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Lion's Roar : Published Writing

Cultural Survival Quarterly Issue #25

The Priced Vs. Priceless

Dow & Napalm

Globe & Mail; Remebering when East Timor wasn't news

This poem is not about Timor

Three Myths About the Arms Race 

Our LIfe Out of Balance: The Rise of Literacy and the Demise of Pattern Languages

Napalm:the name of the company is DOW

Publication: Science for Peace website

On Saturday October 23, 1999, the Globe and Mail published two and a half pages of text and photographs about Napalm and its effects, but missed what -- for Canadians -- should be the most important aspect of this sordid story.

This discussion of napalm arose during a review of a new book by Denise Chong. Denise Chong has written a book about Kim Phuc, the little girl in a famous photograph taken in Vietnam in 1972 (inset); the photograph showed a Vietnamese girl running naked , screaming, down a road, soaked and burning in an invisible flame of napalm.

Canada's national "business" newspaper managed to print two and a half pages about Napalm without mentioning which "business" invented the horrific substance and is its sole manufacturer. Several thousand words, but three letters were missing: d-o-w. DOW Chemical: without apology. Dow Chemical: without compensation for the victims. DOW Chemical: never prosecuted for war crimes. DOW Chemical: still manufacturing napalm today.

Speechless. Ivan Illich used to say that some atrocities are so extreme, so far against the spirit of life, that to even argue against them-- to utter anything-- lends them a shred of recognition they must never be given. These things are unspeakable horrors. But this is not why corporate newspapers avoid mention of the corporate creators of these horrors. American conscientious objectors who burned their draft cards during the Vietnam War were fined $10,000 each; no fines were ever levied against the company which burned human beings. As the Jesuit Daniel Berrigan said almost 30 years ago when he and his brother and seven others broke into an unoccupied draft office and poured homemade napalm onto U.S. draft files: "Forgive us dear friends, for the crime of burning paper instead of children."

And so, as Thomas Merton said, we must conduct "raids on the unspeakable". These raids are efforts to re-dignify human existence. The first raid was conducted years in advance of general knowledge about napalm, and, "like so many forms of protest against the war... it was started by Women Strike for Peace" (Who spoke up: American protest against the war in Vietnam 1963-1975; 1984, Doubleday). In 1966, four Women Strike for Peace "housewives" tried to block shipments of napalm out of San Jose; they were arrested and convicted. Inspired by this example, in February of 1967, students at the University of Wisconsin occupied and disrupted the Dow Chemical corporate recruiting office. Student protests against Dow recruiters soon spread to dozens of American campuses.

Dow Napalm B is a "petroleum jelly which burns at 1,000 degrees F and sticks to whatever it splatters on, including human flesh" (Who spoke up:104). On human flesh the napalm continues to burn downwards into the body, flameless, feeding on fat and other tissue. By 1966, Dow was supplying 4,550 tons of napalm per month to be dropped onto Vietnam. There was one ton of Canadian nickel built into every B-52 that dropped the Napalm (Claire Culhane: Why is Canada in Vietnam? 1975).

By December of 1967, 500 student protests had been staged against DOW; nonetheless, its president H. D. Doan reaffirmed his commitment to Napalm B, but expressed concern that protests might deter the recruit who might invent "the next great thing" for Dow.

Five years after Doan reaffirmed his company's commitment to Napalm, on a June morning in 1972, an American air force plane dropped several thin 120 gallon canisters of Dow Napalm onto the Vietnamese village of Trang Bang. Kim Phuc was there, and she was set on fire. Napalm covered her back, it burned through her clothes, it burned deep into 35% of her body. She was nine years old. She survived. We did not.

We cannot survive these crimes, unconfessed, unacknowledged. Our oppulent existence is built on ashes and lies. We profit from the crimes of our corporations and we do so little to stop them. Kim Phuc was disfigured so that we Euro-Americans could cheaply extract resources from her homeland--we cannot countenance a people who would withhold their wealth from us. We take by force and destroy any who resist. Dow Chemical thrives today, hidden behind the veil of complicity that refuses to prosecute it for crimes against humanity. Our humanity. We are less human with Dow in our midst. Imagine you are walking past Dow offices in Sarnia, look up, imagine a canister of inescapable flame falling towards you.... But, it will never happen here, not in Canada. Canada is one of the places corporate thievery is launched from, not one of the places where the consequences land. You're safe here. Maybe that's why Kim Phuc moved to Canada; she will never be set on fire here for resisting.

Related Links on the World Wide Web

Kim Phuc Life Story (Women Today magazine)