Some of my progressive brethern (Heretic, Freiheit und Wissen) are up in arms about the U.S. military's use of incendiary munitions in March and April 2003. The controversy surrounds the Navy's description of Mark-77 Mod 5 incendiary munitions, a.k.a. fire bombs, as not being napalm devices because of their current fill.The MK-77 Mod 5 uses kerosene-based jet fuel and a polystyrene thickener, instead of the older composition of benzene, gasoline, and polystyrene. The term "napalm" comes from a combination of the words naphthalene and palmitate, which were added to gasoline in World Wars II to create the fuel for fire bombs and flamethrowers. As technology developed, better formulas were developed, and modern incendiary munitions (Viet Nam-era and later) did not use either component. Much like the term "Xerox" has been used as a generic term for any copier, the term "napalm" has nonetheless stuck to these types of fire bombs.The use of these bombs in Iraq is not new. It was reported in August 2003 and December 2004 prior to being reported last week. One report notes the possible use of these bombs in Afghanistan in December 2001. The controvery appears to stem over whether the U.S. military is somehow disingenuous in stating these are not napalm devices in the sense of Viet Nam or Korean conflicts because the composition changed. Second, the public controversy over the use of incendiary devices (given their past use in World War II and Viet Nam on civilian targets) draws the question of whether the U.S. military should be using these weapons at all, especially given the 1980 UN Conventions on Certain Conventional Weapons' clause prohibiting the use of incendiary weapons on civilians. The U.S. government is not a signatory of that convention, which also addresses land mines.While the military isn't scoring any points by claiming these munitions aren't napalm - they certainly are napalm-like - the point my progressive friends are missing is that, as long as the military does not attack civilian targets, they are well within legal rights to use this very effective and psychologically-impacting weapon. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a "WMD" or a "wartime horror" any more than other conventional weapon systems that are legitimately used against military forces. While the MK-77 Mod 5s may be guilty in the public court of opinion, the U.S. military should stand firm on their use, as it does currently with land mines. There are too many cases between 1942 and today where the expedient use of napalm-like munitions have saved U.S. military troops from tight situations for public opinion to relegate it to the history bins.-- Armchair Generalist
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