VIETNAM, NEWS ANALYSIS, JULY 24, 1998.
Responding to our "An Image of War," Maj Ronald Timberlake contrbutes the following article to the Viet Quoc Home Page.
THE SHAMEFUL LIES.
Iwas nineteen years old when I earned Aircraft Commander status flying UH-1 Hueys out of Tay Ninh, and 23 when I was shot during the battle of An Loc. The war I fought, is not the war I have seen on television and in the movies, and is not the war about which so many lies have been written.
Perhaps no lie hurts quite as badly as the photo of the pretty little girl, running naked and crying toward the camera, after being burned by napalm. That photo is shown almost daily, not just as an example of the horrors of war, but as an example of what America did to the Vietnamese people.
Many people of the world have been told, and believe, that America actually invaded Vietnam, only to be finally driven out by the Vietnamese people. My wife is Dutch, and that is what she learned and believed.
That famous photograph has hurt everyone but Communists since the day it was published. It probably did more than any single photo to turn public opinion ever more firmly from supporting the freedom of South Vietnam.
It has gone so far and been so thoroughly accepted, that Timothy McVeigh recently used that photo to illustrate his writings from prison, complaining that since our country burns little girls like Kim, it is hypocrisy to sentence him to death for the Oklahoma City bombing.
The photograph, like the one of the general who recently died, is an accurate reflection on film of only 1/500th of a second of that war. One five hundredth of a second....
What we see in the photo happened. It is the words explaining the photo which have twisted our history, and no one appears to have ever reported the photographer's words, "None of this would have happened if the Communists had stayed in the north."
Vietnam Insight posted a recent revision of history, a new story of what happened that day near Trang Bang, in June of 1972. On Veterans Day of 1996, the Vietnam Veterans Against The War arranged for Kim Phuc to go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to forgive. They gave a script to Jan Scruggs, and he read an introduction saying Kim had been burned by an American ordered air strike.
Up to that point, no American had ever claimed any involvement in that South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) strike. Kim Phucstood in front of the 58,000 names of our dead soldiers, and sweetly offered her forgiveness. A man who had recently become a Methodist minister came forward claiming to have ordered the strike, and accepted Kim Phuc's forgiveness.
Their meeting has been used to illustrate the Christian tenet of forgiveness, and was claimed to have been a spontaneous act of God. It seems to be a beautiful story, but it is a hurtful and shameful lie. The truth is that the meeting was planned in advance. It was a contrived part of a scheme.
The man, a captain in a minor staff assignment on a US Army staff of advisors to the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), had nothing to do with the air strike that burned Kim. His Commanding General, who was a Major General at the time, has stated that even he did not have the authority to do what the minister claimed to have one.
In ten months of researching the minister's claims, every single officer located from that staff has agreed that the minister could not have done what he claimed.
Even the Vietnamese pilot who dropped the very bombs that burned Kim Phuc and killed several of his fellow soldiers, has said there were no Americans involved.
The photographer, Nick Ut, says there were no Americans, as does his boss, the Associated Press Bureau Chief for Vietnam, Richard Pyle.
As unrealistic as the events appear, with the staff officer claiming to have talked by FM radio to a location 82 kilometers away, the actual statements of all concerned tell us that nothing happened like the minister says it did. And the minister has told several versions of almost every significant portion of the story.
After the Associated Press and Washington Post ran stories about the miracle of the minister and Kim Phuc in April of 1997, The Baltimore Sun began an investigation the following November. The headline of the December 14, 1997 edition of The Baltimore Sun was, "Veteran's admission to napalm victim a lie."
Stung by this scoop, the same AP and Post reporters checked sources other than the minister, and their follow-up stories admitted that the minister embellished, overstated and misled.
For her part in the expansion of this "ministry of forgiveness", you will note that Kim Phuc never actually says that it was Americans who burned her. But the publicity leading up to her appearances always says that an American ordered the attack. The narrators call it an American or American ordered attack. The newspapers are very graphic in telling how the Americans rained fire down on Kim Phuc, and how Kim Phuc ran for her life from an American led attack. One version even said that nerve gas was used on her village.
With all of that, Kim Phuc is very careful to never say herself that it was NOT Americans who burned her. She never says that the fighting around Trang Bang when she was burned, was all Vietnamese.
Why? Follow the dollar. Without the guilt of burning the cute little girl who stands before us as a mother, her forgiveness for the act is less endearing. Without the relief and gratitude for that forgiveness, the contributions to the Kim Phuc Foundation are less generous.
Kim Phuc's "forgiveness" could be sincere. But for her to be touted as a victim of an American or American ordered air strike is a fraud of the first order.
If she is sincere in her forgiveness, she should publicly forgive Duc, the Vietnamese pilot who accidentally burned her.
I question whether she will be willing to do that, because once she acknowledges that she was burned by her own countrymen, fighting her future countrymen, with no orders from anyone else, she no longer points the finger of guilt at Americans, with her offer of forgiveness.
For Kim Phuc's offer of forgiveness is in truth the accusation of guilt.
We who fought for the freedom of the Vietnamese people have been maligned like no other veterans before us in our own country. I would hope that those for whom we fought, for whom we bled, and for whom we lost trusted friends and our precious childhood, would help in the struggle to correct the lies told about us.
Ronald N. Timberlake
Major, US Army (Retired)
187th AHC Crusader 18 Tay Ninh 68-69
F Trp, 9th Cav, 1st Cav Div Sabre 20 Bear Cat & Bien Hoa 71-72
E-mail address; firstname.lastname@example.org