"Learned, fair and historically accurate"

Victor Davis Hanson in a cover review for the Times Literary Supplement on 17 July 2013:

Neer is often highly critical of the American use of napalm; yet his narrative of its origins, production and use over the past seven decades is not a jeremiad, but learned, fair and historically accurate. In the post-war era, napalm was felt essential to protect American ground troops, often outnumbered and deployed in hostile Asian landscapes. Soon it became a favoured tactic in Korea and Vietnam to substitute mini-firestorms from the air for the costlier insertion of infantry altogether. Yet the paradox of napalm, as Neer shows, is that while the use of such jellied gasoline – Napalm B, the successor to the original toxic mixture, is safer to store while burning longer and at higher temperatures – has saved the lives of American soldiers, it has usually been dropped in controversial post-war insurgent landscapes, where the lines between civilians and soldiers were blurred.

In comparison to chemical and biological agents, napalm remains a conventional weapon. Neer is especially insightful in showing how Vietnam was a turning point in public perceptions about napalm. Until photographs of burning Vietnamese children – especially the graphic disfigurement of young Kim Phúc – spread around the world, napalm per se was not particularly associated with barbarity, at least in comparison to the horrendous and multifaceted arsenal of modern weaponry. Certainly, before 1943 the Germans and British had managed well enough to burn wide swaths of European cities without it. But by the mid-1970s, napalm was forever associated with the indiscriminate torching of Vietnamese hamlets and civilians – and thus became a symbol in popular movies, rock songs and anti-war literature of the cowardly use of high-tech destruction by a bullying America against weaker indigenous populations.

Click here to read the full review.