A Harvard First that the University Rarely Touts

In 1943, a team of chemists at Harvard University led by Louis Fieser produced napalm, and thereby beat out competing teams at DuPont and Standard Oil in a government competition for its development. Like many scientists who have worked on weapons development for the government, Fieser was unapologetic, even when the U.S. military’s use of napalm in the Vietnam War became a focus of protest against the war in general and the product’s manufacturer Dow Chemical in particular.

In Fieser’s view, he had simply solved a technical problem that the government wanted solved. What the government did with his “solution” was not his concern. Similarly, legions of other scientists have shrugged off responsibility or even concern for the hideous consequences of their scientific work, most notably perhaps in the development of nuclear weapons. Some take pride in helping to “save American lives,” notwithstanding the suffering and loss of life their creations facilitate among human beings who have committed the crime of being something other than American.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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