I don't know if younger people today even know what napalm is. The more educated ones have heard the word, I expect -- the line in Apocalypse Now about the its scent in the morning "smells like victory, for example. A quick Google Search shows that it seems to be quite current as sort of a kitschy reference -- a band named "Napalm Death" and another named "Napalm Christ," a nutritional supplement called "Muscle Warfare Napalm Extreme Pre-Workout," "Napalm Records" -- I stopped before too long. For someone who remembers Vietnam War footage, this is the sort of casual exercise in empty creativity that makes one weep for the future of humanity -- not just "of people" but the "of the very quality of being humane" -- but that's being too harsh. It's more ignorance than evil. A lot of people just don't really know what napalm is, what it does. It's just a name for Big Evil, like Cthulhu or Auschwitz or Vlad the Impaler or Joe McCarthy, trotted out to scare.
Some with a little more knowledge may also remember it as the reason for the famous war photo of naked prepubescent Phan Thi Kim Phuc and other Vietnamese children running in agony from a South Vietnamese napalm attack. (I recommend reading that page, by the way, especially if all you know is the photo there. Kim Phuc is alive, lecturing, and living in Ontario, Canada. The one I have always wondered about since first seeing the photo is the boy in the lower left, whose look of pain is about the most honestly godawful facial expression I've have ever seen.)
Napalm is a sort of jellied gasoline, but that description doesn't do it justice. From the Wikipedia article, also well worth reading:
"Napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine," said Kim Phúc, a napalm bombing survivor known from a famous Vietnam War photograph. "Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (212°F). Napalm generates temperatures of 800 (1,500°F) to 1,200 degrees Celsius (2,200°F)."I don't think that there is any concept quite like napalm in our current discussions of atrocities. You'd have to combine waterboarding -- if done on a widespread basis -- with drones, with perhaps white phosphorous -- to come near to what people thought about napalm back in the anti-war movement.
A US army source, talking about napalm, reported:
‘We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot - if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene - now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter (white phosphorus) so’s to make it burn better. And just one drop is enough, it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.’
The US Air Force and US Navy used napalm with great effect against all kinds of targets to include troops, tanks, buildings, jungles, and even railroad tunnels. The effect was not always purely physical as napalm had tangible psychological effects on the enemy as well. During World War II, the U.S. Marines quickly learned that the Japanese soldiers, when threatened with napalm and other incendiary weapons, would abandon positions in which they would fight to the death against other weapons. During the Korean War, the demoralizing effect napalm had on the enemy became apparent when scores of North Korean and Chinese troops began to surrender to aircraft flying overhead. Pilots noted that they saw surviving enemy troops waving white flags on subsequent passes after dropping napalm. The pilots radioed to ground troops and the enemy combatants were captured. Interviews with enemy prisoners of war determined that napalm was the most feared weapon used against themNapalm was an unspeakable horror, and one of the worst parts of the horror was how entirely speakable it was.
You would think that this diary is about napalm. It's not. It's about something more trivial, the "mock warfare" (with longer term real outcomes) of a general election. It's about how activists used a prank to do something amazing -- to get people to feel the horror of napalm and of their own reactions to it.
Ultimately, it's about Seamus the Dog -- and why Mitt Romney is doomed. He's doomed because even though people have gotten it intellectually so far, they haven't gotten the horror of his psychopathic lack of empathy viscerally. But I think that they will.
This is one of my favorite stories from Vietnam War protests -- better than levitating the Pentagon, better than nominating Pigasus the Pig for President in Chicago 1968.
There may be additional instances of this stunt, but this is the one I found online: A guy named Bill Arthrell -- now a high school history teacher, but in 1970 a Kent State University student who was among 25 of the 2000 activists arrested following the killing and wounding of more than a dozen students -- decided that he wanted to get through to the American public the enormity (look up that word) of napalming Vietnamese children. Here's how he did it:
At a demonstration just two weeks earlier, 300 people showed up to see if Bill would really go through with a nebulous threat he’d posted around campus. That week, fliers claimed he was going to napalm a live dog for all to see.The point was: you can get people to come out and protest the horrific maltreatment of a dog -- and when they do you can point out that by the same token they really should not accept the horrific maltreatment of many, many children. (And of adults civilians, too. Let's not forget them.)
“Guerilla protest. 300 people came out to see us napalm that dog. And they just stood there when we made them think about what they really came to see.”
“We were never going to napalm a dog. I’m a Buddhist for God’s sake. What I said that day was that hundreds of civilians were being napalmed in Vietnam every day, but nobody rushed out to stop that. And napalm wasn’t even legal. Our own government had agreed to that. But yet, there we were, using it every day.”
In 1970, no one argued that the napalming of children was anything other than maltreatment; they just thought that it was justified. In 2012, though, Mitt Romney is arguing that his carrying Seamus in a kennel on top of his car for 12-hours was not only justified, but that it wasn't even maltreatment!
Well -- if it wasn't maltreatment, then no one should care if we do it again, huh?
So here's what I expect to see happen: I expect to see ads on craigslist and elsewhere from people saying that they want people to volunteer their dogs to be given "the ride of a lifetime" -- 6 hours out, 6 hours back. They will use the same kind of car carrier that Romney used. THEY'LL LOVE IT -- just like Seamus did! And to make it worth your while, the lucky winner gets a $50 gift certificate for dog food. Just sign up to enter your dog in the drawing, show up at your local Wal-Mart parking lot (or whatever) on thus and such a day, bring your dog, and if you're the lucky winner your dog is going on a long, long ride!
A few days before the event, it may be that not a lot of people are entering their dogs. Why? This is just good fun for the dog, right? THE DOG WILL LOVE IT! Why aren't people entering? Maybe the prize isn't big enough. Raise it to $100! Raise it to $200, if need be! Someone ought to be willing to volunteer their dog!
And then see who shows up with their dogs, ready to go on top of a station wagon (or modern equivalent) that morning.
My guess is that, with proper publicity, a lot of people will show up. Few if any, though, will have their dogs. Sticks, bricks, stones, perhaps -- but not their dogs.
I think what we'd find out is that -- like the napalming of a dog in Kent, Ohio -- people really don't think that this is an OK thing to do to a dog when push comes to shove, just like if someone was asked to apply napalm to a Vietnamese child with a brush rather than from a bomber that might change how they feel about it.
Now from here, one could proceed in two ways. First, call it off at the last minute by plan, as always intended would with the "napalming a dog" stunt. The second option, which I find obnoxious because I do not myself agree with Mitt Romney -- although I recognize that for all I know he could be right -- is to be willing to go ahead with it. Maybe people could be asked to donate the cost of the gift certificate in order to pay off the winner without putting their dog to the test. The point is: if it's really OK -- unlike the napalming -- then there's no reason not to go through with it. And maybe the dog will come back OK -- victory for Romney, I suppose. (Maybe his campaign should be the one to do this.)
But what I suggest instead is that making it real for people would also make it repugnant. It would point to the real moral of the story -- that Mitt Romney, with his complete lack of empathy -- is the opposite of Bill Clinton at his best and most appealing.
Mitt Romney is the man who cannot "feel your pain."Promise to take a dog for a long ride this summer and my guess is that people will see that. And if it's not this stunt, it will be something else. This scene is too telling of a window into the soul of Mitt Romney for it not to be exploited this summer and fall -- whether we, he, or David Axelrod like it or not. Romney is out of step with the moral reasoning of the public -- and that is too easily demonstrated.
7:10 PM PT: Here's a graphic that this story prompted me to create: