Woman from iconic napalm photo speaks at Haverford

Haverford College is getting a visit from a woman who–for many–embodies the brutality of war.

Kim Phuc Phan Thi was nine years old when she was photographed running naked from a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Two things happened that day in 1972: all the skin on her back was burned off, and somebody took a picture of it. The scars and that image have haunted her ever since.

She was not expected to survive. Phuc (pronounced “fook”) spent 14 months recovering in the hospital. She remembers when she was released her father showed her the picture in a newspaper. “I looked at it and said, ‘oh, how ugly it is!'”

More than ugly, it wouldn’t go away. The image won a Pulitzer prize, and Phuc became an international symbol of suffering. As a young woman she wanted to go to medical school but the Vietnamese government forced her into a propaganda campaign.

“The Vietnamese government found I was still alive – I was that little girl in the famous picture,” said Phuc. “They wanted me to go back to my province to do interviews and do a film rather than going to school.”

Phuc eventually migrated to Cuba, and later became a Canadian citizen and a devout Christian. Against medical odds, she gave birth to two sons, now aged 16 and 13.

She still suffers daily pain from the napalm scars, but her relationship with the picture has changed.

“I’m so grateful that that picture is still alive,” said Phuc. “Of course, I went through so many dark time[s] – I was in hatred and anger and bitterness. I really wanted to die–I hate[d] that picture. But right now it turns my point of view.”

Phuc created Kim Phuc Foundation International, promoting children’s health and world peace. She says she will use her engagement at Haverford College to preach for love and forgiveness.

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