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Napalm" I love the smell of napalm in the morning." Facts:
The US used napalm during the Vietnam conflict representing, to its critics, the fiery essence of all that was horrible about the war. Most people still associate napalm with the image of a young girl (Kim Phuc) running with a group of other victims, skin peeling off in layers, after her village was doused with napalm. Images of napalm igniting in jungles, in villages, and on the people of Vietnam are still cultural icons of the era. It is routinely cited along with Agent Orange as an example of American apathy to the cruelty of modern weapons. Nearly 400,000 tons of napalm were dropped on targets in Vietnam, giving rise to the Army marching song which includes the chorus line, "Napalm sticks to kids!" (A call and response running cadence occasionally used in the U.S military; first used in 1972.)

When used as a part of an incendiary weapon, napalm can cause severe burns, asphyxiation, unconciousness and death. Explosions can fill the local atmosphere with approxiomately 20% carbon monoxide and can cause windstoms of up to 110kph. One of the major features of napalm is that it sticks to the skin, leaving no real chance of removing it immediately from the victim. Napalm is also useful for use against dug-in personnel. The burning incendiary composition flows into fox-holes, trenches and bunkers, drainage and irrigation ditches and other improvised troop shelters. In this situation, people can be killed by hypothermia/heatstroke, radiant heat, dehydration, suffocation, smoke exposure, or carbon monoxide poisoning. One firebomb from a low-flying plane can damage an area of 2,100 square metres.

Kim Phuc was the subject of a Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph during the Vietnam War taken in 1972, when she was a child, running naked down a road, screaming in pain from the napalm that was burning through her skin. The photograph has come to epitomize the tragedy of the Vietnam War. In the United States the impact of this scene was tremendous, and uniformly negative. Practically everyone old enough to have viewed the news during those years remembers this scene, and others like them, with a combination of revulsion and disgust. It must be noted that the airstrike, in this instance, was carried out by the Vietnamese National Airforce (VNAF), coordinated by US military forces.

Relevance to Apocalypse Now
It is the character of Colonel Bill Kilgore who delivers one of the most memorable and well-known lines in Apocalypse Now. We have already discussed Coppola's characterisation of Kilgore as a representation of Conrad's Accountant and their characterisation as 'hollow men'. Both characters are depicted through their appearance to represent an 'institution', all that is civilised: Conrad describes in detail the Accountant's "...high starched collar ...and varnished boots." while Coppola's first shot of Kilgore emphasises (via contrast to the mise en scene) his wrinlke-free, pristine cavalry unifom. Both Marlow and Willard have initial admiration for the men they meet however the Accountant and Kilgore are revealed to be self-absorbed, intent on fulfilling their duties without thinking of the human consequences of what they do.

Just as Conrad shows Marlow encountering the chain gang and the 'grove of death' as he enters the Outer Station, Coppola also foreshadows Kilgore's moral ambiguity as Willard sails through a scene of Vietnamese villagers injured or dying, survivors of the carnage loaded onto boats. From here Coppola uses a number of symbolic devices - the canteen scene, "Outstanding, Red Team, outstanding! Get you a case of beer for that one." - which reveal Kilgore to be a man who will order a devastating airstrike, decimating the area and its inhabitants with napalm, because, "If I say its safe to surf this beach, Captain, then its safe to surf this beach!"

"You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like... victory."
With this quote, Coppola references the bombing of the hill that Marlow witnesses at the Outer Station. While the responder to both texts sees such events as exercises in futility, both the accountant and Kilgore, full of Imperialistic/Western hubris, believe that what are doing is their unquestionable right, that they bring light into the darkness. Just as dynamite was a tool of subjugation for 19th Century Imperialists, so was napalm for the U.S interests in Vietnam.
Suggested further reading:
Lindqvist, Sven (2001) Exterminate All the Brutes
The New Press. 179 pp.

Diamond, Jared. (1997) Guns, Germs and Steel
W.W Norton; 480pp:


Bibliography:

Global Security: Napalm: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/napalm.htm\
Wikipedia: Napalm: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napalm

Posted by: Mrs Byrne