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Magazines > Searcher > October 2012
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Vol. 20 No. 7 — October 2012
The Smell of Napalm
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher

Even some who have never seen the classic Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now, quote the iconic lines spoken by actor Robert Duvall, crouched down on his haunches with his cowboy hat pushed back on his head. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like … victory.” I asked a Vietnam vet if he could recall what napalm actually smelled like. He responded instantly, “Gasoline and laundry detergent..It smells like what it is. Maybe fuel oil more than gasoline.” He explained that the detergent served as an emulsifier that made the fire from the gasoline gel stick to whatever or whomever it was burning. He also recommended the addition of detergent to anyone making Molotov cocktails.Well, not exactly recommended.

But why has this movie quote lived longer in memory for many than the movie or even the war? It seems to express the sentiment of a true warrior, someone who enjoys the battle as much as, or sometimes more than, the victory. Strange creatures to relish war, but they do exist. Come to think of it, we all know people who, while they would never enjoy combat, do have an appetite or ate least no apparent reluctance for conflict.

And thank goodness they do exist. Some battles have to be fought, and it’s always easier to do something if you enjoy doing it. Process and outcome, process and outcome. If you want a successful outcome — victory —find someone who enjoys, or at least has no innate resistance to, the process needed to achieve that outcome. You will need more than one person who feels this way, but if you have some wildcats on the team, you’ll find that the fears and timidities of the others will diminish. That kind of “let’s go get ’em” fervor can be contagious. It can give to people who never make scenes a curious sense of exhilaration, a brief taste of flamboyance. (“I never thought I could do it, but you know, it wasn’t that hard. I might even do it again sometime.”)

So now that I’ve got you all crouched on your mental haunches with imaginary Stetsons on your heads, let's start sniffing the air and see if we can smell out a real good fight.

Well, there’s one that any real true-blue American would battle to the end – voter identification laws, or, to be more correct, voter suppression. I learned about this horror from a Bill Moyers interview with two researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. They told the tale of nine states (at the time) passing laws that required all citizens eligible to vote to prove their citizenship with picture identification, etc. Estimates were running as high as 10% for the number of people who did not have such identification. The reduction in the voter population was calculated to fall mainly on the young, new-or-now-never voters, minorities, and the elderly. One Pennsylvania legislator boasted that this clever legislation could guarantee Mitt Romney the state's electoral votes. In a case challenging the law, the proponents admitted that voter fraud in the state was so minimal — one case of in-the-flesh fraud — that they would not use it in their arguments.

Well, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. (That’s a movie quote too, from Network.) I hope you'll join me. First, let’s get the name of any and every legislator who voted for this foul legislation and any governor who signed it. We’ll track them with details in an online fight-for-your-voting-rights web and/or social network site. They want voter identification? How about anti-voter identification? We’ll call them by the name they’ve earned: The Un-Americans. We’ll stalk them down and harass them in every public place. Over and over, we’ll pound into their power-hungry noggins the words from the Declaration of Independence that come after the words everyone knows, the words that punched a hole in human history and are still punching: to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Look for next month’s Internet Express column [click for sneak preview] to fire the first shot. Columnist Irene McDermott got fighting mad when she heard about the attempt to disenfranchise voters. We both figured it was a prime topic for the November issue in an election year. To get background, go to Start with the July 17, 2012, article, “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” by Keesha Gaskins and Sundeep Iyer.

For those of you interested in a more leisurely march to a battle or in a move career-relevant one, there’s the copyright legislation scheduled in a few years’ time. This should be a real battle royal. When the copyright was extended through legislation sponsored by the late Congressman Sonny Bono, the public domain status stopped freeing content a year at a time and froze it at 1922. (For specifics, see last month’s article by Peter Hirtle, “When Is 1923 Going to Arrive and Other Complications of the U.S. Public Domain,” available as a freebie of the month at But the next time someone tries to stop the March of Time from including books, it won’t be just us against that mouse (Disney’s Mickey). It’ll be us and some big, deep pockets such as Google. So there, Mouseketeers! And maybe we can get some more nuance in the coverage, where cartoons are exempted but not all content. Maybe not, though. The visual needs to be freed as well as text. We’ll see, we’ll see. But have no doubt, there will be the smell of napalm before that war is won.

Anything else? Well, speaking of copyright, a colleague called me the other night to talk about Copyright Clearance Center. Apparently CCC has been making acquisitions and creating alliances that could position it nicely to threaten libraries with the copyright cops. Georgia State University slapped CCC back, but CCC is what it still is. But once my pal gets his ducks in a row, look out, CCC and any ally, whomever you are. My buddy follows the Clarence Darrow anathema, “I don’t like turnips, and I don’t like anyone who does.”

Funny how many people I know who love the smell of victory — too.
— bq

Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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