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!”
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.
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.
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”.