Napalm — Robert M. Neer | Harvard University Press
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Napalm: An American Biography
Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Volume 77 , Issue 1 Spring Pages In , US General Billy Mitchell, regarded as the "founding inspiration" of the US Air Force, remarked that since Japanese cities were "built largely of wood and paper", they made the "greatest aerial targets the world has ever seen. While napalm was first used against Japanese troops in the Pacific Islands, the campaign of "area bombing" of Japanese civilians was led by a man with the "aura of a borderline sociopath" who had, as a child, enjoyed killing small animals 70 : Curtis LeMay.
LeMay said the goal was for Japanese cities to be "wiped right off the map" To this effect, on March 9, , the US "burned a flaming cross about four miles by three into the heart" of Tokyo, which crew information sheets said was the most densely populated city in the world at the time: , people per square mile.
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In the first hour, , gallons of napalm were used. The city was essentially undefended. Japanese fighters, mostly unable to take flight, did not shoot down a single US aircraft, and air-defense batteries were defunct. By the next morning, fifteen square miles of the city center were in ashes, with approximately , people dead, mainly from burning.
Streets were strewn with "carbonized" figures and rivers were "clogged with bodies" of people who had tried to escape the firestorms. The winds, which reached hundreds of miles per-hour, whipped her high into the air and thrashed her around. She burst into flame and disappeared, incinerated. A scrap of her kimono drifted through the air and landed at the feet of the survivor.
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On the US end, multiple bombers reported vomiting in their planes from the overpowering smell, blasted skyward by the windstorms, of "roasting human flesh" — a sickly "sweet" odor In Washington, Generals congratulated each other. General Arnold cabled LeMay that he had proved that he "had the guts for anything. After both atomic bombings which, individually, inflicted less damage than the March 9 Tokyo area-firebombing , and after the Japanese surrender, but before it had been officially accepted, General Hap Arnold called for "as big a finale as possible.
The US did not incur a single loss in the raid The Japanese government thus managed to kill five people in Oregon. While the atomic bomb "got the press", American napalm was thus established as the truly "most effective weapon". Napalm was now understood by the US military as the real bringer of "Armageddon", and was then used accordingly in its next major military campaigns in foreign countries.
North America and Australia remain the only two continents where napalm has never actually been used on people.
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It has been used by many other militaries, largely US clients, but no one has used it to the extent of the United States . This is much easier to do regarding WWII, as it is overwhelmingly interpreted by Americans as a "good war" and thus requires no justification, whereas the selectively "forgotten" Korean war or the often shame-invoking Vietnam war require historical manipulations or omissions to make US actions at least semi-thinkable.
So, from here I will give a broader summary and critique of the book. The US official who took this statement declined to publicize it .
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Because of concerted opposition to napalm and corporations particularly Dow Chemical that produced napalm for the military, the gel became regarded as a "worldwide synonym for American brutality" Neer asserts that a reason for this is that "authorities did not censor" during the Vietnam war to the extent that they did "during World War II and the Korean War" Images of children and others horrifically burnt or incinerated by napalm therefore became available to the public and incited people like Dr.
Bruce Franklin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, Neer points out and in part seems to lament , the image of napalm was never salvaged, except for within a sub-group of personality-types in this text limited to the rabble who had always enthusiastically supported its use, referring to its Vietnamese victims in racist and xenophobic terms such as "ungodly savages", "animals" , etc.
These kinds of statements were often embarrassing to corporate and government officials who tried to defend their use of the chemical on "humanitarian" and other such grounds, in apparent contrast to the low-brow rabble that simply admitted it liked the idea of roasting people alive. When W. In academic biographies of the main inventor of napalm, Louis Fieser, Neer notes that the fire-gel goes mysteriously unmentioned. Attention on napalm due to American use of it in Vietnam resulted in multiple experts and expert panel assessments of the weapon, and the issue was repeatedly raised in the UN General Assembly — which, since the Korean War and the rise of the decolonization climate, had drifted increasingly away from purely Western colonial, American-led control.
In , Harvard Medical School instructor Peter Reich and senior physician at Massachusetts General Hospital Victor Sidel called napalm a "chemical weapon" that causes horrific burns, and said it is particularly dangerous for children and has a devastating psychological clout. In , the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution deploring "the use of chemical and biological means of warfare, including napalm bombing" In , the UNGA called napalm a "cruel" weapon.
In , it again overwhelmingly approved a resolution deploring the use of napalm "in all armed conflicts", noting it regarded the weapon "with horror" An expert panel agreed, calling napalm a "savage and cruel" "area weapon" of "total war" The United States abstained from or opposed all of these overwhelmingly approved resolutions. While napalm ultimately lost the battle for public opinion, its use today is only technically outlawed against civilians and civilian areas — an agreement reached in and finally ratified by the US, with self-exceptions of dubious legality, in