Phan Thị Kim Phúc

(Last Updated On: February 11, 2016)

Kim Phúc led the ordinary life of a little girl in the village of Trảng Bàng in the southern part of Vietnam. Then suddenly in 1972 she became a tragic icon of the cruel war that ravaged her country. On June 8th, South Vietnamese planes dropped napalm bombs on her village. Kim Phúc was badly burned and she tore off her burning clothes. Associated Press photographer Nick Ut took several pictures of the group of fleeing villagers, in particular one centered on that little girl running naked and screaming in terror and pain; in fact, she was screaming “too hot, too hot!”

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Nick Ut – (untitled) (1972)

This image was so shocking that U.S. President Richard Nixon at first doubted its authenticity. It was used in anti-war posters and contributed to the movement for the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam. It also won Nick Ut the Pulitzer Prize.

Less well-known is the film shot by British television cameraman Alan Downes for the British ITN news service. In it, one can see the horrible burns left by napalm with the skin peeling off on large parts of the body. Here are two pictures from that film, showing Kim Phúc’s burned and peeling skin. One also sees the reporter Christopher Wain giving her water and pouring some over her burns.

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Alan Downes (1972) (1)

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Alan Downes (1972) (2)

Later Kim Phúc was used by the government of a reunified Vietnam as a propaganda symbol. She finally settled in Canada with her husband.

According to an article in the Inquisition 21st century website, AP was at first reluctant to publish Ut’s photograph because of the little girl’s frontal nudity and one of its editors even rejected it. But finally it was wisely decided that an exception should be made because of the news value of the picture. However no close-up of Kim Phúc alone would be transmitted.

Since then this picture, because of its fame, has defied the U.S. ban on pictures of childhood nudity and nobody tried to censor it. However, the same cannot be said of the ITN pictures; here is an edition where Kim Phúc’s flat chest is hidden by a black rectangle.

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Alan Downes (censored version) (1972)

As noted in the article mentioned above and the comment attached to it, this shows the grotesque and obscene mind of the censors, who are shocked not so much by the horrible napalm burns, but by the idea that the pre-pubescent chest of a nine-year-old girl could be viewed as “sexual”.

Phan Thị Kim Phúc Wikipedia page

Kim Phúc Interview

4 thoughts on “Phan Thị Kim Phúc

  1. It’s a very powerful image that encouraged people to try to prevent more atrocities like this. I remember when the photo was released, but I don’t specifically remember anybody objecting to the nudity. Everybody was too shocked by her suffering. Of course, the news value of the photo outweighed the taboo on nudity. I believe that the nudity did emphasize the vulnerability and innocence of the child, and therefore attracted attention to her. There are other suffering children in the photo; note the boy with the pained expression in the left foreground. However, in 1972 all attention was focused on Kim.

    Later there was another photo that I believe was inspired by this photo. Some time after Kim’s photo was released, and before the end of the Vietnam War, one of the major news magazines published a cover photo of a woman in the war zone with a nude baby girl. The photo seemed entirely innocent to me, but it did not have the news value of Kim’s photo, and many objected to it. I remember seeing the magazine at a newsstand wrapped in brown paper so the cover could not be seen. I read that other vendors refused to sell that issue. I don’t remember the magazine, but it was either Time, Newsweek, or US News and World Report. I tried to find that photo on the internet, but had no success. I did find two photos of Kim I had not seen before at this site: http://stil.kurir.rs/zanimljivosti/devojcica-9-gola-i-unakazena-bezi-od-rata-zivotna-prica-uzdrmala-svet-foto-clanak-32552

    • I remember that issue of Newsweek from the mid-1970’s.
      Yes, some people were protesting that cover, which depicted a Vietnamese woman holding her baby girl who was wearing only some kind of a shirt above the waist and nothing else.

  2. I remember those days well, including that event.
    A newspaper published a letter from a reader who criticized them for printing this “erotic” picture.
    Then they published a letter from another reader who responded by saying that this picture could be “erotic only to a necrophiliac”.

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