After Napalm, The Long Road To Forgiveness

Nine0year-old Kim Phuc and other children run down a road in Vietnam after a napalm attack. The iconic photo won a Pulitzer Prize for photographer Nick Ut. [Source: AP/NPR]

In one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War, South Vietnamese soldiers follow terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc (center) as they run down a road near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places. The date was June 8, 1972. President Richard Nixon once doubted the authenticity of the photo, which earned a Pulitzer Prize for AP photographer Nick Ut.

What happened to that little girl? Now 45, Kim Phuc lives in Toronto. She tells a powerful story about otherness and forgiveness today for NPR’s This I Believe:

It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.

Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore.

The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.

I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy. But I finally got it.

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?

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15 Responses to After Napalm, The Long Road To Forgiveness

  1. tomrobertstennessee says:

    Hi Mark–Reading Kim Phuc’s story brought instantly to mind the powerful book by Victor Frankl, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” chronicling his life and observations as a Jewish prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. Following is one excerpt:
    “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

  2. Mark Willis says:

    Thanks, Tom. It is that freedom to choose, in the context of otherness and disability, that drew me to Kim Phuc’s affirmation of faith. I am fascinated, too, by the way her story lives beyond the moment frozen in an iconic photograph.

  3. swolfe says:

    A very powerful photo – the innocent victims of war – its hard not be moved and feel Kim’s pain.

  4. jessica says:

    Last year Kim Phuc came to my school on peace day. She made a very motivational speech and she also made me realize how lucky i am. Her story was veryy eye opening to me and my fellow students. I really think she is doing a very amazing thing by sharing her story with all.

  5. raclx says:

    just wish things like this never happened/happen/will happen…just maybe one day everyone will be able to forgive…and things never to escalate…people to be happy, satisfied, tolerant…and everything else, just without extremity…

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  7. Roger Pedersen says:

    It’s pictures like that which really touches people deeply… Like the picture of the green-eyed afghan girl, or the pictures of the survivors of Auschwitz after the allied forces liberated the camp at the end of WWII..

    You have to be really emotionally cold not to feel something when looking at those pictures..

  8. BILL FREEMAN says:

    I think it is important to remember that it was South Vietnamese forces who conducted that aerial assault. They had a habit of killing everyone and asking questions later. We of The United States Army had very little respect for those troops..Ex Lt. Freeman United States Army…

  9. David says:

    To Mr. Freeman. I think you missed the point of the article. It is about forgiveness, not blame or hatred.

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  11. FancyNancy says:

    Sometimes you begin to think that religion is a terrible thing and creates all the wars. Then you hear about this story and think about the healing religion can bring when nothing else can.

    It’s a very moving post. Thank you.

  12. Robin says:

    @BILL FREEMAN : Thank you Sir. Although as someone pointed out “It is about forgiveness, not blame or hatred”, in all fairness, the horror and psychological impact of this iconic image should be connected only with its proper and true context.

  13. James Wellford says:

    @Bill Freeman: Ex Lt. Freeman United States Army

    You are perfectly right sir. Thank you for making that point. When this photo first appeared, some shameless people in the USA were perfectly happy to blame this on our military; and would still do so today had the truth not been told.

  14. Mark Willis says:

    Photographer Nick Ut, left, reunites with Kim Phuc Phan Thi ahead of a tribute dinner that was held in Toronto on June 8, 2012. [Photo byt Chris Young/The Canadian Press/]

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