08 June 2012

Book review: The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong, ****

Kim Phuc and others after napalm bombing of Trang Bang. Photo by Nick Ut, AP

Kim Phuc
Today it is forty years since one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam war was taken, by photographer Nick Ut of the Associated Press.


Kim Phuc was nine years old on 8 June 1972. Severely burned by napalm, she ran from her burning village and was captured on film. Denise Chong relates Kim's experience and recovery in this astonishing biography and history of America's shameful war. The photograph of Kim, seen around the world, was one of many to turn public opinion against the war in Vietnam. This is the story of how the picture came to be and also what happened to Kim after it was taken. It provides an insight into the country Vietnam became after the US army left, and explains why Kim finally had to flee to Canada, where she now lives.

You can also visit the site of the Kim Foundation.


A most intersting book about the most famous picture of an infamous war. It has been used for four decades as an indictement of America's war crimes. Indeed, use of napalm was horrible, though not illegal. Of course, almost no one chronicled the crimes of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist, was one of the few who did so, but her reports were mostly brushed aside.

Yet the story the "girl" tells us is a very different one. She was manipulated by Vietnamese propaganda, deprived of her freedom to speak up, and saw no hope for her future. At the first possible opportunity, a stopover in Canada on a flight back from the USSR to Cuba, where she was studying, she fled from communism and chose freedom, capitalism, pluralism.

Her story is a telling one of the years that followed the Communists' victory in Vietnam. "Liberation" from the Americans' occupation in fact meant indoctrination, brain-washing, distortion of the truth for the purpose of propaganda. All this while Vietnam, paradoxically, was ditching extreme communism and opening up to private enterprise and even new friendly relations with the United States.

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