Publica Brazil cites "revelations" in Napalm

Brazilian investigative journalism agency Publica has released a major report on napalm use in Brazil in the 1970s. "Napalm in the Ribeira Valley" by Anne Vigna, Luciano Onça, and Natalia Viana includes an interview and citations to Napalm:

The use of Napalm was in vogue at that time, according to revelations by American researcher Robert Neer in the book, “Napalm, an American Biography,” published by Harvard University. Napalm bombardments were carried out in September 1975 against guerrillas in Peru, and in March 1967 against the guerrilla Che Guevara in the Bolivian jungle (at least 150 bombs weighing 100 and 50 kilos were furnished by the Argentine government, according to a secret report of the Center for Foreign Information, or CIEX ). It wasn’t until 9 June 1972 that the legendary photo of children burned by Napalm in Vietnam spread across the globe, generating worldwide reaction. The same year, according to documents released by the National Truth Commission, the Brazilian Air Force bombarded three areas with Napalm to suppress guerrillas in Araguaia, something that has already been exposed in reporting by journalist Luiz Maklouf Carvalho.

Click here to read the original report in Portuguese, with a follow-on article here, or here to read an English translation.

"American Hellfire"

Robin Lindley publishes an extensive interview on History News Network that delves deep into napalm's evocative history.

For the first time, historian Robert M. Neer tells the complete story of napalm from its American birth and successful use in war to subsequent revulsion and legal restriction in his book Napalm: An American Biography (Belknap Press, Harvard).  In this wide ranging cultural and social history of napalm, Dr. Neer provides the historical context of napalm in the history of fire as a weapon of war; sets out technical details on chemical and engineering issues; traces the history of napalm from war “hero to pariah;” explores moral and legal implications of its use; and offers an unflinching account of the human cost of this powerful incendiary in war after war in the past 70 years.

Click here to read the interview.


"The Clash of Science and Ethics"


Host David Freudberg on public radio's award-winning Humankind series available on NPR, WGBH Radio, and Sirius XM on 10 November 2013:

We consider the moral implications of scientific research, especially when the aim is to develop military arms. Are the scientists involved morally responsible for the use of these weapons on civilians? Author and historian Robert Neer recounts the top-secret research conducted at Harvard in the early 1940s, which yielded the weapon napalm. Use of napalm was widely accepted in WW2 and killed more Japanese even than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But when napalm was used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam war, peace activists decried the substance – a gasoline-based gel that sticks to human skin and burns to the bone at extremely high heat – to be inhuman. An iconic photo showed a 9-year-old girl, who was burned severely by napalm. Yet the chief scientist who developed the weapon later disavowed responsibility for its use. We also hear from Harvard science historian Everett Mendelsohn, who signed an anti-napalm petition in 1967 and has since studied and taught about the gap between weapons research and a deep awareness of how weapons development can lead to great human suffering.

Click here for the program listing, and here to listen to a free excerpt.


"Napalm-Strapped Bats"

Gizmodo Australia recounts "The US Military's Disastrous Plan To Use Napalm-Strapped Bats In WWII" on May 15, 2013:

As Robert M. Neer notes in his new book, Napalm: An American Biography, “Flames… jumped from building to building. Many structures lay in ashes.” It could barely have been more catastrophic. Apparently, in an effort to maintain the secrecy of their secret weapon, research team leader Louis Fieser and his team of scientists had chosen to forego fire equipment. Not the best idea where kamikaze bomb bats are concerned. Or as Fieser casually put it, “We made a little mistake out there.”

Click here to read the article.


"Fieser flipped a switch."

An excerpt from Napalm in Harvard Magazine's Open Book section:

NAPALM, indelibly associated in modern memory with the horrors of civilians bombed during the Vietnam War, emerged from a Harvard laboratory as a lauded invention in an earlier conflict—and then was used to incinerate Japanese cities. Robert M. Neer Jr. ’86, an attorney and lecturer at Columbia, has written Napalm: An American Biography (Harvard University Press, $29.95). “Napalm was born a hero but lives a pariah,” he writes. This excerpt, from the introduction to the first section, narrates the gel’s origin.

Click here to read the full excerpt.

Croatian Nedjeljni Jutarnji Sunday newspaper interview

Science reporter, author, and former physics professor Tanja Rudez explained the findings of Napalm in the Nedjeljni Jutarnji Sunday edition of leading Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list. Among other subjects, Rudez discusses the 1994 use of napalm by Serbian forces against the U.N. safe haven of Bihać in Bosnia which precipitated airstrikes by the United States, Britain, France and the Netherlands: the largest in Europe since WWII and the largest in NATO's history to that point.

Click here to read the full article in Croatian.

"Heritage and horror"

Interview with Time's Mark Thompson for Battleland:

Napalm is one of those American inventions that you wish weren’t, sort of like Agent Orange, killer drones, or nuclear weapons. Sure, their invention might have had to happen eventually, but why should the U.S. have to shoulder credit – culpability? — for being the first to develop ever-better and more lethal weapons? Was that something the Founding Fathers ever envisioned?

Despite its heritage and horror, napalm – the word is a marriage of its two original components, naphthenic and palmitic acids – has played a major role in the history of war. That’s why Robert M. Neer, a historian at Columbia University, elected to write a book about it.

Click here to read the whole interview.

"First-ever biography of napalm"

Kady Pu for  The Columbia Spectator

Kady Pu for The Columbia Spectator

Interview with The Eye writer Andrea Chan for the Columbia Spectator:

We all know bits and pieces about nuclear weapons and their history, but how much have you ever learned about napalm, an incendiary gel that sticks to the skin? In his newly-released book, Bob Neer, lecturer of American history and Contemporary Civilization instructor, presents the first-ever biography of napalm.

Click here to read the whole interview.

"Devilish brew that changed war"

Radio Boston host Megna Chakrabarty:

Napalm is a devilish brew of jellied gasoline that sticks to human skin and burns all the way to the bone. It was created in a lab across the river on the campus of Harvard University, at the height of the Second World War.

The U.S. military used the new invention to completely destroy 64 Japanese cities with firebombs. They used it in Korea too. And was images of flame-scarred civilians in Vietnam that helped to turn the public opinion against that conflict.

It’s killed more people than nuclear weapons — more than 87,500 in one night in Tokyo alone — and it was used as recently as the Iraq War. It is no wonder that Napalm has seared its way into our popular culture.

Listen to the show:

"First comprehensive history of napalm"

Interview with Gal Beckerman in The Boston Sunday Globe:

"Neer’s new book, “Napalm: An American Biography,” is the first comprehensive history of napalm, and tells the story of how a weapon deemed so useful in World War II and Korea hit a turning point in Vietnam. During that time it became the target of antiwar protestors, who mounted a nationwide campaign to stop Dow Chemical Co. from manufacturing it. ...

Neer spoke with Ideas from his home in Cambridge about his new book.

IDEAS: I understand that the first napalm bomb was tested on the Harvard College soccer field. Please tell me no Harvard students were harmed. ..."

Click here to read the full interview.