Hard to believe it's been 40 years since this photo was snapped. I was 12 at the time and though I don't recall the immediate fallout, I do remember being told time and again in the follow on years, and thinking until recently, that she had been the victim of an American bombing campaign.
Jean Kaufman at PJMedia corrects that and other errors concerning that horrific day:
The picture of Kim running down a road near the village of Trang Bang screaming in agony and terror, her clothes torn off and her body badly burned, shocked and outraged an America that had become profoundly weary of the war and its horrors. The photo was Picasso’s Guernica come to life, even more horrific because it was not just an artist’s imaginative and stylized rendition of the bombing’s effects, but the real thing.
As familiar as the photo has become, the story behind it is less so. For example, if the introductory paragraph of this essay had read: “She was the nine-year-old girl who was burned by napalm dropped by American forces in South Vietnam,” how many readers would have caught the error?
In fact, it was the South Vietnamese who were doing the bombing, but the idea that Kim was burned at the hands of Americans persists. That is only one of several common misconceptions about the attack, because the incident has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood through errors of omission and commission.
It'd be worth your while to read the whole thing.
Ms. Phuc today lives in Canada and as she wrote 4 years ago, has forgiven those responsible for her scars:
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.