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?