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Iconic Image from the Vietnam war.
June 2, 2012 6:41 AM   Subscribe

The photograph of 9 year old Phan Thi Kim Phuc (often referred to as the "napalm girl"), taken nearly 40 years ago on June 8th in 1972 by press photographer Nick Ut, won a Pulitzer Prize at the time and became one of the most important images from the Vietnam War era.

Although Nixon doubted the veracity of the images, video taken just before and after that photograph seem to support the fact that the event did, in fact, happen.

Kim Phuc has since created a foundation (note, link for future reference, it seems to have exceeded its bandwidth at the moment) to provide medical and psychological support to the victims of war.

Photographer Nick Ut now lives in L.A. and works for the Associated Press.

warning: links point to images and video of a naked child and may be very disturbing
posted by HuronBob (39 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I didn't know that Nixon doubted the picture. He just keeps getting to be a bigger and bigger shithead all the time.
posted by narcoleptic at 6:48 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Here's a bit more on the Nixon angle, a conversation with Haldeman that took place in June 12th, a few days after the photo. The conversation was taped and eventually released to the public in 2002. Evidently Westmoreland also questioned the photo.
posted by HuronBob at 6:54 AM on June 2, 2012


I won't click on that image. I don't need to see it again, it's forever in my mind. I encountered that particular image in a history book around the age of 8 or 9 and it has never left me. It was one of those flashbulb moments in my own time where I recall having a physical reaction to a photograph. Also, thinking outside of my own circumstances.
posted by Fizz at 7:09 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


That photo has always made me cry. And now I am crying again.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:18 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


“I really wanted to escape from that little girl,” says Kim Phuc, now 49. “But it seems to me that the picture didn’t let me go.”

Amazing quote.

This was real-time for me, not history book stuff, and it seared into my young psyche a deep and long-lasting (to this day) distrust of the government. A painful, shocking and irrefutable lesson: what they say they are doing, and what they are actually doing, are not the same thing. It was a long way from the shining, glorified history of the nation that I'd been taught all along. The good, the righteous. This photo brought that carefully constructed edifice crashing down.

I dunno, maybe we need more photos like this, today, from Afghanistan. We probably won't get them, though, cause I reckon there's no photographers around on the ground when one of those Predator drone missiles takes out a wedding party (complete with children) in some remote village somewhere in the mountains.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:23 AM on June 2, 2012 [25 favorites]


At exactly 35 years later he took a slightly different photograph of a crying woman.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:25 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Photographer Nick Ut now lives in L.A. and works for the Associated Press.

Indeed, I remember when he took this famous picture of Paris Hilton crying.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:28 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Indeed, I remember when he took this famous picture of Paris Hilton crying.

Famous picture? Really?
posted by crossoverman at 7:34 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's unfortunate that many today can't instantly differentiate motion picture film and videotape.
posted by Tube at 7:34 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


At exactly 35 years later he took a slightly different photograph of a crying woman.

Those two photographs could not be more different.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:34 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The uncropped version of that photo is actually more powerful for the presence of the soldiers walking along with the children, seemingly indifferent to their suffering. ("Seemingly" because I'm well aware that the photograph doesn't document their own concern or even trauma. I'm just describing the image.)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:16 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Looking at that photo again now is another reminder of the myriad ways that having children changes your outlook on the world. Previously, it was just some fucked up thing that happened in history.

Now, to see the terror in that child's face (as well as the face of the boy on the left which, oddly, I'd never noticed before) I am gripped by the unconscious, involuntary urge to grab them and comfort them as my own children. And I am rocked by the horror that my country did this and that it was senseless and that no amount of comfort will make the looks on these childrens' faces go away.

And then I am disgusted that my country still commits these kind of horrific crimes only now, the killing is done by unmanned drones and there are no longer witnesses to the screams of children.

Fuck war, fuck the military, fuck anyone who thinks there is any possible thing to be gained that warrants this kind of terror.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


Famous picture? Really?

