Guilt and Forgiveness
From an interview with Günther Dellbrügger, conducted by Wolfgang Weirauch
W.W: How can guilt between individuals be compensated for in this or in the next life?
G.D: I would like to give an example: In 1972 a prize-winning photo went around the world. Twenty-four year old John Plummer had bombed and destroyed a Vietnamese village with napalm. The photo shows a little naked Vietnamese girl among other people running along a road and screaming in desperation. A day later Plummer saw this photo and was deeply moved about the effect of his action and his guilt. The girl survived after 17 operations and later became the UNESCO Good Will Ambassador.
Twenty-four years after the bombs were dropped she gave a lecture for Vietnam War veterans near Plummer’s home and he was in the audience. She said to the veterans: “If I could speak face to face with the pilot who dropped those bombs, I would tell him that we cannot change history, but we should try to do good for the present.”
During the presentation Plummer wrote a note: “I am that man” – and had it brought to her. When her talk ended, he pushed his way through the crowd toward her, and they fell in each other’s arms. All that Plummer could say was: “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” And she answered: “I forgive you, I forgive you.”
Of course that’s an extreme example, but perhaps it can give us courage and show how a hidden power of attraction brought those two people together in this life already. Both freely decided their deed: Plummer to reveal himself, Kim Phuc Phan Thi to forgive the bomber.
W.W: Can one also be innocently guilty?
G.D: I think so, because the results and consequences of our actions aren’t always completely transparent. But they are there. That’s why it’s great gift for me to be able to pray every night: “forgive us our trespasses”, because the unknown trespasses can be included. I experience something profoundly wholesome, without anything being taken away from me.
The complete interview originally appeared in the Christmas 2004 edition of “Flensburger Heft”. Translation: FTS
Günther Dellbrügger is a Christian Community priest in Germany.
Mrs Kim Phuc was born in Vietnam.
The photo of Kim Phuc Phan Thi, as a burned child escaping from her Vietnamese village which has been bombed with napalm (8 June 1972) has travelled across the world and has earned the photographer, Nick Ut of the Associated Press a Pulitzer Prize. The photograph showed Kim - "the girl in the picture" - a nine year old running down the road in the village if Trang Bang. It was UT who took her to hospital. Kim's skin was so badly burned by napalm that she was not expected to survive, but after 14 month in a Saigon hospital, she returned to her village to begin rebuilding her life
After numerous operations, she continued her studies in Cuba and there she met fellow student Bui Huy Toan. They married in 1992. She demanded political asylum for herself and her Vietnamese husband in Canada on the way back from their sons, Thomas and Stephen
As a believer, she wants to be the bearer of the message of forgiveness, reconciliation, and tolerance, especially concerning the civil victims in war-stricken countries
In 1977, The Kim Foundation was established in Chicago and later in Canada, in Kim's name to help heal child victims of war