The girl, naked and screaming, ran directly toward Nick Ut’s camera — and into history.
Her name is Kim Phuc, and the instant the Associated Press photographer captured her image 50 years ago — on June 8, 1972 — she became more than a victim of a South Vietnamese napalm strike on her hamlet. She was and is an international symbol of that unpopular war, and of the torment inflicted on innocents in all wars.
For nearly a century, the AP has covered war with images. Some 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 tableau of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi.
They and others are engraved in global memory, often resonating in ways that words and video do not.
Some show war’s action — a Palestinian with stone in hand confronts an Israeli tank; Korean refugees crawl over a shattered bridge, like ants; a statue of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein crashes to the ground.
But others focus on the pain, and the losses. A Marine, bleeding profusely around his neck, is evacuated by helicopter after a bombing in Afghanistan. A man displays scars left by machete-wielding gangs in the Rwandan genocide. A Palestinian woman, her face a mask of fury and grief, brandishes helmets left behind by those responsible for a massacre at the Sabra refugee camp in Lebanon.
All too often, the war photos depict young victims.
Thirty-eight years apart, in Vietnam and Syria, fathers clutch the bodies of their dead children. In between, in 1994, a 7-year-old boy lies 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 hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine. Five men carried a pregnant woman on a stretcher. Her pelvis had been crushed; she would not survive.
Nor would her unborn child.
This version corrects to show that South Vietnamese planes dropped the napalm, not American planes.