Eh, I remember seeing it all over the place at the time. Then again, I also saw the article at the time, so maybe that's informed my definition of "famous."
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2012


The little girl heard a roar overhead and twisted her neck to look up. As the South Vietnamese Skyraider plane grew fatter and louder, it swooped down toward her, dropping canisters like tumbling eggs flipping end over end.

I never knew that it was actually a South Vietnamese plane that had dropped the napalm rather than the USAF.
posted by Flashman at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


...I dunno, maybe we need more photos like this, today, from Afghanistan. We probably won't get them, though...

WARNING: All images are disturbing - These ones always make me shudder. Also this one. And most recently, this one.

Maybe in these cases, the circumstances were different (in the first one, the excuse given was that the family refused to stop at a checkpoint, and in the second one, no side is claiming responsibility for the killing; we'll see if there's any reaction going forward to the third one.

And I'm sure if you go to Google Images and type in the right keywords (i.e. "flood children"), you'll find hundreds, if not thousands of horrifying pictures.

While, I like to think that most people care, not enough people (including myself) care enough, despite all the pics that we'll see. Maybe most of us will feel sad and angry, shake our fists at the sky and curse whoever our favourite villian of the day is, maybe sign a form letter on the Web or something, and that's about it. Maybe we'll fantasize about turning into a ninja or a SEAL and covertly killing all the bad guys, or inventing the invention that solves the world's problems (wait, wasn't the Internet supposed to do that?). But eventually, we'll go back to our lives, our "stuff".

Can we do more? Absolutely. Would it be effective? That's the million-dollar question. The real fight ultimately, is against humanity's inherent selfish attitude. We'll pay $6 for a latte at the coffee shop, but won't give a buck to a panhandler. We'll say "oh, those horrible sweatshops!", and then we'll run to the Try-n-Save and buy cheap clothing.

I don't want to sound accusatory; I apologize if I do - I'm definitely part of the guilty, in that case.
I don't have the answers... any answer.

I just make a promise to be thankful for every breath that I take, living where I do, and pledge to spend every minute in honour of those who had, who are having, and who will have that opportunity stolen from them.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:11 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm sure there are pictures like this now, even with the drone strikes. The military love their damage reports. We'll not see them because of what happened to Bradley Manning.
posted by narcoleptic at 9:14 AM on June 2, 2012




I dunno, maybe we need more photos like this, today, from Afghanistan.

We absolutely do. If our government is to argue that war is necessary, it should not shy away from explaining how the benefits of war outweigh the human costs and it shouldn't downplay those costs.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2012


The uncropped version of that photo is actually more powerful for the presence of the soldiers walking along with the children, seemingly indifferent to their suffering.

That's the one I saw. I would've been twelve at the time. They stuck it on the front page of the local paper. I remember wondering why the soldiers weren't doing something for the kids, but then a friend pointed out, "Well, they are the enemy."

Also worth noting, it was the first time I'd ever heard of this stuff called napalm. Same friend (his uncle was a military guy) described it as, "Sort of like candle wax, except it burns at like a million degrees."

Vietnam was a strange thing to witness from my Canadian childhood suburbia. Born in 1959, I don't really have clear memories of it not happening, not being part of the evening news (one of our three channels was the local Buffalo, New York station). They'd have score cards where they listed the wounded and the dead -- the Americans always seemed to be winning. As for actually WAR footage, mostly what you'd see is a reporter talking about something that was going on the distance (smoke rising from a small village, sound of gunfire), or the occasional injured soldier getting carried past. But you never really saw any ACTION, which as a kid, was frustrating.

