Immigration Nebraska Politics

“Suffer the Children” is Not an Immigration Policy

Editor’s Note: Reader submission by Gordon Hopkins


Her name is Phan Thi Kim Phúc. Do you know who she is? Perhaps not. If you are “of a certain age,” like myself, you have certainly seen her. Her image was every bit an icon of the early seventies as the bright yellow “smiley face” and R. Crumb’s “Keep on Truckin’” man, though you were less likely to find her on a blacklight poster.

Perhaps you know her by her unofficial nom de guerre: Napalm Girl.

Photo credit Nick Ut

On June 8, 1972, she was nine years old when a South Vietnamese plane dropped a napalm bomb on her village of Trảng Bàng. Associated Press photographer Nick Ut was on hand to snap what has become one of the most famous photos of all time. Said photo depicts Kim Phúc and several other children running from the smoking scene, screaming in pain and terror. A few casual-looking soldiers can be seen behind them. Kim Phúc stands out in the image because she was naked. The burning napalm stuck to her clothes, as it was designed to do, and she only survived by tearing her clothes off.

The photographer won a Pulitzer Prize. Kim Phúc ended up with third degree burns on her back.

Flash forward to Thanksgiving weekend, 2018. I was enjoying some leftovers (the best part of Thanksgiving) when I was saw those television news stories about the chaos at the San Ysidro border crossing, when the border patrol lobbed tear gas canisters at asylum seekers.

A migrant family, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, run away from tear gas in front of the border wall between the U.S and Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

I was hit hard by the images of children in diapers fleeing from smoking weapons in terror.

The first thing that jumped into my mind was Kim Phúc. The parallel is inescapable.

In what we all know was a pre-election publicity stunt, Donald Trump sent troops to the border to protect our country from a caravan of terrified refugees that were still miles, and weeks, from our border.

Meanwhile, our newly re-elected governor was positively chomping at the bit to be a part of this contrived non-emergency. Pete Ricketts gleefully announced his readiness to send Nebraska troops to the border. On Nov. 2, the governor posted this statement on his official Facebook page (under a picture of himself, Putin-like, astride a horse), “Right now, about 50 of our great Nebraska National Guard troops are helping support our country’s mission of securing the border. Nebraskans want strong borders and support the rule of law. In light of the caravan moving towards our border, it is now more important than ever to reaffirm our country’s commitment to these principles.”

I am wondering if Governor Ricketts has seen those photos. If so, do you think he still feels the same? Do you think he is at all concerned with Nebraska being associated with the kinds of people who use tear gas on children?

Knowing what we know about Ricketts, probably not. Much like Trump, he is a weak man who wants to be seen as strong but doesn’t know how to go about it. When men like that are in charge, people suffer.

There are other parallels to the Kim Phúc photo becoming evidence. When President Nixon saw the photo, his first response was to suggest it was not real.

“I’m wondering if that was fixed,” he mused.

So you see, Donald Trump is not the first president to cry “fake news!”

Don Winslow posted one of the border pics on Twitter and was immediately inundated with responses from Trump supporters insisting it was fake.

The more things change…

Actually, I consider these claims of fakery promising. At least it means these people understand the monstrousness of what is happening. I’m more disturbed by people who thing it is okay to tear gas toddlers, like Tomi Lahren, who called it “the HIGHLIGHT of my Thanksgiving weekend.” Even Donald Trump didn’t do that. When asked by reporters if he thought using tear gas on children was okay, he pretended it didn’t happen.

At least he didn’t call those children “bad hombres.”

The photo of Kim Phúc, and images like it, marked the beginning of the end of popular support in the U.S.for the Vietnam War. The war dragged on for another three years but in the end, it was stopped not by politicians and diplomats or by solders but by American people who would not tolerate our government participating in such atrocities.

Those photos of children being attacked by America need to be shoved under the noses of every politician and every voter.

Of course, an actual war is hardly the same thing as a group of hungry, afraid, unarmed civilians asking for help. That seems like something I shouldn’t even have to point out.

And, yet, there is a less obvious but still very real parallel between the Vietnam War and the refugees at our border. The Vietnam War was a civil war, a fact that tends to get glossed over in our modern classrooms. The Vietnamese fight over how their country would be governed threatened the United States in no way whatsoever. Yet, politicians managed to invent a threat to the American Way of Life for political advantage and the news media of the day played along. It is not without reason Trump uses military terms when describing the mass of refugees. (“It’s an invasion!” “Protect the sanctity of our borders.” etc.)

I can only hope the images of those children will ultimately serve the same function as those of Kim Phúc and finally drive home the madness of what we are doing.