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Filed under: October 2004

Finding Peace

I had a deeply moving experience last week that struck without warning and in the most unlikely of circumstances. I was with an old high school friend in Toronto, attending the 90th birthday celebration of his father.Among the crowd of well-wishers at the party was a woman named Kim Phuc. Likely a name that most wouldn’t recognize, yet she is the subject of one of the most disturbing images of our time. It is surely seared on the minds of a generation, that of a young girl and her family fleeing down a dirt road in Vietnam, burnt in the firestorm of Napalm bombs that had just been dropped on their shelter.

As I shook her hand and told her how honoured I was to meet her, the words began to well up in my throat. I wanted to apologize to her, but wasn’t sure why, or how. Kim radiated an ethereal grace that was totally disarming, and she began to tell me about her work.

Kim now lives just outside of Toronto with her husband and two sons, and is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Much of her work revolves around the Kim Foundation, where she seeks to provide medical and psychological treatment for children who are among the innocent victims of war. She is subject of the book, “The Girl in the Picture: The Kim Phuc Story”, by author Denise Chong. Her’s is a truly inspiring story, and I am hoping she will come to the Comox Valley to share her message of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness in the not-too-distant future.

I showed my 21-year old nephew the 1972 photo of Kim’s flight, and should maybe not have been surprised that he had never seen it before. He knew of Napalm however, indeed firebombs of one sort or another have been around for thousands of years. Napalm however is no longer produced, the concoction brewed up by Dow Chemical in the 60’s proved to be a public relations nightmare when images of it’s use in South East Asia hit the nightly news.

However Napalm was just a trade name, and similar incendiary devices are still in production and use today. The US Army and Air Force have in their inventories the MK 77 Dumb Bomb, used most recently to shock and awe the Iraqis. Of course with the ‘sanitized’ version of the news most often seen on television today, it’s no wonder my nephew had never seen the effects of such weapons.

The MK 77 is a hugely combustible mixture of kerosene and polystyrene, as opposed to the benzene-gasoline-polystyrene mixture used in Napalm. US military spokesmen described what they see as the distinction between the two types of incendiary bombs. They said the mixture used in modern firebombs is a less harmful mixture than Vietnam War-era Napalm. “This additive has significantly less of an impact on the environment,” wrote Marine spokesman Col. Michael Daily, in an e-mailed information sheet provided to the media by the Pentagon.

“I used it routinely in Vietnam,” said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, now a prominent defense analyst. “I have no moral compunction against using it. It’s just another weapon.” And, the distinctive fireball and smell have a psychological impact on troops, experts say. “The generals love napalm,” said an army spokesperson. “It has a big psychological effect.”

I spent some hours searching the web in a fruitless attempt to find out who makes the MK 77 and can only presume that this is such an impalatable mix that no corporation will admit to directly producing it today. I rather suspect that it is cooked up from it’s constituent ingredients at army laboratories in the US and elsewhere.

While I couldn’t determine precisely who makes the MK 77, I do know who makes the aerial platforms that deliver such devices. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and others have invested heavily in the technology that facilitates dropping these things. I also know for a certainty that vast swaths of the population are wholly ignorant of the fact that they may own shares in these companies, whether through their mutual fund holdings, their group pension plan, or indeed our Canada Pension Plan.Divesting oneself of at least the bulk of these ‘assets’ need not be overly complicated. Applying the principle of “knowing what you own” is a start. If you need help, ask your investment advisor to screen your mutual funds for you. Stripping these investments out of one’s portfolio may not be the most effective action, but it is a tactic that has been used with some success since a coalition of churches spearheaded the investment boycott of South Africa’s apartheid regimes in the 70’s.

Canada Pension Plan officials are currently touring the country to seek public input on the work of the CPP Investment Board. One of the issues high on the agenda is to elicit feedback on the Canadian Medical Association’s demand that tobacco investments be eliminated from the CPP portfolio. Unfortunately, CPP officials are already on record as stating that they feel this action would be the first step in a “slippery slope” that would lead to all sorts of other thorny issues being raised, such as investments in the weapons industry.

Our government of course recognizes that war can be good for business. Well, at least if it doesn’t happen on our soil. But I can’t believe that the majority of Canadians would like to profit from the suffering of the next generation of Kim Phucs.
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