Then came the My Lai massacre, which the world started to hear about in 1969. But that wasn't the war I'd come to imagine (kickass battling in the jungle). That was just old people and little kids dead in ditches -- lots of blood. So by the time June 8, 1972 came along, the photo in question wasn't really the SHOCK it should have been -- more just confirmation. The horrible shit was still happening. And for me, pretty much the end of any illusions I may have had about war. It was horrible shit happening. End of story. No glory. No heroes. No meaning. Just the worst thing that humans could do.
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember wondering why the soldiers weren't doing something for the kids

Except that they were. They led the kids to their medic. Anything more would have involved touching the kids, and touching a burn victim with your dirty hands is not a good idea.
posted by ocschwar at 10:59 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


That photograph was taken the same day that I was born at an Air Force Base hospital. I think about her every year on my birthday since I found that out.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:48 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I watched the video and now I'm struggling to hold in my tears. Fuck.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:37 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


So - I know I'm going to hell for this, but a while back one time I was looking at the photo, and there... in the corner, do you see him? The boy? His face? Does it... does it look familiar?

Well it did to me, and I knew exactly where I saw it before (though technically I saw the napalm photo first and this other image second, but I digress)... So I made something over on "Totally Looks Like".

Without further ado, I present to you Kid from Napalm Photo totally looks like Pokemon Freakout Kid.

I am a horrible horrible person.
posted by symbioid at 1:01 PM on June 2, 2012


Philip-random, it's an interesting coincidence that you relate to this picture though a childhood in suburban Southern Ontario, the same place where today the girl in that picture is raising her children.

Like so many others, this picture has been seared in my mind from the moment I saw it. It was in a book, and I was probably 12 or 13. As I remember it, the accompanying description said her clothes had been burned off in the attack. Halftone reproduction of stills from the footage didn't hide the extent of the burns on her back. Being at the age where boys like to play with fire, and having a fire chief stepfather, I had it pounded into me just how horrible and lethal burns were; I just took it as a given that the poor girl had died.

It's something of a shock to learn not only that she survived, but that she lives a half-hour drive away. It made me wonder about all the people I see every day, and how many must have had a childhood broken by war or other civic strife, without an iconic photograph to make it real to others. As someone born in Canada, it's a humbling reminder of my privilege.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]




I dunno, maybe we need more photos like this, today, from Afghanistan.

I remember a few years ago when the WaPo ran this picture of a dying Iraqi child, a bunch of people complained about it.
posted by homunculus at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2012


Denise Chong wrote a book about her :The Girl in the Picture.
posted by brujita at 2:33 PM on June 2, 2012


A couple of weeks ago I was honored to spend some time with David Turnley. David is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, he's also won the World Press Photo of the Year award two times. Much of his work was done in war zones. I expected a flak jacket wearing, Nikon toting, Indian Jones type, but instead found a soft spoken, very humble and seemingly gentle individual. Our conversation was centered around children, he was presenting a project he had done about a dying steel town in Pennsylvania to our students. David compared the disadvantaged life of our Detroit area kids to the lives being led by those steel town kids.

I can only believe that much of his character was shaped by what he had experienced.

I bring this up to agree with those that expressed that we need more photographs like this, we all need that perspective.
posted by HuronBob at 2:47 PM on June 2, 2012


I dunno, maybe we need more photos like this, today, from Afghanistan.

We absolutely do. If our government is to argue that war is necessary, it should not shy away from explaining how the benefits of war outweigh the human costs and it shouldn't downplay those costs.


I know what you are both saying, but as a mother and grandmother, the idea of just one more child suffering makes me sorrow.

Civilian casualties are so wrong. Little kids don't sign up for war.

I truly believe the wars in Viet Nam and the Middle East were started solely so some old fuckers could get rich. Why we don't require our politicians to serve on the front lines is beyond me. They play with numbers on paper and never give a thought to what it means.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:39 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would say that war is not necessary. I would also that you don't stop tomorrow's war tomorrow, or even today or yesterday. You stop it forty years ago, by dealing with the essential conflicts of the time in such a way that they are genuinely resolved, as opposed to what we usually do, which is make a mess of things, leave a trail of injustice-rage-humiliation that inevitably erupts into tomorrow's war.
posted by philip-random at 3:45 PM on June 2, 2012


We probably won't get them, though, cause I reckon there's no photographers around on the ground when one of those Predator drone missiles takes out a wedding party (complete with children) in some remote village somewhere in the mountains.

It's interesting you say that, Flapjax, because one of the big lessons of the Vietnam War from a political and military perspective was about the control of information flooding "back home" about it.

As a direct result, it made administrations and the military in general rethink how they managed press. Nowadays reporters are far more likely "embedded" in a unit, replete with army PR minder to ensure only the right stories get coverage and that exposure to civilians or enemy combantants is very, very limited. Those embedded units are gonna be the ones building bridges in Uruzgan, not getting into firefights etc.
posted by smoke at 6:16 PM on June 2, 2012


HuronBob: " links point to images and video of a naked child and may be very disturbing"

Wait, the fact that she's naked is the disturbing part?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:37 PM on June 2, 2012


^ he didn't say "which may be very disturbing"; he said "and may be very disturbing". Two independent points brought together in the same sentence by the appropriate conjunction.

please stop looking for a fight - fighting is what starts all this garbage in the first place.
posted by bitteroldman at 8:37 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


please stop looking for a fight

Hear hear!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:51 PM on June 2, 2012


Ironic that Kim Phuc felt so oppressed by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam that she fled to Canada. You know, the people that the South Vietnamese and the US were fighting against. So she wound up in agreement with the people that napalmed her in the end, even if she was almost killed by their methods.
posted by TSOL at 10:14 PM on June 2, 2012


Those were different times, TSOL. Canada's Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, strongly believed that if North Vietnam could be assisted through agricultural subsidies, financial aid and massive weapons shipments to embrace a system of government combining robust social programs with controlled free enterprise and vigorous rink-based sports, then neighbouring nations would follow suit. At first it was proclaimed that the beneficial effects of Canadian intervention would 'snowball', but when the metaphor was met with bewilderment in the Asian press Trudeau substituted the image of a line of dominoes falling. The ensuing war however proved anything but a child's game. After 12 years of a conflict that killed millions of Vietnamese as well as tarnishing Trudeau's 'Golden Boy' image, Canadian support was quietly scaled back. Today this dark chapter of Canada's history is all but forgotten; most Canadians recall it only as a hockey game in 1972.
posted by Flashman at 11:17 PM on June 2, 2012


Ironic that Kim Phuc felt so oppressed by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam that she fled to Canada. You know, the people that the South Vietnamese and the US were fighting against. So she wound up in agreement with the people that napalmed her in the end, even if she was almost killed by their methods.

I guess that'd be ironic, if you believed the Vietnam War was Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. I mean, she did leave the country altogether.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:49 AM on June 3, 2012


... and went to a country that didn't fight for either side of the war.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:50 AM on June 3, 2012


she fled to Canada. You know, the people that the South Vietnamese and the US were fighting against

The South Vietnamese and the US were fighting against Canada? I kid, but I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here, and your grammatical confusion doesn't help. She was South Vietnamese, and she was hit in a friendly fire incident by other South Vietnamese. It is unknown to me whether her family had political sympathies either way, but even if she were napalmed, it doesn't mean she backed the Viet Cong; in fact, her emigrating strongly suggests otherwise. Finally, I agree with Marisa &c. that moving to Canada doesn't indicate "agreement" in any sense with the backers of the war on the Western side.

Famous picture? Really?

Not at the same level, obviously, but at the time it provoked some hand-wringing about invasion of privacy and the general media circus surrounding troubled stars. I think the thing about that shot was that a) it was a very emotionally engaging one because of her reaction, and b) it was or very nearly so the only photograph that was of Paris Hilton and not some trundling cruiser -- so it appeared on the front page of practically every news website and many newspapers.

Less fame, really, than Wikipedia-style "notability".
posted by dhartung at 1:02 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


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