúc related how she was involved through her foundation in the efforts to secure medical treatment in Canada for Ali Abbas, who had lost both arms in a rocket attack on Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In 1996, Phúc gave a speech at the United States Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Veterans Day. In her speech, she said that one cannot change the past, but everyone can work together for a peaceful future. Rev. John Plummer, a Vietnam veteran, who believed he took part in coordinating the air strike with the South Vietnamese Air Force (though Plummer’s entire chain of command and declassified documents indicate otherwise ) met with Phúc briefly and was publicly forgiven.
A Canadian filmmaker, Shelley Saywell, made a documentary about their meeting. There is also a blog entry that shares this story. On November 10, 1994, Kim Phúc was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Her biography, The Girl in the Picture, was written by Denise Chong and published in 1999. In 2003, Belgian composer Eric Geurts wrote “The Girl in the Picture,” dedicated to Kim Phúc. It was released on Flying Snowman Records, with all profits going to the Kim Phúc Foundation. On October 22, 2004, Kim Phúc was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law from York University in Toronto, Ontario, for her work to support child victims of war around the world.
She was also awarded the Order of Ontario. On October 27, 2005, she was awarded another honorary degree in Law from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. On June 2, 2011 she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Lethbridge.
The Girl in the Picture
The Girl in the Picture: The Kim Phúc Story, the Photograph and the Vietnam War by Denise Chong is a 1999 biographical and historical work tracing the life story of Kim Phúc. Chong’s historical coverage emphasizes the life, especially the school and family life, of Kim Phúc from before the attack, through convalescence, and into the present time.
The Girl in the Picture deals primarily with Vietnamese and American relationships during the Vietnam War, while examining themes of war, racism, immigration, political turmoil, repression, poverty, and international relationships through the lens of family and particularly through the eyes and everyday lives of women. Kim Phúc and her mother, Nu, provide the lens through which readers of The Girl in the Picture experience war, strife, and the development of communism in Vietnam. Like Chong’s first book, The Girl in the Picture was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for non fiction.
Huỳnh Công Út
Huỳnh Công Út, known professionally as Nick Ut (born March 29, 1951), is a photographer for the Associated Press (AP) who works out of Los Angeles. He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for “The Terror of War”, depicting children in flight from a napalm bombing. In particular, his best-known photo features a naked 9-year-old girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, running toward the camera from a South Vietnamese napalm attack on North Vietnamese invaders at the Trảng Bàng village during the Vietnam War.
On the 40th anniversary of that Pulitzer Prize-winning photo in September 2012, Ut became the third person inducted by the Leica Hall of Fame for his contributions to photojournalism.
Born in Long An, Viet Nam, Ut began to take photographs for the Associated Press when he was 16, just after his older brother Huynh Thanh My, another AP photographer, was killed in Vietnam. Ut himself was wounded three times in the war in his knee, arm, and stomach. Ut has since worked for the Associated Press in Tokyo, South Korea, and Hanoi and still maintains contact with Kim Phuc, who now resides in Canada.
Before delivering his film with the Kim Phúc photo, he took her to the hospital. The publication of the photo was delayed due to the AP bureau’s debate about transmitting a naked girl’s photo over the wire:
|“||…an editor at the AP rejected the photo of Kim Phuc running down the road without clothing because it showed frontal nudity. Pictures of nudes of all ages and sexes, and especially frontal views were an absolute no-no at the Associated Press in 1972… Horst argued by telex with the New York head-office that an exception must be made, with the compromise that no close-up of the girl Kim Phuc alone would be transmitted. The New York photo editor, Hal Buell, agreed that the news value of the photograph overrode any reservations about nudity.||”|
— Nick Ut
Audiotapes of then-president Richard Nixon in conversation with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, show that Nixon doubted the veracity of the photograph, musing whether it may have been “fixed.” Following the release of this tape, Ut commented:
|“||“Even though it has become one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century, President Nixon once doubted the authenticity of my photograph when he saw it in the papers on June 12, 1972…. The picture for me and unquestionably for many others could not have been more real. The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam war itself. The horror of the Vietnam war recorded by me did not have to be fixed. That terrified little girl is still alive today and has become an eloquent testimony to the authenticity of that photo. That moment thirty years ago will be one Kim Phuc and I will never forget. It has ultimately changed both our lives.”||”|
— Nick Ut
Family and later career
Ut is a United States citizen and is married with two children. He lives in Los Angeles, and remains an AP photographer. His photos of a crying Paris Hilton in the back seat of a Los Angeles County Sheriff‘s cruiser on June 8, 2007 were published worldwide; however, Ut was photographing Hilton alongside photographer Karl Larsen. Two photographs emerged; the more famous photo of Hilton was credited to Ut despite being Larsen’s photo.
Visit The Kim Phúc Foundation International.
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