JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 277
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Nancy K. Miller
international parenthood beyond trauma and bathed in love. A music
video celebrating the power of love ran in one of the exhibition halls. I
stood for a while watching visitors to the exhibit file past the photographs;
as far as I could tell, no one lingered over the maternal portrait, or
appeared to recognize the strangeness of the scarred body.
In her book devoted to telling the Kim Phuc story, The Girl in the
Picture, Canadianj ournalist Denise Chong recounts a trip she made to the
War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly American War
Crimes Museum) and finding the famous black and white picture of Kim
as a child missing. On the wall of photographs depicting civilian war
casualties, however, she finds instead the "color portrait of Kim and
Thomas, which appeared in Life" (369). "In the baby's smooth skin,"
Chong writes, "her scarred skin seems reborn" (370). As a mother, Kim
Phuc, now a goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO, goes around the world
retelling her story-in person. She has even appeared on Oprah, Chong
relates, where everybody cried.
In characterizing the Kim Phuc ofthe second photograph, comparing
her silent scream to the language in which she has told her story of
survival, I have been emphasizing what's become a rhetoric of traumatic
memory in contemporary American culture. In telling (and retelling) her
story in public, the scarred woman the injured child has grown into
typically adopted the popular discourse of recovery that tends to eradicate
the traces of suffering (the "steady reminder of her injury" that the doctor
in the film traces along the nerve endings of her body) in favor of
transcendence. Recently, however, Kim Phuc described the survival
experience in a manner that acknowledged the persistence of traumatic
effects in her life:
I didn't tell anyone there" [she says, describing her early years in Canada]
that I was the girl in the picture. It had cost me too much already, but I
found out that the picture wouldn't let me go. I had flashbacks. ... I
decided eventually that I would try to use the picture to create something
positive, and as I was thinking about going public when the reporters beat
me to it and found me. . .. I realized that the picture is a really powerful
tool to promote peace and that in a free country I could control the picture,
rather than being controlled by it. ... My mission is to spread the message
of forgiveness. If the little girl in the picture can forgive, than I think
everyone can. (O'Connell; emphasis added)
The generic message of forgiveness is the one Kim Phuc delivered at the
wall, though a skeptical reader might wonder for whom forgiveness is
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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/m1/23/: accessed December 13, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .