The Myth Of The Girl In The Photo
What do you think when you see the photo of the naked and terrified
little Vietnamese girl, running toward the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer?
This heart-wrenching photo has been published with a heart-wrenching
story, but if a picture speaks a thousand words, most of the words associated
with this photo are false. Most articles say or imply that Americans bombed Trang Bang, and burned Kim Phuc, the girl in the famous photo. As clearly shown on film, and
confirmed by Nick Ut, the photographer himself, the Vietnam Air Force
(VNAF) dropped the bombs. Noted correspondent Peter Arnett reported that
in the 10 June 1972 edition of Stars & Stripes.
Articles typically say that bombers attacked the village of Trang Bang,
but the fighters were striking outside the village, hitting fortifications of
North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops who were attacking the village. The
village itself was not the VNAF target.
The myth says Kim and her family were hurt when the Buddhist pagoda in
which they took refuge was bombed, taking a direct hit. The pagoda was
not targeted or hit. Kim has stated they left the pagoda to run along the
road, when they were hit.
Eyewitness UPI television correspondent Christopher Wain, reported that
when Kim and the others, including ARVN soldiers, ran away from the
village, the pilot of a Vietnamese fighter spotted them running toward
the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) positions. This was where the
journalists and photographers were located, and they watched the Vietnamese
pilot divert from his target to attack the group.
It is often said that Kim's brothers died from the bombs that injured
her, but the victims were her cousins, and these same bombs that burned Kim,
also killed ARVN soldiers. However tragic, only a single bombing run of
many during those three days was involved in the accidental bombing.
It is popular to say this photo stopped the war, but while it is an icon
for the peace movement, by the time of the photo in June of 1972, almost
all US ground forces had already left Vietnam. By March of 1973, all US
combat forces were out of Vietnam.
The photo was embarrassing to the US government, but perhaps fatal to the
South Vietnamese government. It was a marvelous propaganda tool, and may
have done more than any other photo to prevent the US Congress from
allowing assistance to the South Vietnamese government when North Vietnam
launched its full scale invasion of that country, in 1975. The photo
helped only the Communists, and is still useful for that.
Trang Bang was an all-Vietnamese fight. ARVN troops were fighting the
invading North Vietnamese, and requested support from their own air
force. Vietnamese were fighting Vietnamese when Kim was burned, and it was they
who called for help from Vietnamese aircraft. Even the photographer was
Vietnamese, although he is now a US citizen.
Trang Bang Truth
WHY DOES THE MYTH CONTINUE?
Because it is a dramatic photo, but for more than any other reason,
because the handlers of the woman whom the little girl has become, arranged for
her to go to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial on Veteran's Day of 1996, "to
Did she know the pilot who bombed her was one of her own countrymen, and
not an American? Yes, she did. Does Kim herself say that the pilot was
American? She does not have to.
She was introduced on Veterans Day by Jan Scruggs, the impetus behind the
Memorial, as having been burned in "an American ordered air strike". If
you listen to her words, she is careful not to say the pilot was
American, but most people assume that since she went to our nation's capitol to
forgive him, the pilot must be American. While she herself never says
that Americans bombed her, she is careful not to correct impressions given by
introductions, or narration during the documentaries, or previous
interviews and broadcasts. The audience is encouraged to assume her
injuries are from American action. Even so, her trip of forgiveness to the Wall would have been a one-time story, if not for a man who managed to insert himself into the tragedy.
The myth of American involvement in the accidental bombing was
strengthened by media revelations about "the American commander who ordered the
bombing".The story of the Methodist minister who tearfully passed the
message, "I am that man.", certainly encourages The Myth Of The Girl In
The Photo. With his claim of being the man who ordered the strike, his
subsequent self-admitted Godlessness and guilt, and his salvation to
become a minister of the Methodist Church, he has almost replaced Kim as the
central figure in the myth. It would seem that it is not for lack of
trying on his part.
The Methodist minister who came forward to accept Kim Phuc's forgiveness
at the Wall on Veterans Day 1996, was a low level staff officer on a staff
of US Army advisors, an assignment without authority even to directly
coordinate actions with VNAF, much less command, order, or direct any
During the battle, he was in a bunker in a secure area more than 80
kilometers from the fighting. His own Commanding General, and the
Operations Officer of his unit, are specific about his limitations. They
recently clarified that he had no authority, capacity, or capability to
order any Vietnamese aircraft to do anything, and say it would not have
been possible for him to do what he has claimed, or to interfere with the
No one on the US staff could order the VNAF to take any action whatever.
The Commanding General has stated that even for himself to coordinate
with VNAF, he had to go through General Minh, of the ARVN. The minor
staff-officer-turned-preacher could have been involved in nothing more
than the most superficial manner, if at all.
