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The Napalm Girl - Tales from History
2055    Dibyendu Banerjee    27/06/2020

The Napalm girl is best known in the world as the nine-year-old girl depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, crying and running naked on a road in a moment of terror and desperation, as her back was severely burned by the effect of the napalm bomb, dropped by the South Vietnamese force at the order of a US Commander. The picture was snapped by AP photographer Nick Ut at Trang Bang during the Vietnam War on 08 June 1972. The poor girl in the photograph, Phan Thi Kim Phúc and her family were the residents of the village of Trang Bang in South Vietnam and on that fateful day, the South Vietnamese planes dropped a napalm bomb on the village, which had been attacked and eventually occupied by the North Vietnamese force.


During the air attack, Kim Phúc, along with a group of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers, was fleeing from the Caodai Temple to take shelter in a place of South Vietnamese-held positions. The bombing killed two of Kim Phúc's cousins and two other villagers, while Kim Phúc received third degree burns after her clothing was burned by the ensuing fire.

the napalm girl
Standing in a puddle of water that has been poured over her burns

During that time, Nick Ut, the Vietnamese photographer attached to the Associated Press, was busy in taking pictures of the carnage. Suddenly he saw a little, naked and screaming girl running up the highway toward him, along with a group of other children and adult civilians. Before thinking anything, he immediately captured the moment in his camera, which was the photograph of a terrified naked child running for her life down a country road with her body severely burned from the napalm bombs dropped on her village just moments before Ut captured the iconic image.

the napalm girl
Photographer Nick Ut in an undated picture

As the girl was screaming out her heart, ‘too hot, too hot’, Nick Ut immediately realized that she had been badly hit by the napalm and her clothing was burned by the fire. He rushed to help the nine-year-old Kim Phuc, poured cold water on her burns and transported her and the other victims by his AP van to Barsky Hospital in Saigon. In the hospital Nick was given to understand that with third-degree burns covering 30 percent of her body, chances of her survival was remote.


However, after 17 surgical procedures including skin transplantation and after prolonged period on 14-months stay in hospital, she came to the position to return her home, but was left with serious restrictions in her range of movement. She had to bear it for ten years, until she got reconstructive surgery at a renowned special clinic in Ludwigshafen, West Germany in 1982.

the napalm girl
Kim Phuc shows burn scars on her back and left arm at a hotel in Miami on 25 09 2015

On the other side of the story, the photograph of a crying and running naked girl, captured by Nick Ut, appeared in the prestigious American newspaper, The New York Times and immediately created a series of furore in the country. The Napalm Girl became cultural shorthand for the atrocities of the Vietnam War and it became evident that America’s war in Vietnam was coarse and brutal, even by the standards of 20th century warfare. In 1973, the Pulitzer committee agreed and awarded Nick Ut its prize and in the same year, America’s involvement in the war ended. However, the war continued between Saigon and Hanoi.


Later in her life, Kim Phuc took political asylum in Canada in 1992, along with her husband. She was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador on 10 November 1994 and in 1997, established the first Kim Phúc Foundation in the United States, to provide medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war.

the napalm girl
Nick Ut and the Napalm Girl

Ridiculously, during the summer of 2016, Facebook banned and deleted Nick Ut’s iconic photograph of the Napalm Girl that had been posted by a journalist working for Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. However, the image was reinstated on Facebook, after an aggressive front-page open letter from the editor-in-chief of the newspaper addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook.

Execution of Lady Jane Grey
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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