Testimony from the 1969-1979 Peers Inquiry solves the mystery of the button: the image actually captures these women and children in the moments between a sexual assault and mass murder. In his inquiry testimony, Haeberle explains that a group of soldiers were trying to “see what she was made of,” and that they “started stripping her, taking her top off,” Additional testimony from the investigation confirms this.
A woman is holding the older woman from behind, but she is less restraining her than she is holding, protecting, and perhaps attempting to comfort her. Notice her hands are not tight, but slack. In the background, someone (it seems like a man if that is, in fact, a bald spot) is touching, maybe stroking and trying to comfort the young girl clutching to him. The fact he looks down at her also suggests the tension has eased for an instant. As for the older woman herself, her eyes seemingly still angry, she appears more filled with anguish than anger now, her arms retracted into her body and her attention, along with several of the others, directed to our left, as if trying to re-orient her attention. And of course, there is the Black Blouse girl, behind and protected by the others from whatever is happening to our left, buttoning her blouse back up.
So we ask again: what are we to make of the informational erasure surrounding this iconic artifact of US history, one that indicates sexual violence in the plain light of day? And why is it that most Americans readily recognize the “Napalm Girl” but not the “Black Blouse Girl?”
Trigger warning: violence and sexual assault
I read this yesterday. It was hard. Sick with anger imagining what they felt, what their eyes saw, what was in the eyes of the soldiers.