June 8, 2022 Editor

Thoughts on: It’s Been 50 Years. I Am Not ‘Napalm Girl’ Anymore.

June 6, 2022

by Kim Phuc Phan Thi

Ms. Phan Thi is the founder of the Kim Foundation International, which provides aid to child victims of war. See also: Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace.

She finally tells her story of unexpected survival, a life in constant pain, as the tool of a communist regime, love, family, and the unshakable, life-altering faith that set her free. Read more here.

image above: Credit… May Truong for The New York Times

WN: Ms. Thi gets it when she writes:

That picture will always serve as a reminder of the unspeakable evil of which humanity is capable. Still, I believe that peace, love, hope and forgiveness will always be more powerful than any kind of weapon.

Of A. J. Muste, “The American Gandhi,” we read in a book review of American Gandhi: A. J. Muste and the History of Radicalism in the Twentieth Century, by Leilah Danielson:

The Second World War and, especially, the use of atomic weaponry at the end of it, seem to have ignited the prophetic tradition of Christianity in Muste. While he would never fully abandon the struggle against capitalism, his attention clearly turned toward anti-war/military/nuclear activism. Danielson argues that the emerging Cold War, global de-colonization struggles, and the American civil rights movement all crystallized into a single pacifist struggle against racist, violent nation-states, and the racist, violent American state, in particular.–  “There Is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the Way”: A.J. Muste and American Radical Pacifism, by Scott Ward.

I say in introducing that Book Review:

In the Great Assize, A. J. Muste will be shown to have been right:

There Is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the Way.

The Christian call is simple: If there is no place for war then, there is no place for war now!

See in this regard my book review of The Fall of the Prison: Biblical Perspectives on Prison Abolition, where I cite a similar statement by the author, Lee Griffith, about prisons:

Ultimately, there are not two kingdoms but one – the kingdom of God… ‘Freedom to the captives’ is not proclaimed in some other world but in our world. The matter finally comes down to a peculiar question: Are there prisons in the kingdom of God? And if there are no prisoners there and then, how can we support the imprisonment of people here and now? For in fact, the kingdom of God is among us here and now (p. 28).

Then please see my book review of The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God, by the same author. In the review you will read:

“What would this mean if it were true that we love God only as much as the person we love least? Would it not mean that, when we have finally won the victory in our war on terrorism, when we have finally managed to exterminate all the thugs and Hitlers and terrorists, we will have expressed nothing so much as our total confidence in the death of God? (p. 263)” This is the heart of Griffith’s sustained thesis that “the biblical concept of ‘the terror of God’ stands as a renunciation of all violence – and of death itself (inside front jacket cover).”

Most surprising about this book is its timing: “In an instant [after September 11, 2001], the phrase ‘the war on terrorism’ entered everyday discourse with a new and urgent meaning. In this book I do not seek to exploit that urgency. Indeed, the title of this book was chosen and the first draft was completed almost a full year before the events of September 11. With the exception of these two paragraphs at the beginning and a postscript at the end, the manuscript has not been altered to cover these most recent exchanges of terror and counterterror (p. ix).” In the very specific meaning of the term, I consider this book providential. It is also prophetic in the truest sense of that adjective: namely, a word from God to our present times.

We Christians have abdicated Christological faithfulness for a mess of self-serving and pagan “Just War” Church propaganda dedicated to “anti-Christ,” in a manifestly literal way. There is much on my website that calls us back to Jesus: The Way.

There Is No Way to Peace, Jesus, Prince of Peace, Is the Way.

Abolish war now!


I grew up in the small village of Trang Bang in South Vietnam. My mother said I laughed a lot as a young girl. We led a simple life with an abundance of food, since my family had a farm and my mom ran the best restaurant in town. I remember loving school and playing with my cousins and the other children in our village, jumping rope, running and chasing one another joyfully.

We must face this violence head-on, and the first step is to look at it.

All of that changed on June 8, 1972. I have only flashes of memories of that horrific day. I was playing with my cousins in the temple courtyard. The next moment, there was a plane swooping down close and a deafening noise. Then explosions and smoke and excruciating pain. I was 9 years old.

Napalm sticks to you, no matter how fast you run, causing horrific burns and pain that last a lifetime. I don’t remember running and screaming, “Nóng quá, nóng quá!” (“Too hot, too hot!”) But film footage and others’ memories show that I did.

You’ve probably seen the photograph of me taken that day, running away from the explosions with the others — a naked child with outstretched arms, screaming in pain. Taken by the South Vietnamese photographer Nick Ut, who was working for The Associated Press, it ran on the front pages of newspapers all over the world and won a Pulitzer Prize. In time, it became one of the most famous images from the Vietnam War.

My horror — which I barely remember — became universal. I’m proud that, in time, I have become a symbol of peace.

Growing up, I sometimes wished to disappear not only because of my injuries — the burns scarred a third of my body and caused intense, chronic pain — but also because of the shame and embarrassment of my disfigurement. I tried to hide my scars under my clothes. I had horrific anxiety and depression. Children in school recoiled from me. I was a figure of pity to neighbors and, to some extent, my parents. As I got older, I feared that no one would ever love me.

Meanwhile, the photograph became even more famous, making it more difficult to navigate my private and emotional life. Beginning in the 1980s, I sat through endless interviews with the press and meetings with royalty, prime ministers and other leaders, all of whom expected to find some meaning in that image and my experience. The child running down the street became a symbol of the horrors of war. The real person looked on from the shadows, fearful that I would somehow be exposed as a damaged person.

Still, I believe that peace, love, hope and forgiveness will always be more powerful than any kind of weapon.

I know what it is like to have your village bombed, your home devastated, to see family members die and bodies of innocent civilians lying in the street. These are the horrors of war from Vietnam memorialized in countless photographs and newsreels. Sadly, they are also the images of wars everywhere, of precious human lives being damaged and destroyed today in Ukraine.

Please click on: Not ‘Napalm Girl’ Anymore

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.