Woman from ‘Napalm Girl’ photo says ‘we should confront’ what ‘a gun rampage truly looks like’
Kim Phuc Phan Thi, the woman from the famous Vietnam War “Napalm Girl” photo, said in an opinion piece published Monday that Americans should not shy away from images showing the effects of gun violence to help them understand the horror of “domestic war.”
“The thought of sharing the images of the carnage, especially of children, may seem unbearable — but we should confront them,” Phan Thi wrote in The New York Times. “It is easier to hide from the realities of war if we don’t see the consequences.”
Phan Thi was captured at the center of a photo that became iconic of the Vietnam War after her village was bombed in 1972, when she was 9 years old. She was captured naked with a scream of terror and pain on her face after experiencing severe burns that still scar Phan Thi 50 years later.
“I know what it is like to have your village bombed, your home devastated, to see family members die and bodies of innocent civilians lying in the street. These are the horrors of war from Vietnam memorialized in countless photographs and newsreels,” she wrote.
Phan Thi added: “Sadly, they are also the images of wars everywhere, of precious human lives being damaged and destroyed today in Ukraine.”
Along with comparing Vietnam with Ukraine, a country that has been under siege from Russia for more than three months, Phan Thi drew a parallel between the carnage of wars abroad and that caused by school shooters domestically.
“We may not see the bodies, as we do with foreign wars, but these attacks are the domestic equivalent of war,” she said.
She specifically addressed last month’s violence in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman massacred 19 children and their two fourth grade teachers at Robb Elementary School.
Phan Thi said: “I cannot speak for the families in Uvalde, Texas, but I think that showing the world what the aftermath of a gun rampage truly looks like can deliver the awful reality. We must face this violence head-on, and the first step is to look at it.”
Phan Thi also discussed her own evolution from “detesting” the “Napalm Girl” photo as a child to being grateful for the opportunity to play a part in educating the world about the ravages of war.
“It was only in adulthood, after defecting to Canada that I began to find peace and realize my mission in life, with the help of my faith, husband and friends. I helped establish a foundation and began traveling to war-torn countries to provide medical and psychological assistance to children victimized by war, offering, I hope, a sense of possibilities,” she explained.
Phan Thi shared in an interview with PBS NewsHour in 2020 that she was full of “hatred, bitterness, and anger” before discovering purpose through her Christian faith and service to others.
“In 1982, I wanted to take my life, because I thought, after I die, no more suffer, no more pain. Eventually, I found the New Testament in the library in Saigon. In Christmas, 1982, I became a Christian. That faith, it helped me a lot,” she recalled.
Phan Thi said that “forgiveness set my heart free” and that she loves her enemies, adding: “I forgive everyone who caused my suffering, even the pilot, commander, people controlling me.”
“My work with the children who has trauma like me, I know how they have pain, and not only the pain with physical, but nightmare and traumatized. … Now I’m working, not because of my duty, not because of my mission, but because of my love,” she shared at the time.
Phan Thi knows “the unspeakable evil of which humanity is capable,” she wrote in the Times.
“Still, I believe that peace, love, hope and forgiveness will always be more powerful than any kind of weapon,” she wrote.