Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

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Louis Feiser--righteous or evil?

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Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  pinhedz on Fri Sep 16, 2011 5:30 am

I remember posting this on the original site. As I recall, people were about 60% in favor of forgiving the Professor at the time:

"Dr. Louis Fieser, 68, is one of the nation's most distinguished chemists. A professor emeritus at Harvard, he has won a number of national awards for his research into the chemical causes of cancer, and was a member of the U.S. Surgeon General's committee that issued the 1964 report linking cigarette smoke with the disease. Fieser was also a pioneer in developing laboratory production of vitamin K, the body's blood-clotting agent, and antimalarial drugs. Despite these impressive credentials of service to mankind, he has lately received a number of angry letters. Reason: back in 1943, Fieser invented napalm."

"The discovery was something of a coup for Fieser. His research team at Harvard beat chemists from Du Pont and Standard Oil in a Government competition to develop napalm. In the course of his research, Fieser found a perfectly good civilian use for the product: it made a fine crab-grass killer, burning away its seeds while leaving good grass roots untouched. During and after World War II, he received several letters of thanks for his invention, which soldiers claimed saved thousands of American lives in battle. No one ever complained to him about the use of napalm until Vietnam."

"Unlike some of the physicists who helped produce the atomic bomb, Fieser has no moral qualms about his role in producing one of modern warfare's most fearful weapons: "I have no right to judge the morality of napalm just because I invented it." Nor does he blame the Dow Chemical Co. for manufacturing napalm: "If the Government asked them to take a contract, and they're the best ones in a position to do so, then they're obliged to do it."

"As a scientist, Fieser refuses to engage in debate on the Vietnam war, on the ground that "I don't know enough about the situation." A researcher, he insists, cannot be responsible for how other people use his inventions. "You don't know what's coming," he says. "I was working on a technical problem that was considered pressing. I'd do it again, if called upon, in defense of the country."


Last edited by pinhedz on Wed Jul 04, 2012 12:08 am; edited 4 times in total

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  pinhedz on Fri Sep 16, 2011 11:11 pm

It was 1942--the darkest days of WW-II.

The US Army used gasoline in it's flamethrowers, but gasoline is thin and light rather than gooey and viscous, so it splatters and blows around in the lightest breeze. Early in the war, the gasoline was thickened with natural rubber. But natural rubber became unavailable during the war.

Here's what Wiki says:

"The development of napalm was precipitated by the use of jellied gasoline mixtures by the Allied forces during World War II. The latex that had been used in these early forms of incendiary devices became logistically impossible to use during the Pacific Theater of Operations, since natural rubber was next to impossible to obtain (the Japanese Army had overrun all of the rubber plantations in Malaya, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand)."

"This extreme shortage of natural rubber prompted the chemists at American companies such as Du Pont and Standard Oil, as well as researchers at Harvard University, to strive to develop factory-made alternatives - artificial rubber for all uses, including for vehicle tires, tank tracks, gaskets, hoses, medical supplies and rain clothing. A team of chemists led by Louis Fieser at Harvard University was the first one to develop synthetic napalm, during 1942 for the U.S. Armed Forces."

"From 1965 to 1969, the Dow Chemical Company manufactured napalm B for the American armed forces. After news reports of napalm B's deadly and disfiguring effects were published, Dow Chemical experienced some boycotts of all its products, and its recruiters for new chemists, chemical engineers, etc., graduating from college were subject to campus boycotts. The management of the Dow Chemical Company decided that "its first obligation was the government." Meanwhile, napalm B became a symbol for the Vietnam War."

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  pinhedz on Fri Sep 16, 2011 11:18 pm

So, in 1942 the War Department put out a contract proposal for competitive bidding, Fieser's group at Harvard bid on the contract and won it.

Bob wrote a song about contractors. Not about soldiers--about contractors who develop and produce the weapons for soldiers:

"And I hope that you die
And your death will come soon
I'll follow your casket
On a pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand over your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead"

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  Guest on Fri Sep 16, 2011 11:42 pm

napalm



Vietnam

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  Guest on Fri Sep 16, 2011 11:51 pm

...collateral damage. I can't watch this all the way through yet.
...the site for the above image and this video has an excellent follow up to this event.
http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2009/03/followup-on-famous-vietnam-napalm.html




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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  pinhedz on Sat Sep 17, 2011 3:37 am

The question (it was a poll before) was--do we blame Fieser? If not, whom?


Last edited by pinhedz on Sat Sep 17, 2011 3:50 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  pinhedz on Sat Sep 17, 2011 3:50 am

FYI, the girl in the first picture is now a Canadian citizen living in Ontario with two children (her left arm and back are still very crusty).

The napalm was Fieser's formulation, produced by the Dow Chemical Company, dropped by the Vietnamese Air Force rather than by Americans--but supplied by the Americans.

Fieser's detractors argue that--knowing he would have no control over how and by whom his invention might be used--he should have considered and anticipated how and by whom it might be used before accepting the contract in 1942.

Fieser's answer to that is posted above.

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  Guest on Sat Sep 17, 2011 10:49 am

...the napalm was dropped by the Sth Vietnamese, America's (and Australia's) ally. I thought most reports now say it was a deliberate raid to eradicate the North Vietnamese who were believed to have taken control of the village. The girl running down the road comments about the incident below:

http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2009/03/followup-on-famous-vietnam-napalm.html
The incident occurred when South Vietnamese planes dropped napalm on a South Vietnamese village occupied by North Vietnamese troops, resulting in "collateral damage" to many children, who came running down the road. The little girl was/is Kim Phuc, now a Canadian citizen and shown in the two photos above. The photographer was Nick Ut, who earned a Pulitzer Prize for the top photo.

Here's some further discussion from FamousPictures.org:
But did America have any involvement in the air strike? In 1996 Kim gave speech at the United States Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day where she said that we cannot change the past but can work for a peaceful future. After the speech, Vietnam war veteran John Plummer, now a Methodist minister, talked to some of his old buddies and got them to ask if she would like to meet him for he stated that he was the one who ordered the bombing. She accepted and they met briefly and Plummer remembers that, "as I approached her, she saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow. She held out her arms to me and we embraced. All I could say was "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry' over and over again. And I heard her saying to me "It's all right. It's all right. I forgive. I forgive." He also claims that later in the day, they knelt together (Kim had converted to Chrisitanity in Vietnam) and prayed together. Plummer said, "Finally, I was free. I had found peace."


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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  Guest on Sat Sep 17, 2011 10:56 am

pinhedz wrote:The question (it was a poll before) was--do we blame Fieser? If not, whom?
...as I grow older my certainties develop blurred edges. We live our lives forwards, but only understand them backwards. I blame the human condition and our propensity to be dulled and manipulated by terms like 'insurgent', 'collateral damage', 'enhanced interrogation techniques'.

I don't know anything about physics and can't calculate how accurately Feiser foresaw how napalm would be used...but he alone can't carry the blame for the damage inflicted by napalm...there must have been a whole chain of people responsible every time it was employed.

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

Post  pinhedz on Wed Jul 04, 2012 12:05 am

This thread should have had a poll from the start, so I finally added one.

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Re: Science, morality, war, and bidding on defense contracts

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