On investigation by the Baltimore Sun in December of 1997, the reverend
changed his story to say he did not command or order, but he continues to
insist that he coordinated the strike. Virtually every detail of his
participation has been proven false and changed since his original
version, but he wants to continue his "message of forgiveness" by changing the
words 'ordered' and 'commander'. So he disputes the statements of his
superiors, who retired with a total of five stars between the two of
Could an Army captain on an Army advisory staff have influenced a VNAF
operation at that point in the war? The reverend's claim is shown to
lack authenticity by the US Air Force CHEKO Report "Linebacker Operations".
Linebacker 1 ran from 10 May 72 – 17 Dec 72. Page 20, Command, Control,
"The USAF criticized itself for not correcting an in-grown 'parallel
system', one in which U.S. Forces were off on their own conducting the
war and another in which the VNAF was doing essentially the same thing on its
own– The parallel system continued to the end of Linebacker II."
His "feel good" message of peace and forgiveness, however false, plays
well to the American willingness to forgive and forget, and it justifies and
soothes the collective conscience of those who were against American
involvement in the war. But it dishonors American veterans. He has
climbed to notoriety on the bones of our dead brothers.
It appears to be a politically sound strategy for Ms. Kim Phuc, resulting
in an appointment as ambassador of goodwill for UNESCO, and the formation
of a foundation in the United States, to solicit money in the name of
this new Canadian citizen.
One might question, before sending a check of gratitude for this
forgiveness. Ms. Kim's statements sound lovely, but while she is free to
insinuate anything she pleases about the countries which give her refuge
and support, she does not criticize the Communist government of her
former homeland. Since the Communists have even allowed this "defector's"
parents to make an "extended visit" to live with her in Canada, they seem content
with The Myth.
So those who introduce Ms. Kim and the Kim Foundation cannot place blame
for the misplaced bombs on the Communists, who assaulted the village and
used civilians for cover. The words of the man who took her famous photo
– that if the Communists had stayed in the north, none of this would have
happened – will not be seen in a documentary about Kim.
It is imprudent to direct forgiveness to the government of South Vietnam,
whose forces conducted the battle to defend the village against the
attacking Communists, because that government no longer exists, and
cannot show gratitude for it.
Only the people of the Western democracies, and the USA most of all, are
in a position to feel sufficient gratitude for this "forgiveness", because
of public perceptions of the myth surrounding this story, to respond with
their donations and support. According to the producers of one
documentary, A&E, the donations flow in each time the story is aired.
Why would those in charge of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial choose to have
Kim come to the memorial on a day that should be set aside to honor
American veterans? How could this myth, especially as presented, reflect
well on veterans or our country? Was this really intended to honor
veterans, or was the entire presentation simply a marketing tool?
Was the "forgiveness" intended to honor veterans, or advance the cause of
certain interests, and elicit sympathy and guilt by making it seem that
it was Americans responsible for her injuries?
How "spontaneous" was the meeting at The Wall between Kim Phuc and the
Methodist minister, the two necessary ingredients in this recipe for
"forgiveness" and heart-warming publicity? Was the meeting pre-planned?
Would some of these questions be answered if it turned out that some of
the same people who have been associated with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,
are associated with or actually a part of the Kim Foundation?
Follow the dollar, and the trail will lead to answers. Ms. Kim may still
be a victim, but she is not being exploited by our country, or by honorable
Times have also improved for the Methodist minister. During the year
since he came forward to share what he grasped as his responsibility for the
agony of the little girl, this minister of a small country church has
addressed more people than he had addressed in his entire life, prior to
that day at The Wall. His public claims have given him a sort of
celebrity status within the church, and he is in demand as a speaker for his
"ministry of forgiveness".
While maintaining he did not to want publicity, he and Kim chose to meet
near the cameras and microphones of the media representatives there to
record Kim's offer of forgiveness, to the country and the men who did NOT
burn her. Only the Canadian documentary crew participated in the initial meeting of
these two "victims", apparently in accordance with their contract with
Kim. It was left to the mainstream media to seek out and "uncover" the story
The cooperation between the producers of the Canadian documentary, those
in charge of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and a Methodist minister who
seeks "no" publicity, has resulted in a myth of epic proportions. The story
that they and the Reverend made from this, has caused pain to the Vietnamese
poet who was the intermediary for the meeting, and for all of those who
know the myth for what it is.
Personal guilt is borne sooner by some than others, and few can deny the
right to feel whatever personal responsibility one might care to feel for
having been even remotely involved with this incident. Personal responsibility, however, entails a personal forgiveness, and not
a false and contrived public confession that implies that the Myth Of The
Girl In The Photo is true.