Thursday, June 08, 2006
“The picture of Kim Phuc remains among the indelible images from the Vietnam War. Taken on June 8, 1972, it appeared on front pages of newspapers all over the world that year, and it has been reproduced innumerable times since. George Esper, the Associated Press’s last bureau chief in Saigon, who stayed until the Communists ordered all remaining foreign journalists out, spoke with me [Denise Chong] about the power of the picture and its impact on the Vietnam War: “It captures not just one evil of one war, but an evil of every war”, he said. “There were many casualty pictures, but this one was haunting … In her expression was fear and horror, which was how people felt about war. This picture showed the effects of war, and how wrong and destructive it was. People looked at it and said, ‘this war has got to end”’.
Denise Chong, The girl in the picture 1999 155

Denise Chong explored the story of the adult Kim Phuc, what the family were having for breakfast on that fateful morning their village was attacked with napalm and recounts the family history. Kim Phuc was a real person on whom this outrageous napalm attack was perpetrated; we do not know the names of the other inhabitants of the village of Trang Bang. That act of ‘humanising’ war victims makes it more difficult for military and civilian war operatives to carry on with their ‘work’ with the assurance of public approval. People are uneasy about the role of ‘war crimes’ since the end of World War II and the Nuremberg trials. (ICRC: 2006) The ‘solution’ to this ‘problem’ was the suppression of images that might disturb an apathetic public and impel them into opposition to war.
“Mission accomplished” was in my view a ‘grotesque’ staged event, rich in trite symbolism, facile triumphalism, and devoid of factually realistic content, but it did really happen. US President, George W Bush was on an aircraft carrier “somewhere”. The most powerful military force in world history had taken just days to defeat “a third rate nation”, whose defences had been systematically dismantled by twelve years of persistent air strikes and whose economy had been severely affected by economic sanctions. No one expected any other outcome.


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