In Madison–47 Years After Iconic Vietnam Photo Taken–News Makers Give Talk

Forty-seven years ago today, Kim Phúc, then nine-years old, ran down a road near her village in South Vietnam, following an aerial napalm attack, and AP journalist Nick Ut took a photograph.  The photo from June 8, 1972 will make the front page of newspapers within 24 hours, and Ut will be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  This evening Phúc and Ut gave a presentation on the UW-Madison campus.


Phúc held her audience with each word. From memories of a sunny morning in her village, to the  horror that ended her childhood, and then a many-year process of finding ways to release anger and sadness at those who had inflicted the war on her village, the audience sat in rapt attention.  Following the napalm attack Ut will place his camera down, race to the child, and get her to the hospital in his car.


After more than a dozen surgeries, and laser treatments for flexibility of the skin, as recently as a few years ago, Phúc says she never stopped smiling and laughing–like the girl she was prior to the military strike. It would be easy to see how the pain could have also seared her soul.  But at a certain point she knew there had to be a way to seek an avenue for forgiveness and move on with life.

Part of the healing came from a loving husband, two grown college-educated sons, and adorable grand-kids.  But the other part came from finding God and basing her life in faith that lifted her over the pain and anger.

In a filled room of the Pyle Center sat a man about 70 years of age–just off to the left of me.  Tears rolled down his cheeks as she talked.  There was silence at times in the large room which was stunning, given the number of people packed in side-by-side.

But there were also moments of laughter.  Many years ago Phúc was told she would be on the Oprah show.  She was so pleased to do a television program.  But then she asked, “Who is Oprah?”

Oprah found that story funny and cried when hearing it.

The evening was, in many ways, about restorative justice.  She met with a pilot who was a part of the bombing raid that landed napalm on Phúc’s village.  The two have met and still keep in contact.  The video footage of them first meeting and talking was most touching and humane in a way that defies my ability to describe it.


Ut reminded me of someone who could pull up a chair and start reminiscing without missing a beat.  There is no doubt the man has a professional sense of what makes for a news photo which conveys so very much with nary a word needed.  The many photos shown to the crowd had the war-torn qualities that sums up the dreadful policy moves that several American administrations continued in Vietnam.

During the question period I asked if Phúc ever met Henry Kissinger, and if so, had she forgiven him?  I was hoping for an opening that would broaden the discussion.   But she kept to her talking points about forgiving everyone and reiterated her words of faith.

Dan Young, one of my longest running friends in Madison, joined James and myself at the Center.  Afterwards he got both signatures on a First Day postcard.  He wants my readers to know the XX are–as Phúc told him–kisses.



Biden Wiggling On Hyde Amendment Is Troubling

I feel a need to wade into the waters on the political story which seems to have taken hold of the week.  I do so because I feel my readers are owed a comment, and also due to the fact Joe Biden is the candidate I am supporting for the Democratic Party nomination.

Biden moved nearer to the rest of his party’s presidential contenders on Thursday when he dropped his support of a measure restricting use of federal funds for abortions.  Make no mistake about it, this is a very important campaign 2020 story.

I do think there is a legitimate policy argument to be made as to why the Hyde Amendment needs to be removed.  I also applaud how people can learn new information, allow life experiences to create new points of view, and then change their mind about policy.  But there also has to be a question raised–as much as I respect and support Biden–about what makes up the core values of a person–and how much wiggle room can be accepted for partisan maneuvering.

I know this is more than a ways-off segue but I wish to go back to 1861 and Senator Jefferson Davis who rose in the chamber to give a speech which was so moving that he received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.  President Lincoln was to serve in the White House, the South was ‘leaving the Union’.  Mississippi had made its secessionist move, and Davis had no choice but to bid his farewell to his fellow senators.

Davis was wrong with his legal arguments about a state’s right to succeed,  wrong about his moral views of slavery, and wrong about assessing the military might of the South.  But he knew himself.  And that is no small thing to consider.

He spoke of sadness and regret to his colleagues, and history records his honor on that day in the Senate chamber.  We all know what follows with the years of war and bloodshed.   But that day when he stood for his convictions remains one of the most powerful speeches from our past.  There is a lesson in that speech, if we are smart enough to ponder it.

I know we lose a lot when we make moves in life that are simply for a more conventional or convenient path. (Having taken rocky roads myself allows for a bit of leeway to write such a line.)   The issue of abortion, or in this case the Hyde Amendment, is not something that can be easily talked about from both sides of the divide.   While a solid argument can be made for removing the amendment, it is troubling to see Biden being the person to do so.

I do have to ask the question.  What other foundations of Biden’s are also movable?  That is a fair thing to ponder given the news this week.

This is not something I relish asking.  I do think long time readers, who expect candor on my blog, would be less than pleased if I pulled my punches over someone I respect.

And so it goes.