What was the Accusation?
During the Vietnam War, Dow Chemical, a small chemical company in Midland, Michigan, held the government contract to produce Napalm for use by U.S. military leaders. With the advent of intense student activism in the 1960s and particularly toward the Vietnam War, Dow Chemical became a target of attack in numerous student protests across the country because of its ability to inflict debilitating burns on enemy troops. The company believed it was simply creating a product needed by its government, but the protesters saw a lack of humanity in the dispersal of such a toxic chemical. According to Huxman and Bruce (1995), authors of the premier academic piece on the crisis, the charges against Dow contained four important elements: “First, the charges were clear: Dow profited from manufacturing a destructive chemical of war and helped finance an unpopular war. Second, the charges were major: Dow was an immoral and irresponsible corporation for being in the business of killing. Third, the charges were unprecedented: No corporation had ever been judged by the high moral standards that Dow was being accused of violating. And, fourth, the charges were diffuse: Dow’s accusers did not represent a single, unified, nor easily confrontable group.” Over the course of several years during the war, CEO Carl Gerstacker and public relations director E. N. Brandt made several statements to Dow’s employees, stockholders, and the public, mostly defending the decision to make the products and attacking those who were critical of them. Dow would continue to produce the chemical until 1969 when it would lose the contract to a smaller company and be out of the Napalm business indefinitely.
Key Apologia Strategies:
Attacking the Accuser, Minimization, Transcendence
Carl A. Gerstacker (CEO, Dow Chemical):
Statement at the annual Dow Meeting (April 1966):
The Dow Chemical Company endorses the right of any American to protest legally and peacefully an action with which he does not agree. Our position on the manufacture of napalm is that we are a supplier of goods to the Defense Department and not a policy maker. We do not and should not try to decide military strategy or policy. Simple good citizenship requires that we supply our government and our military with those goods which they feel they need whenever we have the technology and capability and have been chosen by the government as a supplier. We will do our best, as we always have, to try to produce what our Defense Department and our soldiers need in any war situation. Purely aside from our duty to do this, we will feel deeply gratified if what we are able to provide helps to protect our fighting men or to speed the day when fighting will end.
Statement at the annual stockholders meeting (1968):
“You can harass us, you can hurt us, and I think we have been hurt. You can try to intimidate us, and we won’t really strike back at you . . . But. . . we will persevere . . . because we believe in decisions by the informed majority . . . n o t . . . [by] minority pressure groups”
E.N. Brandt (Public Relations Director, Dow Chemical):
“The people who have mounted this campaign against us say the war in Vietnam is immoral and illegal. They say napalm is inhumane and that it symbolizes the senseless cruelty of war. They demonstrate against Dow because we make napalm and because we’re handy…. Our critics ask if we are willing to stand judgment for our choice to support our government if history should prove this wrong. Our answer is yes.”
“For the past two years we have been the target of insults, curses, obscenities, abuse, bomb threats, stink bombs, and many other kinds of vilification. Some of my mail even comes addressed to “Director of Baby Barbecuing and other Public Relations.”
In referring to the student protestors: “Carrying a picket sign in support of an honest conviction is certainly at least as good maybe better than some youthful diversions, such as panty raids, dropping water-filled balloons out of dormitory windows or tearing down goalposts. And it’s certainly better than stealing hubcaps, smoking pot or rolling drunks”
“(We] will do our best, as we always have to . . . produce what… our soldiers need in any war and we will feel deeply gratified if what we . . .provide helps . . . speed the day when fighting will end.”
“Only 10 employees . . . are involved in making napalm” he said, and “at no time has the napalm contract ever represented more than one-half of one percent of our profits.”
“We haven’t ducked the issue. We decided to make napalm because we believe our company should.”
“Science is the best and proper judge of the human health hazards of products introduced into commerce in this country. Hazard evaluations must be insulated from the politics of the day. Use of a product should be regulated by what scientific research has determined about its effects.”
Brandt, E. N. (2003). Chairman of the board: A biography of Carl A. Gerstacker. Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.
US students campaign to stop Dow Chemical Company from manufacturing Napalm (1967-1969). (n.d.). Global Nonviolent Action Database. Retrieved from: http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/us-students-campaign-stop-dow-chemical-company-manufacturing-napalm-1967-1969
Huxman, S. S., & Bruce, D. B. (2009). Toward a dynamic generic framework of apologia: A case study of Dow chemical, Vietnam, and the napalm controversy. Communication Studies, 46(1-2), 57-72.
Students demonstrate against Dow Chemical Company (n.d.). History.com. Retrieved from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/students-demonstrate-against-dow-chemical-company