Napalm strike victim Kim Phuc will discuss her physical and mental healing process after the 1972 attack at 7 p.m. today in downtown Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre.
Phuc is best known as the child in an iconic photograph taken in the Vietnamese village Trang Bang following the aftermath of a Napalm assault during the Vietnam War. The 40 Years of Forgiveness event — organized by local educational tour and community service program Friendship Tours World Travel — will raise funds for Phuc’s KIM Foundation International and the Friendship Fund to help children suffering from injuries in war and educate people about the consequences of armed conflict.
According to UCSB Religious Studies Professor Richard Hecht, who teaches “Religion and the Impact of Vietnam,” the napalm strike responsible for Phuc’s wounds occurred due to a U.S. Military mistake.
“In the June of 1972, the air force of the Republic of South Vietnam bombed a village called Trang Bang,” Hecht said. “They bombed it with high explosives and then they bombed it with napalm which is jellied gasoline. The napalm fell on a whole group of children and their parents who were fleeing from the village. One of the people was Kim Phuc, who was nine years old when it happened.”
Friendship Tours World Travel Director Alethea Paradis, a UCSB alumnus, said visiting the scene of the attack with a group of students inspired the local event.
“We went and saw where everything took place,” Paradis said. “I asked around if there was any way we can contact Kim. They told me it was a long shot because I am a nobody and she is famous. I tried multiple times to contact Kim. Then, she called me back and said yes.”
Hecht said Associated Press photographer Nick Ut’s famous photograph of Phuc — named World Press Photo of the Year in 1972 — played an important role in stirring up anti-war sentiment during the conflict.
“For many of us who went through the Vietnam War, it became iconographic of the futility and barbarism of the war,” Hecht said. “This was 1972 and Americans had turned away from the war. There was very little support for the war. People saw this horrible scene in the photograph and realized what the war meant; the burning, severe burning, of children with napalm.”
Phuc’s injuries required multiple surgeries and took years to heal. Hecht said Phuc inspires others with her ability to find peace with those who wronged her.
“If you were burned by me throwing napalm on you, you’d probably hate me for a long time,” Hecht said. “The wonderful thing about Kim Phuc is she has gone through a long process of forgiving the people that hurt her. I think it is a very powerful message of reconciliation between enemies, adversaries and it suggests to us that there is another way beyond warfare.”
Paradis said the event aims to foster greater empathy between people and move toward global peace.
“My dream is really that kids will take away the fact that they have power over what goes on in this world,” Paradis said. “Armed with their cameras and computers they have the courage to deal with injustice if they step out of the comfort zones and into the pain of other people. They can be their own photojournalists; they can be their own truth tellers. We don’t need professional journalists anymore; we just need curious passionate people.”
Although tickets are currently sold out, the theater aims to release a small number of tickets for $10 at the box office at 6:45 p.m. A benefit reception and silent auction is scheduled at 8:30 p.m. in the Lobero Theatere Courtyard following Phuc’s talk.