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Home > World

Apocalypse Again

4 December 2004

As of this week, napalm - one of the nastiest weapons known to mankind - is back. Or so it seems. And no-one appears to give that much of a damn. Tony Blair certainly doesn't. Oh well. Not to worry. A cunning combination of jet fuel and a polystyrene-based thickening agent, napalm is a kind of slow-burning super-flammable jelly which adheres to human skin as it burns and is nigh on impossible to extinguish. Apparently, it has a very distinctive smell. Depending on your point of view, it either smells like... victory, or like a cannibal's barbecue in clumsily-tended petrol station.

Napalm was developed by a bunch of amoral boffins at Harvard University in the early 1940s, then later produced in bulk by the wonderful Dow Chemical Company, whose corporate slogan is 'Living. Improved daily.' It was first used to firebomb Dresden and Tokyo in WW2, then later in Korea, but it really came into its own in Vietnam, where it would eventually net a Pulitzer Prize for Kim Phuc who managed to capture the following napalm-inspired image:


In 1980 however, common sense prevailed and a UN convention banned the use of napalm. The United States of America was one of very few countries who refused to sign the treaty. How unusual. However, they did stop producing it and, according to the Pentagon, they destroyed their very last batch of napalm on 4th April, 2001. Phew. But hold on a sec...

Last summer it was revealed that, in March of 2003, napalm was used in the American-led advance on Baghdad. Initially - despite Marine commander Colonel James Alles telling reporters at the time, 'We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches. Unfortunately there were people there... It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect.' - the Pentagon denied it.

Then when other soldiers and eye-witnesses claimed that napalm had in fact been used, the Pentagon stepped in to clear up the confusion. Their intention of course, had never been to deceive... It was just that they were drawing a distinction between *traditional napalm*, as it was engineered in Harvard in 1942, and what they were using in Iraq, which although 'remarkably similar', was in fact not the same, as it had a marginally different chemical formulation - you see, it uses kerosene rather than petrol. What they were using in Baghdad were Mark 77 Firebombs. Not napalm bombs. So no. No deception there. Pentagon officials shrugged their shoulders. 'Mark 77 Firebombs are a completely different kettle of burning flesh,' they said. 'If you'd asked us about them, of course we'd have told you everything.' And so it was forgotten. Anyway, it's not like they were breaking any promises.

Earlier this week, a small number of news sources - such as the Sunday Mirror and Aljazeera.com - reported that George W Bush has sanctioned the use of napalm in the fight for Fallujah. Eye-witness accounts tell of widespread devastation and 'melted corpses'. One Fallujah resident told reporters, 'Fallujah is almost gone.' Whether this is a result of napalm or Mark 77 Firebombs has not been made clear, largely because no-one really cares enough to talk about the allegations. Not even to deny them.

Earlier this week Labour MP for Halifax, Alice Mahon, called on Tony Blair 'to make an emergency statement to the Commons to explain why this is happening. It begs the question,' she said, 'Did we know about this hideous weapon's use in Iraq?' In response, Tony Blair said, 'Never mind that. Isn't David Blunkett great? I won't have a word said against him.'

So what is to be done? Well, nothing. After all, all is fair in love and war, especially war. So don't give it another thought, and while you're about it, praise the Lord and crack open the depleted uranium.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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