“Forgive & love”, urges Kim Phuc on the 40th anniversary of the photo seen around the world
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the iconic black-and-white photo taken of her during the Vietnam War, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Kim Phuc urges the world to forgive and show love.
On June 8 1972, a lifetime of chronic pain and medication began for Kim Phuc, when a napalm bomb strike on her village essentially transformed her, then 9 years old, into a human torch. The chemical weapon incinerated her clothes and continued to burn fiercely into and under her skin. Naked, and fleeing from the fire with her brothers and sisters, Kim would soon be recognized worldwide as “that girl” in the Pulitzer Prize winning image that has come to symbolize the inhumanity of war.
40 years later, Kim offers an updated version of the original photo (listen to her podcast). In it, her 9 year old self runs on the field of scars on her adult back. Kim will never forget the past, but it is behind her. She has embraced her future, represented by her infant son, in whose ear she whispers her enduring message of love. “Forgiveness is more powerful than hatred,” Kim exhorts, “and love is more powerful than any weapon of war.” To spend life giving love, with no expectations of being loved back: This ethic energizes her to tirelessly promote peace and reconciliation through her Kim Foundation International. It helps children victims of war by providing medical and psychological support so that they overcome their traumatic experiences. Today, Kim funds schools and hospitals projects worldwide, as in Afghanistan, Kenya, Romania, Tadjikistan, Timor-Leste, and Uganda.
In our exclusive interview, Kim Phuc shares her views on what this photo means for her today
UNESCO: What does the 40th anniversary of this photo mean to you personally?
Kim: The 40th anniversary means so much to me. I am thankful to be alive and to have learned a lot from this tragedy. 40 years on, I am better not bitter, and the tragedy I experienced has helped me discover the meaning of life. I thank God for happy endings. I had the opportunity to continue living, and for this I celebrate life and honor the people who are involved in my life: the photographer who took my picture, the journalists who spread my story around the world, my father and mother, my husband and my friends. I am thrilled to be alive and the most important highlight of this life is to be UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador and to help others through the Kim Foundation. Every moment is a blessing.
UNESCO: Which photo would you say is more powerful for you: the one that made you famous or the photo of you holding your new-born baby?
Kim: I would say both. The first photo symbolizes the horrors of war and evokes feelings of fear and terror in me. It is an ugly photo. In contrast, the second one symbolizes love, life and the future. It means that although I went through horrible moments, the horror of war did not end my life. Each photo has an important significance for me. I love both of them for different reasons and in different ways. The first one is a powerful gift for peace and the second one lets people know that I did not lose hope during this tragedy. It just made me a better person.
UNESCO: What message would you want people to take away from your 40th anniversary?
Kim: I would like them to take away that war is horrible and that empathy is the most important quality. As a mother I would never want my children to suffer the way I did. Children should not suffer like that little girl in the photo did. I would also like them to work the best they can to avoid war and to lead a peaceful life amongst their friends, relatives and their communities. They should think twice before starting wars, they should learn to negotiate and reconcile.
UNESCO: With the international media talking about your photo, what is the one action you would propose to the public in order to make the world a better place?
Kim: I would tell them to focus on learning from the past, learn more and do better in the future. To defend and promote education for children if they want to make the world a better place. I would also urge them to practice forgiveness, to live with love and hope and to remember that we are not perfect. To move on when tragedies happen and find a way to help each other.
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