Her name was Kim Phuc, and she had just been napalmed. Trang Bang was her village, it was 1972, she was 9 years old and fleeing down Highway No. 1 from Saigon to Pnom Penh. American GIs were sheepishly herding Kim and other children away from another atrocity. She was naked, in mortal agony, humiliated, had 3rd-degree burns over 65% of her body, and was in all likelihood going to die.
I assumed she was dead, if not one of the millions of the anonymous war victims who live in Vietnam. But the Associated Press photographer who took the iconic picture, Nick Ut, rushed her to a hospital. As the picture was taken, Kim was most worried about her disfigurement and how it would limit her future prospects:
I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way.A decade later, she lost faith in her own society:
In 1982, I went through another very difficult ordeal. I had been admitted to Saigon medical school. Unfortunately, one day the government realized that I was the little girl in the picture and they came to get me to work with them, to use me as a symbol, and I didn't want to. "Let me study," I asked them, "I don't want to do anything else." So they automatically kept me out of school. It was awful. I didn't understand: why me? Why could my friends continue their studies and not me? I felt as though I had always been a victim. At 19, I no longer had any hope and wanted to die.Now she lives in Toronto, is 45 years old, and has become a UNESCO representative. I heard her on Monday when she was broadcast on NPR's 'This I Believe' series:
On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.
I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.
Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.
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.
Christians can be good. More about Kim's story here.