'Napalm Girl': We Should See Consequences of Shootings

'It is easier to hide from the realities of war if we don't see the consequences,' she writes at 'NYT'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2022 9:15 AM CDT
'Napalm Girl': Show Us the 'Carnage' of School Shootings
In this June 8, 1972 file photo, terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Kim Phuc Phan Thi grew up hating the June 8, 1972 photograph by Nick Ut that cemented her as "Napalm Girl." "I thought to myself, 'I am a little girl. I am naked. Why did he take that picture? Why didn’t my parents protect me?'" she writes in an op-ed at the New York Times ahead of the 50th anniversary of the accidental napalm attack on the South Vietnam village of Trang Bang by its own military. All these decades later, her mind has been changed. Indeed, she argues there is something to be gained from horrific images of war and even of school shootings, which are "the domestic equivalent of war."

It wasn't easy coming to that conclusion. While it was Ut who saved her life, whisking her away for medical treatment, Kim Phuc hated him for a time, too. His Pulitzer Prize-winning photo "became one of the most famous images from the Vietnam War" and "a symbol of the horrors of war." Yet its subjects "are not symbols. We are human." And we "must somehow go on." For Kim Phuc, that was agonizing. "I sometimes wished to disappear." In addition to suffering burns to a third of her body, she battled "intense, chronic pain," "horrific anxiety and depression," and "the shame and embarrassment of my disfigurement," she writes. "It was only in adulthood, after defecting to Canada, that I began to find peace and realize my mission in life."

Now, she travels to war-torn countries "to provide medical and psychological assistance to children victimized by war" and "I hope, a sense of possibilities." "You don't grow out of the scars, physically or mentally," she adds. But "I can say, 50 years later, that I'm glad Nick captured that moment … I’m proud that, in time, I have become a symbol of peace." As for school shootings, "the thought of sharing the images of the carnage, especially of children, may seem unbearable—but we should confront them," she writes, for "it is easier to hide from the realities of war if we don't see the consequences." "Showing the world what the aftermath of a gun rampage truly looks like can deliver the awful reality." Read her piece in full. (Read more school shootings stories.)

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