In June 1972, a photo went around the world that changed our image of the Vietnam War, indeed of all wars: Napalm Girl by Nick Ut. Since then, the press photo has stood for the horrors suffered in modern wars, particularly by the civilian population. In the more than 40 years since its creation, the photo has been the topic of countless publications. However, as so often happens with iconic images, much historical inaccuracy and misinformation about Napalm Girl are in circulation; these are repeated with stoic ignorance and have had a long-term influence on the photo’s impact history and reception.
This essay attempts to reconstruct the events of 8 June 1972 and the role of those involved as comprehensively and accurately as possible in order to refute many of the later ways of reading the photo. It becomes clear that Napalm Girl moves in the field of tension of the claims to truth that lie among impact, authenticity, objectivity and propaganda.