It was only in adulthood, after defecting to Canada, that I began to find peace and realize my mission in life, with the help of my faith, husband and friends. I helped establish a foundation and began traveling to war-torn countries to provide medical and psychological assistance to children victimized by war, offering, I hope, a sense of possibilities.
I know what it is like to have your village bombed, your home devastated, to see family members die and bodies of innocent civilians lying in the street. These are the horrors of war from Vietnam memorialized in countless photographs and newsreels. Sadly, they are also the images of wars everywhere, of precious human lives being damaged and destroyed today in Ukraine.
They are, in a different way, also the horrific images coming from school shootings. We may not see the bodies, as we do with foreign wars, but these attacks are the domestic equivalent of war. The thought of sharing the images of the carnage, especially of children, may seem unbearable — but we should confront them. It is easier to hide from the realities of war if we don’t see the consequences.
I cannot speak for the families in Uvalde, Texas, but I think that showing the world what the aftermath of a gun rampage truly looks like can deliver the awful reality. We must face this violence head-on, and the first step is to look at it.
I have carried the results of war on my body. You don’t grow out of the scars, physically or mentally. I am grateful now for the power of that photograph of me as a 9-year-old, as I am of the journey I have taken as a person. My horror — which I barely remember — became universal. I’m proud that, in time, I have become a symbol of peace. It took me a long time to embrace that as a person. I can say, 50 years later, that I’m glad Nick captured that moment, even with all the difficulties that image created for me.
That picture will always serve as a reminder of the unspeakable evil of which humanity is capable. Still, I believe that peace, love, hope and forgiveness will always be more powerful than any kind of weapon.