Monday, August 11, 2003


  1. The Pentagon has now confirmed that it used MK-77 firebombs against Iraqi forces during the American attack on Iraq (see here and here for information on German television reports). MK-77 firebombs contain a sticky incendiary substance that is of a different chemical composition than napalm but has the same effect on those it hits (for lots of information on incendaries and napalm, see here). Colonel Mike Daily of the U. S. Marine Corps said:

    "Many folks (out of habit) refer to the Mark-77 as 'napalm' because its effect upon the target is remarkably similar."

  2. The Pentagon vehemently denied the initial stories of napalm use in March, claiming that it had destroyed all its stocks of napalm. We now know that this denial was a lie, as 'napalm' was the common term used by the troops in Iraq and there is no essential difference between napalm and the substance used in the MK-77 firebombs. John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said:

    "You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it. The US is the only country that has used napalm for a long time. I am not aware of any other country that uses it."

    The outrage of the Pentagon at the original story by Lindsay Murdoch published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age (and see also the story by Martin Savidge for CNN) - with the accusation that the Pentagon used napalm described by a Pentagon spokesman as 'patently false' - reveals the fact that the Pentagon itself felt guilty enough about what it had done that it decided to lie about it.

  3. Al-Jazeera reported that the United States had used napalm at Tora Bora during the war against Afghanistan. On being questioned about this, General Tommy Franks said:

    "Right. We're not using - we're not using the old napalm in Tora Bora."

    There was no follow-up question. Given what we now know about Pentagon prevarications about napalm, Franks' reference to 'the old napalm' is probably a confirmation that the 'new' napalm was used.

  4. Protocol III of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons deals specifically with the use of incendiary weapons, and their use against civilians. The United States is not a party to this protocol, and the Pentagon defends its use of napalm as legal. The United States is not in a good position to be arguing technicalities, as the attack on Iraq was clearly illegal under international law, and just about anything the American and British forces did in the attack could be characterized as a war crime. This is particularly clear as we see more and more evidence that everything that was used by both countries as justification for the war was a lie.

  5. A major problem with a weapon like napalm, dropped from a great height on those who are thought to be soldiers, is that there is great risk of also killing or maiming civilians. Even if you are prepared to accept the use of such horrible weapons on soldiers - and I would argue that the Iraqi soldiers forced to defend their country against an immoral and illegal attack should receive the full benefit of the doubt about the use of weapons that may cause unnecessary suffering - the use of napalm in areas where civilians may be affected by it surely offends at least the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit violence against and mutilation of civilians. It also appears to offend Article 23 of the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague II) of 1899, which prohibits the employment of "arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury". Given the outrageous injustice of the attack on Iraq, the United States is in no position to quibble about its very fine interpretation of international law. An anonymous Pentagon official, trying to justify the use of the firebombs, said:

    "I don't know that there is any humane way to kill your enemy"

    but there are more and less humane ways to do so, and ways which are more and less dangerous to civilians. Even if what the Americans are now using is more environmentally friendly than napalm, there are also grave environmental concerns about the use of such chemicals near bridges which civilians will have to use in the future.

  6. A spokeswoman for Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois said it was producing a further 500 Mark-77's for the marines, so we can expect to see more use of napalm, probably in the inevitable upcoming American attacks against Iran and Syria.

You might think, given their horrific use of napalm in Vietnam, that Americans would have long ago decided to never use such weapons again. With a major amendment which could probably be made in such a way as to leave the Protocol still useful, even the U. S. military seems prepared to agree to the ratification of Protocol III. The famous photograph by Nick Ut of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, which ironically probably did not depict an American attack but became symbolic of the use of napalm by the United States in the Vietnam War and provoked an outrage in the United States, should have ended American use of incendiaries anywhere else in the world.