In 1972, when war reached the part of Vietnam where she lived, Kim Phuc Phan Thi was just nine years old. The South Vietnamese army dropped incendiary bombs on the village of Trảng Bàng. Napalm – a portmanteau word meaning a combination of naphthenic and palmitic acid – is a weapon from everyone’s worst nightmares. This gel-like gasoline mixture burns at a temperature of up to 1,200°C, repels water and is almost impossible to extinguish or wash off. As Kim Phuc Phan Thi along with her fellow villagers ran screaming from the flames, she tore off her burning clothes.
Nick Út, an Associated Press reporter, captured the scene with his camera. His iconic photo is entitled ‘The Terror of War’ and is one of the most famous ever taken by a member of the press corps.
Kim Phuc Phan Thi, the ‘Napalm Girl’, survived the war badly injured and has since become an activist for peace. She is now 55 years old and lives with her family in Toronto, Canada. In 1994, she was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Nearly 22 years ago, she founded the Kim Phuc Foundation which helps young victims of war to receive medical care.
On 11th February, Kim Phuc Phan Thi received the Dresden Prize for her endeavours. The award also comes with €10,000 to be spent as the recipient sees fit. Sponsored by the Klaus Tschira Foundation, the award is conferred on individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to peace and international understanding. The founders made the following declaration: “War should never be the last resort; it is always the wrong one.”
The Dresden Prize goes back to the association known by the English name ‘Friends of Dresden’. Its founder, Günter Blobel (1936-2018), won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1999. While fleeing westward towards the end of World War II, he was caught up in the devastating air raid of February 1945 on Dresden, a city he later helped to rebuild. The tenth award ceremony was also dedicated to his memory.
Past winners include Mikhail Gorbachev, conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Sudanese musician and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, a member of the British royal family who has also been honoured for his services to British-German reconciliation, officially presented the award this year. War photographer James Nachtwey, another laureate, returned to the stage, this time to deliver the laudation to Kim Phuc Phan Thi.
The award ceremony took place on 11th February in the Semperoper. In the presence of former Federal Interior Minister Gerhart Baum, students of the Marie-Curie-Gymnasium in Dresden have given a scenic reading in which they relate the moving stories of victims of violence.