Available in March from the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Here are some initial reviews:
“Napalm is a brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, and deeply disturbing book. Robert M. Neer offers a vivid examination of the military–technological partnership that drives the evolution of warfare, with moral considerations lagging far behind.”—Andrew J. Bacevich, editor of The Short American Century: A Postmortem
“No one else has told so deeply and compellingly the story of how ‘Napalm was born a hero but lives a pariah’—a terrifying weapon associated with America’s Vietnam War whose history went back much further, as did the dishonest efforts of leaders to cope with its reputation.”—Michael S. Sherry, author of In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s
“Napalm is a revelation. In a story that takes us from Harvard Stadium to Vietnam, Robert M. Neer retells the past 70 years of American history through a single extraordinary and terrible invention. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the American way of war and its humanitarian dilemmas.”—John Fabian Witt, author of Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History
Click to download flyer
Add Saturday 5 January 2013 at La Galerie 3 in the New Orleans Marriott to your datebook. My poster display on the history of napalm, drawn from my forthcoming book on the subject, will be there for attendees of the American Historical Association’s Annual Conference. From the program:
The poster reviews napalm’s creation through a secret war research partnership between the U.S. government and Harvard University in the early 1940s; deployment in both Europe and the Pacific, culminating with the firebombing of Japan’s major cities in 1945; extensive use during the Korean War, and many other conflicts; and transformation in public opinion from a marvel to a monster routinely cited by commentators as an icon of savage cruelty. I trace this change in public opinion to media coverage during the Vietnam War that raised awareness of the weapon’s effects on civilians; protests against the war and the Dow Chemical Corporation that started in 1965; U.S. defeat in Vietnam; commentary by opinion makers after the war; rise of a global popular culture linked by electronic media; changes in international law; and development of alternative weapons. I conclude that napalm’s history, rooted in the U.S. but global in its scope, highlights the development of worldwide communications and popular culture after World War II, the changing significance of civilian casualties in war, an increasing ability of social movements and international law to define social norms, and the power of global public opinion.
I hope to see you there.
A new expedition begins. Thomas More’s Utopia and The Fable of the Bees: Or Private Vices, Publick Benefits by Bernard Mandeville supplement the standard texts for students in my sections this autumn. They join a session on Pre-Socratic philosophers, the Analects by Confucius, and selections from The Questions of King Milinda as supplements to the required syllabus.
Click here to download the required Contemporary Civilization syllabus.
The #2 most popular history course offered in the summer 2012 term at Columbia (in a tie) drew an enrollment of about one-half graduate students and one-half undergraduates, including Army, Navy and Marines veterans:
America’s wars in context. Charts the expansion of U.S. military power from a band of colonists to a globe-girdling colossus with almost three million personnel, over 900 bases around the world, and an annual budget of about $700 billion: approximately half of all federal discretionary spending, and equal to the military spending of the next 21 nations combined. Introduces students to the history of U.S. military power; the economic, political, and technological rise of the military-industrial complex and national security state; the role of the armed services in international humanitarian work; and the changing role of the military in domestic and international politics.
Click here to download the Summer 2012 Empire of Liberty syllabus.
Thanks to Phil Soffer and the folks at education platform Piazza.com for building a terrific platform, and recognizing me as their Innovator of the Week. In a write-up on the company blog, Soffer described how I use the online service to teach Contemporary Civilization at Columbia:
[T]he first thing he does is make a group of students responsible for summarizing the readings as a team and publishing their findings to their peers. … The team structure creates accountability among the students …. But beyond that, when students see other students participating, the best ones want to play along. … The second thing it does is create a collective understanding of what’s interesting in the readings before the seminar happens. If you can do that, you’re more likely to generate interesting discussions when the students are together. “In a sense, first comes fear (a spur), then comes love — the interesting ideas of their peers,” Neer told us.
Classes have started for Contemporary Civilization at Columbia College, perhaps the longest running college course in America. What started in 1919 as War and Peace Issues is now a year-long seminar taught in sections of up to 22 students that meets twice a week for a year. I teach two sections. Columbia writes, “[T]he central purpose of Contemporary Civilization is to introduce students to a range of issues concerning the kinds of communities – political, social, moral, and religious – that human beings construct for themselves and the values that inform and define such communities.” We start with Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus, continue through the Torah and Gospel of Matthew, and read Augustine, the Koran, Machiavelli, Aquinas, Hobbes and Locke among others in the autumn. In the spring, we begin with Voltaire, Hume, Rousseau and Adam Smith, continue with John Stuart Mill, Nietzsche, Du Bois, Virginia Woolf and Hayek, and end with Peter Singer and Jared Diamond.
Yale University Press released the 2nd Edition of the Encyclopedia of New York City on 1 December. I contributed an article about public executions, and a table of New Yorkers executed over the years.
Since the best-selling and beloved ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NEW YORK CITY first appeared on shelves 15 years ago, the Big Apple has changed in so many ways. The World Trade Center no longer dominates the skyline, a billionaire businessman named Bloomberg has become the first three-term mayor in 70 years, Chelsea Piers, the High Line, and DUMBO are now familiar terms, and Williamsburg, the South Bronx, and the Lower East Side have been transformed from once-dismal areas into hot spots. To keep up with these vast and intriguing changes, this definitive, one-volume resource has been revised and expanded.
Executions used to be extremely popular in New York City. Crowds of up to 50,000 people, one-third of the metropolis, jammed downtown. Spectators tore clothes from the condemned (for use as good luck charms) and fought for prime viewing spots. In 1829, disturbances forced New York to move killings inside prison walls. The city appears to have been the first jurisdiction in the world to take this step. Audiences then lined adjacent rooftops. Scalpers hawked tickets to the prison yard which held the gallows. Electric chair executions began on 6 August 1890 deep inside Sing Sing prison in upstate Ossining, New York and these morbid spectacles ended in New York City.