Anyone over the age of 50 years will no doubt remember seeing the photograph shot by a news photographer in Vietnam in 1972 of a small nine year old girl running toward the camera, her clothes burnt off and screaming.
This image, known as the “Napalm Girl” became an icon of the Vietnamese war and powerful motivation to not only bring an end to this immoral war, but led to a U.N. declaration banning the use of napalm and other indiscriminate weapons in war.
The plight of this little girl redoubled the public resolve in the United States calling for the end of the war and the U.S.A withdrew in November 1973. (Australia withdrew in Nov 1971)
The girl, Kim Phuc, survived the ordeal thanks partly to the prompt action of the photographer in cooling her burns and getting her to hospital. She is now a Canadian citizen and an advocate for peace.
The publishing of this photograph in 1972 so shocked the public that it led to change, but today we are confronted daily with news images of terrorist bombings, suicide attacks on people in markets, trains and buses, aerial attacks on suburban areas of middle eastern towns and the plight of displaced people and refugees. Have we become inured to these events? Do we no longer feel for these people? is there a sense of helplessness that dulls our response? How do we demonstrate our outrage? Or is it a case of OK so long as it doesn’t happen here.
On the other side of the coin is the outstanding response demonstrated by people and nations when natural disaster strikes. Here we seem to be able to put aside our prejudices and work together for the greater good. Such is the paradox of the nature of man.
This is the dilemma for the 21st Century.