JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 286
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left, as well as a photographer loading his camera; these figures are not part of
Ut's cropping, and therefore serve to express the French view of the war in
Vietnam that they no longer feel responsible for. In this sense the photograph and
the war are part of notjust American national memory, but international politics.
26. Although Sontag in her essay characterizes the napalm as American,
most descriptions of the photograph elide that fact, emphasizing the accidental
nature of the event. This from Life magazine, which tells the story of the picture
with this caption: "The war and Kim Phuc-memories masked by a smile." The
language of reporting has the heat of the napalm seeping into its adjectives: "The
searing photograph of children fleeing after an accidental South Vietnamese
napalm strike appeared around the world last June." By this time, the girl's smile
has become a significant part of the reporting-a full page of the girl smiling
appears on the page that follows the reproduction of the original bombing scene.
The commentary creates a narrative from pain and horror to "an easy cheerful
smile" (29 Dec. 1972, Life, "The Year in Pictures": 54).
27. I was struck by the resemblance between Bayin's posing of Kim and the
detail of a Bellini painting, "The Presentation in the Temple," commented upon
by Julia Kristeva as an example of mother/child separation-and bonding-
where the "Virgin is holding and lifting her swaddled child, who adheres to the
hollow of her body, skin against skin, flesh against flesh, branches of the same
trunk" (Desire 258). An iconic, iconographic maternity.
28. "Everyone wonders what happened to that little girl," Phuc is quoted as
saying, "I've lived my life with scars. I never thought I'd have a future, a family,
and love in my life, but that's what this picture represents" (20). Once again, the
narrative naturalizes the trauma by placing it in a language of intimacy and
29. For instance, Tom Buerkle wrote, "Her image has become a symbol of
the barbarity of war that transcends debate about the rights or wrongs of U.S.
intervention in Vietnam." (International Herald Tribune (http://iht.com/IHT/
30. On the iconicity oftraumatic memory, see van der Kolk and van der Hart.
31. In the 1973 essay, this sentence does not appear. The sentence that
follows this in the later version is similar to the one in 1973: "Without a politics,
photographs of the slaughter-bench of history are not identifiable as such" (137).
Revised: "will most likely be experienced as, simply, unreal or as a demoralizing
emotional blow" (19). What Sontag seems to have understood in retrospect was
the degree to which the response to the photograph depended on the power of the
growing antiwar movement, in a kind of post-facto development. Put in other
terms, the trauma of the image changed history. Writing in England the previous
year, John Berger in a short piece titled "Horror Pictures," a commentary on a
collection of images (some from Vietnam, possibly that of Kim Phuc), worries
about whether such photographs of suffering and agony that appear in the
newspaper lead to action. They are "arresting," he says; we are "seized by them."
They jolt us out of our lives, our daily existence. But the "reader who has been
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/m1/32/: accessed January 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .