Conflicts & War

‘Napalm girl’ an anti-war voice 50 years after iconic image

By Javier Otazu

New York, Jun 7 (EFE).- Phan Thị Kim Phúc caught the world’s attention when, as a young girl, she was photographed running from a napalm bomb during the Vietnam War and now, 50 years on, the anti-war campaigner hopes people can learn from her experiences.

Kim Phúc, who is now based in Canada, traveled to New York to meet with a panel of conflict reporters, including AP photographer Nick Ut, the man behind the iconic image taken on July 8, 1972, after the South Vietnamese air force dropped napalm on the village of Trang Bang.

Ut, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the image, not only took the photograph but also accompanied Kim Phúc to the hospital to receive treatment for her burns.

In an interview with Efe, Kim Phúc discusses her own experience of trauma calmly but becomes visibly emotional when discussing the world’s current conflicts, including the war in Ukraine.

“Any kind of war is not right, any kind of war just makes people kill people,” she says.

Her story is worthy of a movie.

She underwent 17 surgeries to treat the burns caused by napalm, a sticky incendiary provided to South Vietnamese forces by the United States.

Later, the communist regime in Vietnam removed her from university, where she was studying medicine, to use her as a tool of anti-US propaganda.

During a trip that took her from Havana to Moscow she took advantage of a layover in Canada to desert with her husband and both were granted political asylum and later citizenship.

Kim Phúc and her husband have now been married for 30 years and have grandchildren.

She has previously described her reconstructed skin as being tough and painful, although she does not hesitate to discuss her injuries and show her scars in great detail.

Indeed she has shared her story for decades, often in the company of Ut, who has become a dear friend of hers and in her adulthood set up the Kim Phúc Foundation International to help victims of war.

“Does it hurt when I talk? Yes, but I have to sacrifice myself, to fulfill my dream I want to tell my story and all the lessons that I have learned so, I hope, they can learn something from that,” she tells Efe.

At first, she hated the photograph that made her famous.

“Why did you take my picture that way?,” she says.

“I was a little girl and so ugly and ashamed, but now how much I’m thankful for that, that became a power(ful) gift for me.”

Kim Phúc says that as a Christian, she does not hold grudges and even forgives the pilot who dropped the napalm on that day 50 years ago.

The activist does make one thing clear, however — if she could go back in time and erase that fateful day to live the life of a “normal child”, she would. EFE


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