JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 265
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Nancy K. Miller
among the children as the heroine of a tale with a happy ending-a story
that is crafted to make sense in American narrative terms. Remember the
little girl who was burned when South Vietnamese plans accidentally
dropped napalm in a village northwest of Saigon? Good news. "At the
time, there was a great deal of doubt about whether she would live." Then
Rather presents another photograph ofKim Phuc in the hospital standing
between two nurses. "She's able to smile now," Rather points out
cheerfully, "her burns are healing, and doctors say she may be released
from the Saigon hospital by this fall-in time for school." This act of
storying, of denationalizing the victim-she's no longer named as South
Vietnamese-is a crucial step in the process of creating a universal
version of suffering designed for an American audience. In Rather's
narrative rendering, Kim becomes just another kid going to school (just
like yours)-a plucky survivor of what might have been a complete
tragedy, a happy camper. Despite the reference to the burns covering most
of her torso, the camera focuses on the smile, which will continue into
adult life (as will the scars from the burned flesh).
Since the mid-nineties, the photographs of Kim as an adult-as well
as a documentary film and a book-have continued the work oftelevision
reporting in prolonging and transforming the biographical portrait into a
North American narrative of postwar reconciliation between the United
States and Vietnam. The iconic image of the Napalm Girl now coexists
in the public spaces of memory with a counter-iconography, as Kim Phuc
offers herself up as an intercessor, or agent of forgiveness. In 1995, Joe
McNally, whose assignment for Life magazine had been to follow up on
the lives of people who had been subjects of Pulitzer Prize photographs,
explains that he needed to reference the original image in his reprise: "I
said to her, 'Kim, to make this picture work, I have to be able to see the
scars.' And she knew that." She had been nursing her son, the photogra-
pher explains, and that activity "gave us a very natural way to show her
life, her positive nature, her love for this new child and still show the scars
that war had left on her physically" (http: //www.pdonline.com/leg-
ends55/editorial/6.htm). In Life, Classic Photographs, where the image
was collected at the end of the century, McNally recalls the short in
similar language: "I was nervous," he recalls, "I knew I had to see the
scarring-otherwise there would be no touch point to the original
photograph. .... She understood. She could not have made me feel more
comfortable" (149). As Kim cradles her infant son, pressing her gently
smiling face against the baby's smooth skin, the intricate mapping of
scars that cover her left arm and most of her torso stand out like a strange
Here’s what’s next.
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Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (U.S.). JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004, periodical, 2004; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28644/m1/11/: accessed September 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .