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Writer Peter Bergen

Peter Bergen is a former correspondent/producer and current terrorism consultant for CNN, and the author of the book Holy War Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden. (The Free Press) It both a biography of Bin Laden and an explanation of bin Laden global network. While at CNN, Bergen produced bin Laden first TV interview, filmed at his mountain hideout in Afghanistan. Bergen has written about Islamist militant groups for The New Republic, London Daily Telegraph and The Washington Times.


Other segments from the episode on November 14, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 14, 2001: Interview with Peter Bergen; Review of Henry Threadgill's music album, “Up Popped the Two Lips;” Interview with Kim Phuc; Review of Strokes' debut album…


DATE November 14, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: CNN consultant Peter Bergen talks about the life of
Osama bin Laden and his family

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Peter Bergen, has written a
new book about Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network called "Holy War,
Inc." Bergen is CNN's terrorism analyst. He and Peter Arnett interviewed
Osama bin Laden for CNN in 1997, the year after bin Laden issued his first
call to Muslims to attack US military targets.

In 1983, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Bergen made a documentary
about the millions of Afghan refugees crossing the border into Pakistan. In
1993 he traveled to Afghanistan to explore the links between the mujaheddin,
the CIA-funded Afghan rebels who fought the Soviets, and the 1993 bombing of
the World Trade Center. I asked Peter Bergen what he thinks the Northern
Alliance's victories in Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul will mean for bin Laden.

Mr. PETER BERGEN (CNN Terrorism Consultant): Well, it can't be good news for
bin Laden, right? I mean, the advance of the Northern Alliance was rather
swift and, you know, based--I've interviewed Ahmad Shah Massoud, the now-dead
leader of the Northern Alliance. I've also interviewed Dr. Abdullah, the
foreign minister of the Alliance. And they both had very much the same views
about bin Laden and the Afghan Arabs, his followers, in general. Even in the
early '90s, Massoud was saying, `We don't need these Arabs in Afghanistan.
They're--you know, they did the job in the holy war against the Soviet Union
during the '80s. Their service is no longer required. We want them to

And Dr. Abdullah I interviewed about a year ago. And he was very--you know,
I mean, he regards bin Laden as a deathly threat. And, of course, the
Northern Alliance has been--because bin Laden and the Taliban were fighting
together, the Northern Alliance has had a strong interest in bin Laden and his
Arab fighters. And, clearly, they are very much opposed. How quickly the
fact that they've taken Kabul and how quickly that means, you know, perhaps
the death or the capture of bin Laden--I think that's still a long way off.

GROSS: The Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir recently interviewed bin Laden.
And Hamid Mir says that bin Laden said that he has nuclear and chemical
weapons that he could use to retaliate against the United States if we used
such weapons against him. What information do you have about the nuclear or
chemical weapons that al-Qaeda may have?

Mr. BERGEN: Let me review briefly what bin Laden has done in the past. We
know that bin Laden's group was willing to pay $1.5 million for bomb-grade
uranium when the group was based in Sudan in the mid-'90s. It's not clear if
that transaction ever happened, but they made very serious inquiries, together
with the Sudanese military, to buy this stuff.

Secondly, bin Laden has repeatedly said that it's not a crime for Muslims to
acquire these kinds of weapons. And then we've seen him saying that he does
have this kind of capability. Also, you think about where Afghanistan is in
the world. It's just south of the former republics--republics of the former
Soviet Union, with a lot of leaky reactors there, a lot of scientists who are
not being paid. It's quite possible that nuclear material might have gone to
bin Laden. I know from my own reporting on the subject, which I detail
somewhat in my book, that in 1997 I was approached by an Afghan through an
intermediary who said that he had nuclear materials for sale. I was doing a
story on the whole question of the Soviet--you know, the former Soviet Union
and the nuclear materials that might be coming from there. They gave me some
serial numbers on the container that was supposed to contain this material.
The serial numbers didn't check out. It was apparently a hoax, but
nonetheless, whatever this Afghan was selling was causing him health problems,
according to the intermediary.

So there's plenty of uranium waste or, like, even hospital waste with--which
has uranium content which is floating around in that part of the world. So I
think it would be wishful thinking on the first order to assume that he
doesn't have some kind of capability now. Now, of course, to make a nuclear
weapon, you know, nations, states, spend hundreds of millions of dollars and
have huge cadres of scientists trying to create nuclear weapons--states like
Iraq still don't have, really, you know, stuff that could be effectively
weaponized. So the notion that he has a nuclear weapon, I think, is unlikely.

What he certainly has, in my view--and I think you would have to be very,
very, very naive to assume he doesn't--is some ability to create what's known
as a dirty nuclear bomb, which is, basically, a truck bomb with some sort of
low-level nuclear waste. It's not a weapon that would kill a lot of people,
but if you blew up that kind of thing, it would disperse over a wide area. It
would be, certainly, a very effective terror weapon.

And to go into your question on chemical weapons, we also know that the group
has experimented in kind of an amateur way with chemical weapons. As
recently as two or three years ago, the members of al-Qaeda, bin Laden's
organization, were injecting--in one of the training camps, were injecting
dogs with cyanide. They were taking dogs and putting them into containers
with cyanide gas and sulfuric acid. Obviously, the dogs died. The idea,
according to the testimony of somebody who was in those camps, is that the
cyanide gas would be introduced into the air intake of US government

So, again, you've seen sort of an amateur attempt to use these weapons, but
I--but again, also, we--you'll remember Aum Shinrikyo, which was the Japanese
sort of cult. They had tens of millions of dollars and a whole cadre of
scientists experimenting with chemical weapons. When they actually deployed
sarin gas in a Tokyo subway station some years ago, they only killed a few
people, so it's very--you know, bin Laden doesn't have a sort of cave in
Afghanistan with hundreds of scientists working on these things. I think they
have some capability. I don't think it's enormous.

GROSS: You know, the way I read his response to Hamid Mir about nuclear and
chemical weapons is that, you know, his group has weapons like that that they
could use in retaliation if we use them against him.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah.

GROSS: Is it your interpretation that he's saying he has these weapons but
he'd only use them if we use them first?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, that's what the interview appears to say, but I'm--I sort
of think with bin Laden, to a certain extent, all bets are off. One of the
disturbing things about the videotape that first surfaced on October 7th, the
night of the aerial assaults--the first aerial assaults by the United States
against Afghanistan, bin Laden references not for the first time, nor the last
time, about how America has used nuclear weapons and killed hundreds of
thousands of civilians. Since bin Laden's statements have tended to
be the best guides to his actions, this is kind of a disturbing statement in
the context of only a six-minute videotape. To me, it seems that, you know,
the worst-case scenario--and I think after the events of September 11th, you
don't have to be alarmist to take the worst-case scenarios--that bin Laden
has something up his sleeve. And the fact that he's referencing these kinds
of--in his view, you know, the United States has killed a lot of civilians,
therefore, he can do whatever he wants. If, indeed, he does have this kind
of dirty nuclear weapon, I'm afraid to say that it's well within his--I
think it's well within the modus operandi of the group to deploy it at some
point. I'm not saying in this country, but I'm saying perhaps against an
American target in some other country around the world.

GROSS: Do you think that bin Laden is behind the anthrax attacks or do you
think that that has a chance of being American, homegrown terrorism?

Mr. BERGEN: The most disturbing aspect of the anthrax story is that nobody
has a clue, you know. I mean, the United States government is sort of on the
record in a lot of different ways basically saying, `We just don't know.'
And that's true today. Bin Laden had the opportunity, by the way, this
past weekend to say that he had some biological capacity. And he didn't
mention it, so...

GROSS: He just mentioned nuclear and chemical.

Mr. BERGEN: That's correct. So to me that was a significant omission. You
know, weaponizing anthrax to the degree that it apparently was in this--in the
instances we've seen is, again, the act of--it's a very--you have to have a
pretty sophisticated lab. So, I mean, I think the jury is very much out,
although, I mean, the only thing we can add to the--you know, to what's known
is I think bin Laden's own statements--this omission of the biological
component, I think, was significant, because he had an opportunity to say that
and he didn't.

GROSS: The Bush administration asked TV stations not to run over and over
the tapes that bin Laden makes in which he or a spokesperson speaks. And the
reason why was that there might be secret messages somehow encoded into the
video. Do you know of any secret messages that have ever been encoded into a

Mr. BERGEN: I don't. And the thing that struck me as odd about that is, I
mean, it seems to me the message is very uncoded. It's, `Go and kill
Americans.' I mean, it's pretty obvious what the message is anyway, but I'm
not aware that I--you know, he may communicate like that, but I think it's
much more general than that. I mean, it's not necessary. People who already
understand what the--you know, if they're a part of the group, that's what
you're supposed to be doing anyway. And I don't--it's very hard for me to
comment because they say that, but there's really no proof either way. It's
certainly never come up. As a for instance, in the embassy bombing trial
there were, I don't know, tens and tens of thousands of pages of court filings
and there was no indication that that was the way he communicated.

GROSS: My guest is CNN's terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen. His new biography
of bin Laden is called "Holy War, Inc." More after a break. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Peter Bergen is my guest. He's the terrorism analyst for CNN and
author of the new book "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama
bin Laden."

Bin Laden is the son of Mohammed bin Laden. And Mohammed bin Laden is the
founder of a very successful construction company in Saudi Arabia. The
family renovated the two holy shrines of Mecca and Medina. And I believe
they renovated the royal palace, as well. Now Osama bin Laden's father,
Mohammed bin Laden, died in a plane crash when Osama was 10 years old. I
just find it very interesting that Osama bin Laden is behind using passenger
planes as weapons and has promised that the storm from the skies would
continue and, meanwhile, his father was killed in a plane crash. I'm not
sure what that means; that there's some kind of--there seems to be something
going on there.

Mr. BERGEN: I'm not sure what it means, either...

GROSS: Yeah?

Mr. BERGEN: ...but, you know, Osama's father died in a plane crash. And then
his oldest brother, Salim, who also--who died in a plane crash, actually,
in Texas in 1988. And he was piloting an ultralight plane which hit some
power lines. So both his father and then his older brother died in plane
crashes and, of course, there, you know, are these plane hijackings. I mean,
I'm not sure what it means, either, but it's a sort of theme.

And, also, destroying buildings is also a theme. I mean, here's a man who--he
spends much of his life, you know--his father builds up this huge company
which is in the construction business and then bin Laden spends a lot of his
life demolishing various buildings. Again, I'm not sure what it means, but it
is a theme running through his life.

GROSS: Where does Osama bin Laden fit into the bin Laden family? We know a
little bit about his father. What do we know about his mother?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, he's very close to his mother, still. His mother visited
him as recently as--it would have been earlier. But when bin Laden's son was
married earlier this year and bin Laden's mother, who is Syrian, was actually
at the wedding. So they keep in fairly close contact. And bin Laden's mother
also visited him when he was living in the Sudan in the mid-'90s. So his
mother--I've heard from people who are allowed to talk--the family, by the
way, is very hard to talk to, but somebody sort of authorized to speak to me
said, `Look, we don't--the family doesn't consider her a part of the family.'
She was divorced from Osama's father a long time ago. She was--Osama's father
had many wives. You know, you only allowed to have four at once under Islam,
but he had more than that, although he kept to the notion of only keeping four
at once. But, you know, bin Laden is the only son of this particular mother.
He has two full sisters. So the family is a large one. There are several
hundred members at this point. I mean, you know, I take them as sort of at
their word when they say that `We reject bin Laden and he's sort of,
effectively, the black sheep of the family,' but, you know, with such a large
family there are clearly sort of competing interests and I think it's
generally the view that certain elements of the family continue to support him
both morally and perhaps even financially.

GROSS: The bin Laden family--this isn't Osama bin Laden, this is the other
members of the family--they're involved in many, many businesses. Just give
us a sense of what the bin Laden group has made its money on.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, principally, it's construction. As you look at some of
the things they've done--I mean, they're rebuilding airports in Cairo and
Haden(ph) and Yemen. They're build ...(unintelligible) in I think Kuala
Lumpur there. I mean, you know, these are huge construction projects. You
know, they're hotels. They're renovating airports. They're--but they've
moved beyond that core construction business into--they've diversified into
pretty much an unbelievable number of other things. I mean, one of the family
members said that, you know, they have an interest in the Hard Rock Cafe in
the Middle East. They take money from any drink--alcohol profits, but they do
have an interest in that. By their own description on their Web site, which
is now down, they had the license for Snapple drinks in the Middle East. They
also had Volkswagen, Porsche, a whole--you know, even Disney. They had some
rights to turn Disney features into Arabic, and, you know, telecommunications.
Motorola had, ultimately, an ill-fated venture set up--something--the Iridium
system, which was 66 satellites around the world and you could make a phone
call anywhere in the world with a handheld phone. One of bin Laden's brothers
sits on the board.

And, you know, even in a sense, the United States. Salim bin Laden, who is
Osama's oldest brother, made--his business partner in the United States was a
man by the name of James Bath, a Houston entrepreneur who bought various huge
pieces of Houston real estate for Salim bin Laden. And this man, James Bath,
is actually a friend of President George Bush from his time when they were
both in the Texas National Guard in the '60s. So, I mean, that doesn't--I'm
not saying it's--you know, it's just interesting, the six degrees of
separation there between the president and Osama bin Laden, but it shows the
extent of where this company has, you know, real estate in Texas and New
Jersey. It's a very big company.

GROSS: How was bin Laden radicalized and who were his mentors?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, bin Laden has said that his father said that one of his
sons would fight against the enemies of Islam. And he's--and in bin Laden's
view, he's the one son that is doing that. And it's interesting that bin
Laden has been influenced by a number of older religiously radical men,
principally Abdullah Rizam(ph), who is a very well-known Islamic scholar who
sort of created the first international, modern Jihadist network, if you
will. He was the guy who was bin Laden's sort of senior colleague in the
effort to recruit Muslims from around the world to come and fight the Soviet
Union in Afghanistan during the '80s. So Abdullah Rizam was an important

And then, number two, is his--the person that we've seen step out of the
limelight--step into the limelight a little bit recently is Ayman al-Zawahri,
who is an apparently quite skilled surgeon who comes from a rather prominent
Egyptian family. He has been, basically, a sort of revolutionary stroke
terrorist since 1973, when he founded Egypt's Jihad group, which has been
very narrowly devoted to trying to overthrow the Egyptian state. That group
was involved in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. And
Ayman al-Zawahri identified the United States as an enemy apparently quite
early on. He has had a critical role in terms of influencing bin Laden. I
talked to many, many different people who all said the same thing. Ayman
al-Zawahri is--you know, they use words like `He's Osama bin Laden's brain or
his mind.' Certainly, Ayman al-Zawahri's had a very important role to play.
It's interesting that, you know, just after these events of September 11th,
Ayman al-Zawahri appeared on the video with bin Laden and we have heard, for
the first time, spoke to the world. And I think up hitherto was a pretty
unknown figure.

GROSS: You say that al-Zawahri seems to be the brains behind the operation.
From the little that you've spoken to bin Laden and the much that you've
heard and read about him, do you think he's smart?

Mr. BERGEN: I think he's smart. I mean, I thought that on September 10th.
I mean, he--you know, his range of references in these various statements he
makes--he's clearly well-read and somewhat well-read in Islamic history.
He's not a religious scholar in, you know, the strict Islamic sense of the
word, but he's certainly, you know, a bright guy. My concern is that he has
some game plan beyond what we've seen already because his--the actions that
we've seen so far suggest an understanding of what was going to happen. I
mean, first of all, the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the most
effective anti-Taliban leader. There's no natural leader of the Northern
Alliance right now with the absence of Massoud. And that was clearly an
assassination attempt engineered by bin Laden, I think.

And then, secondly, the fact that he has all these videotapes ready suggests
that he also understood that, you know, there was going to be a propaganda
element to this war and he needed to get his message out. The question is,
has he thought through--you know, is the fall of Kabul a huge surprise to
him? I mean, it was a surprise to everybody else that it happened so
quickly, but I do think that he has a game plan beyond where we are right

GROSS: Do you have any idea how close Osama bin Laden is with Mullah
Omar, the head of the Taliban?

Mr. BERGEN: I think they're definitely close, but there's been a lot of
misreporting about--you know, there was a widely circulated rumor that they
were somehow related by marriage. And I talked to a number of Taliban
Cabinet officials, and they all universally said that was not true. And, in
fact, bin Laden just this past weekend was asked that same question directly,
and he also said it was not the case. But he is very close to Mullah Omar.
But I think it's very important to understand, it's not bin--Mullah Omar
has the ability to end this war tomorrow because bin Laden has sworn bay'ah,
which is an oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar. And on a video that was
circulating this summer, he very exactly refers to Mullah Omar--bin Laden
refers to Mullah Omar as a commander of the faithful, which is an important
title, suggesting that bin Laden really looks at Mullah Omar as sort of the

And so I think that Mullah Omar, you know, could turn bin Laden over if he
wanted to. I don't think it's very likely for several reasons. One, bin
Laden has contributed man and money to the Taliban; two, they're ideologically
similar and, obviously, quite close, personally; and, three, there is a very
important concept, the Pashtuns or the Taliban, you know, that make up the
majority of the Taliban subscribe to something called Pashtunwali which is a
tribal code of conduct, which puts an enormous premium on the concepts of
giving hospitality to people and also giving refuge to people who seek your

A Taliban official said this interesting anecdote to me. He said, `Look,
during World War II there were a number of Germans who were in Afghanistan.
And the Allies were very keen for them to be handed over. They were
non-Muslims and we didn't turn them over, so, you know, we're not going to
turn over bin Laden. He's our guest. You know, we admire him, etc.' Now
maybe that'll change if there is a sort of spectacular Taliban defeat, but I
think there's going to be an element of the Taliban that's going to continue
fighting to the end. The Taliban was never a monolithic movement. It was
made up of former Communists, people who switched sides when they saw what the
tide--the tide was going in the Taliban's favor who will switch back. But
nonetheless, they are so hard-core, I think, that I don't think `surrender' is
part of their vocabulary.

GROSS: Well, Peter Bergen, I want to thank you very much for talking with

Mr. BERGEN: Thank you.

GROSS: Peter Bergen is CNN's terrorism analyst. His new biography of bin
Laden is called "Holy War, Inc."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, a review of Henry Threadgill's new CD. We're listening
to it now.

Also, we talk with the subject of one of the most famous photos from the war
in Vietnam. Kim Phuc was nine when she was photographed during a napalm
attack as she ran down a road naked, screaming in pain.

And we have a review of a new CD by The Strokes.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Henry Threadgill's new sextet, Zooid

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Composer, saxophonist and flutist Henry
Threadgill is one of the most cosmopolitan of musicians, dividing his time
between New York and Goa, India, working on projects in Europe and populating
his bands with players from diverse stylistic backgrounds. Threadgill has two
new recordings, one from his new sextet called Zooid, which includes members
from Morocco, Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as the US mainland. Jazz critic
Kevin Whitehead has a review. He says even by Threadgill's standards, Zooid
is a step forward, and may be just what the world needs.

(Soundbite of music)


Some chronologies of jazz begin not when the music jelled 100 years ago, but
with the Moorish invasion of Spain in the eighth century. Arabs and Berbers
brought to Europe ideas about art common to the Islamic world from Panjshir to
Turkey--a love of stylization and ornamentation, of riffing and paraphrase in
repeatable forms, stuff jazz uses every day. Americans are not so sensitive
to such deep influences, but they do serve us in jazz occasionally. Miles
Davis touched on Moorish roots on his classic "Sketches of Spain." John
Coltrane once recorded with Sudanese-American Ahmed Abdul-Malik on oud, the
short-necked Mideastern lute. The oud also turns up as part of a string trio
on Henry Threadgill's sextet, Zooid.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Henry Threadgill on alto flute with Tarik Benbrahim from Morocco
on oud, Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar and Dana Leong on pluck cello. They
sound very good together. In medieval Spain, the oud had evolved into the
guitar, an instrument whose vocabulary influences the cello's role in
improvised music now. By putting all three in one band, Threadgill connects
1,400 years of music history. That's a big gulf even for a composer fond of
bringing the past into the musical present. Threadgill often laces his music
with the tuba and march rhythms that early jazz inherited from military bands.
But then marching bands got their big impetus from an 18th century European
composer's fad for Turkish music. The percussion set those composers called
for was a first step toward the modern drum kit.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Cuban-born drummer Dafnes Prieto is a font of funky grooves,
pushing the band while Jose Davila's lumbering tuba pulls the other way.
Between the two, the band moves at a likeable shamble. Threadgill doesn't
write many catchy tunes, but they have a distinctive character. His slow ones
mix the floating quality and open-ended feel of music from India with wide
melodic leaps out of 20th century classical music. But Threadgill never
references a culture or style without hearing how it all fits together. He's
not on a scavenger hunt.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Henry Threadgill's new CD with Zooid, "Up Popped the Two Lips" on
Pi Records, reminds us how smart music can reflect the cultural and historical
forces that shape its time. This feels like 21st century music. It's as if
Threadgill has built a transparent model of the world where you can see layers
of artifacts under the surface on all sides of the globe and see how it all
connects. This stuff is good because it sounds good, but it also depicts a
world where cultural strains are so intermingled, there's no us and them
anymore. We are all us.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead reviewed "Up Popped the Two Lips" by Henry Threadgill
and his sextet Zooid.

Coming up, we meet the girl, now a woman, in one of the most famous photos
from the war in Vietnam. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Kim Phuc discusses her life after she survived a US
napalm attack in Vietnam

Americans who weren't eyewitnesses to the attacks of September 11th share a
collective visual memory of the attacks through news videos and still
photographs. We're going to hear from a woman who was the subject of one of
the most famous photos from the war in Vietnam, a picture that shaped
Americans' image of the war. Kim Phuc was nine years old in 1972 when she was
photographed during a napalm attack, running naked down a road, screaming in
pain. The napalm had burned the clothes off her body. Phuc prefers to look
at a more recent photo of herself, one in which she is holding her son,
Thomas, on his first birthday. This photo appears in the book, "Family: A
Celebration of Humanity." It's part of a trilogy of photo books from the
M.I.L.K. collection, an acronym for Moments of Intimacy, Laughter and Kinship.
Phuc wrote the prologue to the volume titled "Love." A companion exhibition
was shown in New York last summer and is now touring European cities. I asked
Kim Phuc when she first saw the now famous 1972 photograph.

Ms. KIM PHUC (Victim of Vietnam War): I remember when I came back from the
hospital after years, yeah. And my parents--they have the picture. They cut
it from the newspaper, so they kept very well. And then they show me, `Yes,
they took the picture when you running out from the fire.'

GROSS: Now you're naked in the picture. Is that because the clothes were
burned off you from the napalm?

Ms. PHUC: Yes. I was in the middle of the people, so I got hit directly from
the napalm.

GROSS: What actually happened that day? Let's start with who you were at
that time--where you lived, what kind of work your parents did, how many
people were in your family.

Ms. PHUC: Normally, before the war come into my village, we had everything.
And I just finished my grade three, and I have a summertime. And then is in
June, I know the war coming to my village. And so we didn't know where we
have to go. So finally, we decided to hide in the temple--it's nearby my
house--with another villager. And then we hide in the temple about three
days, and on the third day they dropped the napalm. And so before that
moment, we just finished our lunch. And then suddenly we saw the color mark
they drop inside the temple area. That signal indicated the temple was going
to be bombed. So the soldier that stay with us, and they screaming. They
say, `We have to go out. Run.' And they ask the children run in first, and I
am the one of them. And I remember when I ran out of the temple, just in
front of the temple, and I saw the airplane, and I saw four bombs. And
suddenly I just saw the fire everywhere around me. I saw the fire over my
body. And my clothes just burn off. And I was so scare, and I screaming.
And I just run out of that fire. That is happen.

GROSS: When you were running from the bombs, and you saw fire over your body
and realized that your clothes had been burned off your body, what went
through your mind? What was your comprehension of what was happening to you
at that moment?

Ms. PHUC: Yes, I remember because I was nine years old. And I remember at
that moment when I saw the fire over my body, I say, `Oh, my goodness. I got
burn so I will be ugly. And people, they can see me different way. I'm not
normal anymore.' And so I stop thinking about that because I so scared, and I
didn't see anybody around me. But then, like, naturally I just run out of
that, and thank God that my feet weren't burned so I could be able to run out.

GROSS: How did you get to the hospital?

Ms. PHUC: After I got burned and so I run out of the fire, and I kept running
and running. And I saw my cousin, and so we kept running and running until I
saw so many people in front of me. And I felt so tired to run anymore, so I
stop. And I feel so pain and thirsty. And so I saw some soldier--they stay
with me. And I say (Vietnamese spoken), which means, `Too hot. Too hot.'
And he gave me some water to drink, and he pour the water over my body. He
just try to help me, but unfortunately, when he pour the water over me, it
means it cook more, it burn more.

GROSS: Why? Why did it cook more?

Ms. PHUC: Because when I got burned too hot, and with hot water in there, its
reaction is cook more.


Ms. PHUC: Yeah. And then that's why I pain at that moment so terrible, so I
lost my consciousness, and I didn't know anything else. But then I learned
that Nick Ut, the photographer, he took me to a nearest hospital. He saved my

GROSS: I wonder if you (technical difficulties) him about why he saved your
life. I mean, there are some photographers who, knowing they were under
deadline, would rush their film to...

Ms. PHUC: Yes.

GROSS: ...get it mailed to their newspaper or to get it (technical
difficulties) in whatever transmission form they were using to their newspaper
instead of taking the time to rush a victim to the hospital like he did with

Ms. PHUC: That's why I am always so grateful to him because he's not only
doing his job like photographer, but he helping me by (technical difficulties)
being to another. So that's why I'm always grateful. And I call him my
uncle. I call Uncle Ut all the time. And, yeah, it's so amazing.

GROSS: How often are you in touch with him?

Ms. PHUC: We almost--he call me all the time, every week. We just very
close, yeah.

GROSS: What was the extent of the burns (technical difficulties)?

Ms. PHUC: I got a total of my body get 65 percent burn, but I have 35 percent
to do skin graft.

GROSS: Did you think you were going to die?

Ms. PHUC: Yes, I did. I almost died. But I thank God I still alive, because
of that picture, lots of people--they recognize I am that little girl and I
receive a lot of help from the doctor, from the foundation. Like, I was in
the hospital after that while it's too long, about 14 months, and I got 17
operations in total to repair the third-degree burns over half of my body.

GROSS: So you think that you got special treatment because of the photograph.

Ms. PHUC: Yes, I think that. Yes.

GROSS: When did you realize that the photograph was taking on the symbolic
value, that the photograph had come to represent the damage of the war in
Vietnam and how innocent people were just being killed, wounded and mutilated?

Ms. PHUC: Ten years later, when I growing up, in 19--yes, 1982, the
Vietnamese government--they found me, I was that little girl. So that moment
I realize that a lot of people--they pay attention. And I know that pictures
are really the symbol of war.

GROSS: There are several other people in the photo, several other children
and about three soldiers running behind you. Who are the other people in the

Ms. PHUC: Two boys in the right hand is my brothers and two children in the
left hand is my cousin. They are sister and brother.

GROSS: What has happened to them?

Ms. PHUC: They got minor burn because they running just a little bit faster
than me. So they got the napalm that is finished fire, and then the rest of
the napalm just stick in their clothes, but it not burn, right? And so they
got minor burn and they get better after a few months later. And they living
in Vietnam right now.

GROSS: Do you still have a lot of physical pain?

Ms. PHUC: Yes, I do. But I change the behavior, you know. I never thought
and I never focus in the pain. I just massage it, put cream on and do
something else or, like, go out for a walk and sing a song, and I think that
just let it go. I never concentrate on the pain. And so that is helpful
because I learn that before when I thinking about the pain, just get bigger
and bigger and bigger, never help, so I change it.

GROSS: Would you describe the recent photo of you that's in the current

Ms. PHUC: I think that everyone--most of you know about the picture in 1972,
and I'm sure everyone see that picture and they have the question, `What
happened to that little girl?' how she is, and that is question all the time.
And so that the answer right now is the second picture, the picture that I
hold my son, Thomas, on his first birthday. And that is a picture of love,
and that a picture that is meaning by I can hold my own son, and I can hold my
future, my hope, and that is my dream come true. Because when I got burn and
I growing up and I feel like I never have a boyfriend and I never get married,
even I never have a baby. But now I can have that picture, I feel so happy.
And that picture is a picture of love. Yeah.

GROSS: Were you afraid that because of the emotional and physical scars that
you'd never get married?

Ms. PHUC: That's right.

GROSS: How much of your body is scarred?

Ms. PHUC: I got, like, 35 percent I have to do skin graft. Yes. And so it's
so much scar on my body.

GROSS: Is it mostly in places that you can cover up with clothes?

Ms. PHUC: Yes. I just praise the Lord that I can cover, yeah. And
people--they can see my face and my hands is just normally, so it's a really
blessing. And so when I hold my son Thomas picture of--yeah, my friend, Anne
Bayin, who lives in Toronto, so I can--you can see that it's compare with my
scar on my body with his skin is so perfect, you know. And I'm so happy.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. PHUC: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Kim Phuc. The recent photo of her with her son on his first birthday
is included in the book, "Family: A Celebration of Humanity," part of a
three-volume collection of photos. She wrote the introduction for the volume
titled "Love." Since 1977 she's been a goodwill ambassador for peace for

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by The Strokes. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New CD from The Strokes

Britney Spears and Michael Jackson may have new albums, but there's a new rock
act that's getting a lot of media buzz. The Strokes is a New York quintet who
were first seized upon as rock 'n' roll saviors by the British press. Their
debut CD is called "This Is It," and rock critic Ken Tucker listened to hear
whether it was.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JULIAN CASABLANCAS (The Strokes): (Singing) Can't you see I'm trying? I
don't even like it. I'd just love to get to your apartment. Now I'm staying
there just for awhile. I can't think 'cause I'm just way too tired. Is this
it? Is this it? Is this it?

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Julian Casablancas sings in a world-weary voice that sounds vaguely muffled,
as if it's wafting up from beneath a New York City manhole cover. Behind him,
guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. provides riffs that are angular and razor-edged.
You have to listen hard to hear any influence from his father, who had a
top-five hit in 1972 with the gloppy ballad "It Never Rains In Southern
California." Other influences, however, the band reveals openly. You can
tell on a song such as "The Modern Age" that The Strokes have listened long
and hard to the ultimate New York rock band The Velvet Underground, with
Casablancas doing a choice Lou Reed impersonation.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CASABLANCAS: (Singing) Up on a hill, here's where we begin, this little
story a long time ago. Stop to pretend. Stop pretending. Let's see this
game as if we're never ending. Oh, and the sunshine down in front. It's in
my blood. I just can't help it. I want you here right now. Let me go. Oh,
let me g--g--g--g--g--g--go. Leaving just in time.

TUCKER: Of course, impersonation does not a great rock band make, but it
helps if you pick the right influences. What The Strokes have going for them
is the lurching energy that characterized the other great Manhattan rock band,
The New York Dolls, as well as a knack for catchy melodies that get your head
bobbing to the music before you even take in what they're singing about.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CASABLANCAS: (Singing) I didn't take no shorts 'cause I (technical
difficulties). Oh, mama, runnin' out of luck. Your younger sister don't give
a (censored). (Technical difficulties) your innocence. To me, my life, it
don't make sense. 'Cause you never saw love before. Why won't you wait
(unintelligible) you ho? (Technical difficulties).

TUCKER: That song is called "Barely Legal," which suggests (technical
difficulties) lust. These guys are too canny to court such controversy.
Indeed, before releasing this album (technical difficulties) removed a song
called "New York City Cops" in which the police were referred to (technical
difficulties) not being very smart, a small insult in the scheme of things,
but one they aren't about to risk right now. At any rate, "Barely Legal"
actually plays out as a wistful song about losing your innocence and mourning
it. At their best, though, The Strokes are a lot more interesting for the way
they manage to sound jaded and enthusiastic simultaneously, a terrific
contradiction that comes together most enjoyably on "Last Nite."

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CASABLANCAS: (Singing) Last night, she says, `Oh, baby, I feel so down.'
(Unintelligible) when I'm feeling down. So I--I turn (technical difficulties)
Oh, baby, don't care no more (technical difficulties) this for sure.
(Technical difficulties) door. Well, I've been in town for just now 15, oh,
minutes now. Oh, baby, I feel so down and I feel (technical difficulties)
like I (technical difficulties) 24 miles to see people, they don't understand.
Your girlfriends can't understand. Your grandsons, they won't understand. On
top of this, ain't ever gonna understand. Last night...

TUCKER: Overall, there's something (technical difficulties) about The Strokes
(technical difficulties) biggest fans. Among whom they can count Elton John,
to justify their (technical difficulties) status. But I'm really glad
(technical difficulties) as artfully slap-dash a band as The Strokes can get
the attention they've gotten, because in the midst of tidy (technical
difficulties) pop and growling pessimistic hip-hop, it means there's still
space for five guys to hammer at a couple of guitar chords, slam on a set of
drums and yell about things in a way that makes some listeners' hearts flutter
with exhilaration.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"This Is It" by The Strokes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASABLANCAS: (Singing) Won't be shy, but he won't be late, said, `Thanks
my friend.' God, he was too late. Oh why? Oh why? I don't know.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASABLANCAS: (Singing) There you go. And his second kid was an
(unintelligible) 'cause he hates to fly. Oh, loves his job...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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