Petite, Phan Thi Kim Phuc looks like a gust of wind could blow her off the stage, but her speech represents the wisp of a flame boldly embroidered in her elaborate Asian gown. You could hear a pin drop as she comments on the tragedy unfolding on the screen behind her: in grainy black and white movie clips, there's a plane, a ball of flame, uniformed soldiers, and children emerging from a mushroom cloud of fire and smoke. A toddler, skin shredded from his body, is carried in the arms of a sobbing female, and in front of them all stands a slight girl, naked, face contorted in terror, arms outstretched.
Kim Phuc was that girl.
You may know her from the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken of her as she, with her cousins and friends, ran from the village of Trang Bang on June 8, 1972, skin burned by chemical agents. The city had just been bombed with napalm, and the photograph captures her agony in a scream of pain we remember (and hear even still) 40 years later.
Napalm is a mixture of a thickening, gelling agent and petroleum, or a similar fuel. This "sticky fire" was initially used against buildings, and later as an anti-personnel weapon that sticks to skin and causes severe burns when on fire.
"Napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine," Kim states. "Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (212°F). Napalm generates temperatures of 800 to 1,200 degrees Celsius (1,500–2,200°F)."
As I listened to Kim speak, it took a moment for me to realize that, against unbelievable odds, the girl in that picture is alive and well, standing in front of me. What's more, she radiates peace. It envelops her in much the same way the smoke rising from her burning village framed her slight figure as she ran from it more than 40 years ago.1