The girl, naked and screaming, ran straight for Nick Ut’s camera – and into the story.
Her name is Kim Phuc, and the moment the Associated Press photographer captured her image 50 years ago – June 8, 1972 – she became more than a victim of a US napalm strike on a Vietnamese hamlet. She was and is an international symbol of this unpopular war and the torment inflicted on the innocent in all wars.
For nearly a century, the AP has covered the war in images. Some have won Pulitzer Prizes, like Ut’s Napalm Girl, like Eddie Adam’s breathtaking photo of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner, like Joe Rosenthal’s painting of Marines Raising the Flag on Mount Suribachi of Iwo Jima.
They and others are etched into global memory, often resonating in ways that words and video do not.
Some show the action of war – a Palestinian with a stone in his hand confronts an Israeli tank; Korean refugees crawl over a broken bridge like ants; a statue of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein crashes to the ground.
But others focus on pain and loss. A Marine, bleeding profusely around his neck, is evacuated by helicopter after a bombardment in Afghanistan. A man shows scars left by machete-wielding gangs during the Rwandan genocide. A Palestinian woman, her face clouded in fury and grief, holds up helmets left behind by those responsible for a massacre in Lebanon’s Sabra refugee camp.
Too often, war photos depict young victims.
Thirty-eight years apart, in Vietnam and Syria, fathers hug the bodies of their dead children. Between the two, in 1994, a 7-year-old boy was mortally wounded in a pool of blood in Serajevo.
And then, this year, Evgeniy Maloletka captured the aftermath of the Russian bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol, Ukraine. Five men were carrying a pregnant woman on a stretcher. Her pelvis had been crushed; she would not survive.