Nonviolent Program to Stop Napalm Production

by Stop Napalm Production Subcommittee 

Napalm protest, 1966, photo by Harvey Richards; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: The Quaker Action Group convened a meeting in January of 1967 to discuss a nonviolent strategy for protesting the use of napalm in the Vietnam War. The two documents posted here in succession are unpublished internal memos outlining a strategy against Dow Chemical, the principle manufacturer of the deadly weapon. Among the members of the subcommittee were George Lakey, Lawrence Scott, and George Willoughby. These documents are especially noteworthy for their adherence to several Gandhian nonviolent civil disobedience principles, especially studying the opponent, and determining the weak point. They are another in our series of discoveries from the War Resisters’ International archive. Please see the note at the end for archival reference and acknowledgment. JG

You sit down to write a nice, dispassionate report on what napalm is. The paper is there, the pencils; all the facts you need to demonstrate the horror of this weapon. And you read this (New York Times, December 10, 1967):

“It comes premixed and packaged in thin-skinned aluminum tanks. There are three sizes of which the largest, a tank of 120 gallons weighing 800 pounds, and ten feet long and about three feet in diameter at its thickest point is most frequently used . . . About 1,500 tons of napalm are dropped in an average month in South Vietnam . . . Unlike conventional bombs most tanks of napalm are not provided with fins. Instead of spinning, they tumble, spreading the flaming fuel over an area in open country of about 150 feet along the path of the plane and about 50 feet wide.”

It’s an easy bomb to make; one part benzine, one part gasoline, two parts polystyrene, mix it up and put it in a can with a firecracker at one end to ignite the stuff in the can. Drop it from a plane. On people.

“Napalm’s fatal effects come not only from burns. Suffocation can be caused by the sudden exhaustion of oxygen, and heat up to 2,000 degrees can claim victims not touched by the jelly.” (New York Post, August 26, 1966)

“In every surgical facility we visited in I Corps we saw napalm burns identified as such by the physician in attendance. We were also told by more than one MILPHAP (Military Provincial Health Assistance Program) physician that most napalm burn victims die before they reach the hospitals.” (Dr. Herbert Needleman, in testimony before the Congressional Subcommittee on Refugees, October 9, 1967)

“There were sometimes two in a bed; now and then, three. They were peasants of all ages, badly battered. ‘Those you see here are those who were able to come,’ a Vietnamese hospital doctor told me. ‘For everyone who can reach a town, there are ten who die in the village or the fields or wherever they arc struck. This is true above all of the badly burned.’” (Le Monde, March 12, 1966)

So you stare at these nice, dispassionate facts that are going to go in your nice, dispassionate report and you keep picking up the pencil to write but you can’t. You smoke a lot of cigarettes and get up from your chair and wander around the room and sit down again and then do it all over. You shuffle clippings and reports. But you can’t write because you hurt too much.  Your mind is kind of numb and you think that crying might help but your hurt is beyond tears. There’s an empty ache that runs from gullet to crotch.

There’s a meeting tomorrow that’s going to decide on action. What the hell kind of action can meet the sickness that creates the horror of napalm and all the rest of the things in the militarist’s attaché case? So you read the outline of the proposed action and say, “Maybe, just maybe.” And you sort out some quotes and start writing. But the hurt stays, and the anger grows. It becomes a very personal thing. In your mind you divide up the action program into talk, walk, and act. You will talk and walk but you know what you really have to do is act. People are being murdered and you’re walking around enjoying the same air as the murderers. Jail isa pretty cheap price to pay for concern. A peasant in Vietnam got killed this very second for his concern.

What about napalm? Why direct an action against its production and use? Why not simply continue to attack the whole war system? We want an action against napalm because napalm is a good focus. In our jaded and brutal society it takes a lot of gore to move Joe Citizen off his ass to concern. Bullets kill people just as dead as napalm. They aren’t as grizzly. High explosives blow off an arm just as effectively as napalm burns it off. But they don’t leave scarred and charred stumps. Bomb fragments wound just as horribly as napalm. But they don’t cover the body with red, shriveled scar tissue. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese were moved to “relocation camps” (or “concentration camps” when the Germans “relocated” Jews) after all their possessions had been destroyed, and that is just as effective as burning the village with napalm, sometimes with the villagers still in them. It’s hard for government PR men to say that the villagers were incinerated for their own good. Yes, napalm is a good focus.

However, we need to have a more specific focus, a manufacturer of napalm. The U. S. Army lists about ten primary and secondary suppliers of “Napalm B”, the type used on peasants in Vietnam. But the New York Times (December 11, 1967) states that Dow Chemical is the only supplier of “Napalm-B”. While this doesn’t agree with our research it does coincide with indications that Dow is the major supplier of napalm. Because of this Dow has been the target of demonstrations on campuses and a so-far ineffective boycott of Saran Wrap, another Dow product. We believe our action should also be directed against Dow.

Dow is already smarting public-relations-wise from its production of napalm. “Napalm Protests Worry Dow, Though Company Is Unhurt” ran a headline in the New York Times (December 11, 1967). Our action is aimed at making Dow hurt. Before launching our activity the sub-committee plans a full scale research project into Dow Chemicals. We want to know where the weakest point is in Dow’s corporate structure. We want to know where Dow’s weakest consumer product is so that an effective boycott can be mounted. While it takes only one-ninth as much labor to produce a dollar of profit from napalm as it does to produce a dollar of profit from other Dow products, making napalm a high profit item, it represents only one half of one percent (0.5%) of the company’s total sales and earnings. Dow is not about to sacrifice its corporate image ( with such possible press as “Dow Makes Saran Wrap and Burned Babies”) for one half of one percent. It is not about to sacrifice the best chemical engineering brains on campuses because those brains won’t work for a company manufacturing napalm. If we can mount an effective boycott against a weak Dow consumer product, they will not sacrifice 1% of their profits to keep 0.5%. In spite of Dow’s campaign claiming that napalm manufacturing is their “patriotic duty” they will stop the minute they think it costs them money. Dow is run by capitalists and for once we can use capitalist greed to an advantage.

People will not buy things from “bad” companies. Corporations have public relations men because they want to be a “good” company. Our civil disobedience will be directed at Dow to show the public that Dow is a “bad” company. Groups of people will say, “Dow must put me in jail if they want to continue the production of napalm.” Others (including this writer) will say, “You must put me in jail one time, then twice, five times, ten times, a hundred times. In fact you’ll have to keep me in jail indefinitely if you want to manufacture your horror weapons.” We think the outlined program for action will drive Dow out of the napalm business. At the very least the program will educate more people to the horrors of war.

What have we accomplished if we drive Dow out of the napalm business? We’ve shown the rock and bottle throwers that dignified nonviolent action works, while their way accomplished nothing. We’ve given the Movement a victory, which it badly needs. But most important we’ve inconvenienced the government and shown them that we can get corporations out of war manufacturing. We’ve set a precedent by breaking a corporate giant and the next company will fall a little easier because it will be less concerned with saving face. You have to work on the militarist beast from the outer edges. Stop the draft and you cut off the beast’s arms. Stop the merchants of death and you cut out the beast’s guts.

This project is going to take time, lots of it. It’s going to take money. Lot’s of that too. It must be well planned and carefully thought out. The sub-committee has committed itself to a long-term project. The foundation will be built through careful research. The framework constructed through extensive nationwide contact of individuals. Then dates can be set and action begun. This project has too much potential to be ruined by inadequate preparation. This project has too much potential to be ruined by jumping into it without sufficient groundwork. This project must not be destroyed by a weak effort lacking the dedication to see it succeed.

“Dow accepted this contract (for napalm) because we feel that simple good citizenship requires that we supply our government and our military with those goods they need when we have the technology and capability and have been chosen by the government as a supplier.” (Dow Chemical Co. statement, August. 3, 1966)

A man was arrested in Argentina by the Jews. They took him to Israel, put him in a glass booth in a court room and charged him with murdering, directly or indirectly, six million Jews. His defense was that he had only followed orders and done what his government wanted. The Jews didn’t think that was a good enough reason for six million murders so they hanged him.

Reference: IISG/WRI Archive Box 404: Folder 10. We are grateful to WRI/London and their director Christine Schweitzer for their cooperation in our WRI project.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi