The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
David Bright is a retired Bangor Daily News reporter and editor, and a gun owner.
Mary Ann Vecchio may be a name you don’t recognize. But if you’re of a certain age you’ll remember her from a photo seen around the world 52 years ago. It’s that classic photo of Vecchio grieving over the body of Jeffrey Miller, who had been shot — some would say murdered — by a member of the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam war protest at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. The photo was republished last year accompanying an article in The Washington Post magazine in which Vecchio relates how her life is still being affected by that image.
Yet there is another Vietnam-era photo that’s even more powerful. Made 50 years ago, on June 8, 1972, by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, it shows then nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running naked down a road in Trang Bang village in Vietnam. This young girl – about the same age as those students murdered in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 of this year – had stripped off all of her clothes after a napalm attack and was running for her life. There is pure horror on her face as we see the damage that long war did to so many young children.
That photo surfaced again earlier this month in a Washington Post essay by Ut telling Kim Phuc’s story as he thought about the war photos now coming out of Ukraine. Looking back, these two photos probably did more to end the Vietnam war than all the marches and protests.
Stark, untouched, photographs are powerful tools of truth, and when shown in true context can move public opinion more than can political speeches and after-the-fact protest. We learned that in 1955 when Emmett Till’s mother insisted on an open casket after her son was brutally beaten and murdered by racists. It wasn’t pretty but it was an important part of moving the civil rights movement forward.
Lately, we don’t seem to be getting anywhere on this assault rifle problem. People express sadness, more than outrage, when we see photos from a happier time of the murdered children in pop-up memorials and funeral services. What we don’t see is the carnage these guns cause.
So maybe, as ugly and discomforting as it will be, maybe the only way to get something done – the only way to move politicians who are constantly in denial of the situation – is to show the world exactly what the police saw when they stepped into that Uvalde classroom on May 24.
It won’t be pretty because it wasn’t pretty. The photos that ended the Vietnam War weren’t pretty, either, but they got the job done.
So let’s show America what those guns actually do. Let’s release the photos police surely made in that room. Let’s make everyone look at them. Let’s calculate the balance between the Second Amendment and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of the families of all the victims of gun violence in America.
Maybe, just maybe, those images will result in meaningful changes in America’s gun laws.
If forcing America to look at the bloody, maimed, and torn bodies of these precious children is what it will take to bring an end to all these senseless gun killings, it will be worth it.