On reports from Vietnam. Children are doused with burning napalm, their skin is charred black and they die

Kjartan Slettemark
243
0 min
Year: 1965

Transcription

Music:   

Country Joe and The Fish: Vietnam Song: 

Well, come on all of you, big strong men,  

Uncle Sam needs your help again.  

He's got himself in a terrible jam  

Way down yonder in Vietnam  

So put down your books and pick up a gun,  

We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.  

Narrator: 

It's summer in Oslo. The year is 1965. 

In Eidsvolls plass, in front of the Storting — the Norwegian parliament — Kjartan Slettemark's political artwork is on display with its full title:  

"On reports from Vietnam: children are doused with burning napalm.   

Their skin is charred black and they die." 

Norway's national broadcaster, NRK, reported:  

NRK news (archive recording):  

In a strange and dispiriting incident in Oslo, the so-called picture of the month, which for July was by Kjartan Slettemark, was vandalized.  

The incident sparked heated debate in the middle of the summer lull, and those who defended the tearing down of the work claimed that Slettemark's painting was not art, but political agitation.  

The painting was reinstalled, but was then attacked again, this time with an axe.  

Narrator: 

Why was there such a row about this artwork? For the first time, Norwegians were getting media coverage of a war right on their television screens in their living rooms. People were provoked, divided and engaged by the brutal images of the Vietnam War.  

From CNN:  

As the North Vietnamese attacked, our fighter bombers roared in with rockets, firebombs and guns blazing. It was the heaviest concentration of tactical air power ever unleashed in the Vietnam War.  

Narrator: 

The artist Willibald Storn, originally from Austria and one of Slettemark's contemporaries, is still hard at work at the age of 85.  

Willibald Storn:  

So for me, that time was a wake-up call. And my God, even for me, who’d experienced the Second World War. It was the things that were happening: Vietnam; the debate about nuclear weapons; the Cold War at its height.  

Narrator: 

“On reports from Vietnam” was cut into pieces by a thirty-six-year-old sailmaker, who wanted to remove the American flag from Slettemark’s picture.   

Willibald Storn:  

At the same time, there was something useful about it too, don’t you think? When an idiot goes and uses an axe of all things, then people start to wake up. Hello! Is this the kind of society we want? Where if we disagree about something, then we start attacking each other with axes?  Well … we shouldn’t scorn the idea that we need useful idiots.  

(Music - Country Joe and The Fish:)  

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,  

Whoopee! We’re all gonna die.