Peace Prize & Price Of Peace
This snapshot was taken in a village in southern Vietnam in 1972… The US forces had just dropped the infamous Napalm bomb in that village and a nine-year-old girl – naked and writhing in pain – was trying to run as fast as she could, as she was trying to reach a safer haven!
The Editors of the New York Times were more than perturbed receiving the image clicked by Nick Ut, an Associated Press photo journalist! They surely were wondering whether it would be politically correct to publish the image of a naked girl! However, they decided to publish the image in next day’s edition… and the rest is History… This particular image virtually changed the dimension of the Vietnam War!
The then nine-year-old girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, used to live in a village in the southern part of Vietnam. The US was dropping Napalm Bombs, more or less at a constant interval, on the Southeast Asian nation at that time… Napalm is a mixture of plastic polystyrene, hydrocarbon benzene and gasoline, creating a jelly-like substance which, when ignited, sticks to practically anything, and burns up to 10 minutes… The effects of Napalm on the human body are unbearably painful and almost always cause death among its victims. Kim Phúc, who sustained third degree burns to portions of her body, (once) said: “Napalm is the most terrible pain you can ever imagine. Water boils at 212 degrees F. Napalm generates temperatures reaching 1,500-2,200 degrees F.”
Standing in a puddle of water that has been poured over her burns, Phan Thi Kim Phuc is filmed by an ITN news crew.
After an American fighter jet dropped such a bomb on Trảng Bàng village on June 8, 1972, Kim Phúc had joined a group of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers, who were fleeing the Caodai Temple to the safety of South Vietnamese-held positions. Kim Phúc, unlike four of her neighbours, survived the aerial attack that day, and Nick Ut recorded this historic moment in his camera!
The 56-year-old Kim Phúc, who recently received an award in Germany for her work on Peace, still remembers that eventful day. “I had no idea where I was or what happened to me. I woke up and I was in the hospital with so much pain, and then the nurses were around me. I woke up with a terrible fear,” she said. She claimed that she is one of the thousands of victims of war in this world.
After receiving the International Peace Prize at Semperoper in Dresden, Germany, Kim Phúc was heard speaking to an audience held in rapt attention that “love, hope and forgiveness” could make our lives beautiful! “In that case, we can avoid wars,” she added.
Kim Phúc, currently residing in Canada, experienced the horror of war nearly five decades ago… She revealed that the experience encouraged her to become a Peace Activist. She also set up a voluntary organisation to help war victims…
Now, Who was responsible for the Vietnam War?
Kim Phúc speaks after receiving the prize in Germany.
It was in 1961, when the erstwhile Soviet Union and the US had selected Vietnam as an ideal place for the Cold War trial… The then US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy seemingly decided to destroy jungles, crops and greeneries in Vietnam… The JFK administration had reportedly asked Monsanto and Dow Chemical – the two American Agro-chemical and Agricultural Biotechnology Corporations – to manufacture chemicals for war purposes… Washington argued that it used the chemical weapons in Vietnam as per the International Law, and there were many such examples in the past! As the Vietnamese guerrillas used to take refuge mostly in jungles, the US defence experts advised their government to destroy the jungles… and no wonder, the US president had accepted that piece of advice! As a result, the US forces used chemicals to destroy the Vietnamese jungles…
Nick Ut with the image
American Multinational Corporations used to address it as the ‘Rainbow Chemical’, as the chemical was transported to Asia in pink, green, red, white and orange-coloured drums! According to other sources, ‘Rainbow Herbicides’ are a group of tactical use chemicals used by the US forces in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. After receiving the ‘green signal’ from the JFK administration in 1961, the US forces started using these chemicals in Vietnam, and the most dangerous among them was ‘Agent Orange’! As per a report published by the US government, Washington used 40.5 million litres of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War!
It is to be noted that Nick Ut (then 21), who won a Pulitzer Prize for this photograph in 1973, drove Kim Phúc to a hospital where he demanded that the doctors treat her. In 2012, the photo journalist recalled: “I cried when I saw her running. If I don’t help her and if something happened and she died I think I’d kill myself after that.” He added: “After taking a few images, my humanity said that I should take care of these children, especially the girl. I hurriedly put them in a van and drove to the nearest hospital, which was 40 minutes away. I knew the girl would die, her body was badly burnt… but she survived and I had my picture.”
Kim Phúc receives the international peace prize at the Semper Opera in Dresden, Germany, on February 11, 2019.
After a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures, including skin transplantations, she was able to return home. The badly burned little girl went through years of pain and various methods of forms of denial, she found her mission in life and dedicated herself to it. In 2015, Kim Phúc travelled from Canada to Miami to visit a dermatologist, who specialises in laser treatments for patients with burn- injury, with the hope that it would relieve the aches and pains caused by the burns.
The image not only impacted the global community, but also prompted the US to withdraw troops from Vietnam. The then US President, Richard Nixon, had tried his best to hide the crime against humanity, but failed. Initially, President Nixon argued that the AP image was “fake”. However, NBC, which had complete footage of the event, established it to be a real incident! Nixon’s attempt to hide the issue faced the wrath of the American people who took to the streets to protest the catastrophe in Vietnam… and slowly, the photograph clicked by Ut became the symbol of peace.
Nick Ut in the Indian capital
Nearly three million Vietnamese people perished in Vietnam War, but what the contemporary world has learnt from Kim Phúc’s life? Still, the world doesn’t bother about “forgiveness, love and hope”, and people in different parts of the globe are experiencing the traumas of war. Thousands of innocent lives have ceased to live in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the last couple of years only… However, Kim Phúc – the founder of the Kim Phúc Foundation, an organisation dedicated to support the work of international organisations that provide free medical assistance to children who are victims of war and terrorism – believes that the world will certainly replace revenge with peace, one day! That will be her task as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Culture of Peace…
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