Friday, December 7, 2012

The battle over wartime penicillin, EUGENICALLY speaking : who makes it and who gets it ?

Eugenics dominated ALLIED war aims
Wartime America was consumed by "popular-eugenic" emotions, (as was the rest of the world of the early 1940s.)

These emotions lay just below conscious thought, but were often behind conscious deed.

But in practise, even semi-conscious eugenic emotion divided into soaring rhetoric and sagging reality.

Modernity/Eugenics/Triage/Conscription (the four terms are basically 100% interchangeable) was consumed with the thought of competition ; with the mighty and the wise usually winning out over the weak and the foolish.

War, of course, was the ultimate form of competition for survival.

In theory, only the 1As of the world went to war, to defend the 4Fs of the world who were too weak  and /or too cowardly to defend themselves.

But in practise, modernity's wars were "a competition too far" to mis-use Cornelius Ryan's phrase : modern war was too competitive, often resulting in as many deaths on the side of the winners, as on the side of the losers.

In the minds of popular eugenics , sending our 'best blood' off to defend the country, meant only the loss of our best blood while those of 'weaker blood' stayed home - safe - and multiplied their offspring even more than normal.

Too many successful wars, and soon our nation would be overrun by imbeciles and their children !

So bravery in war had to be divided into physical bravery (actually going into battle against bullets and shells with only your serge cloth uniform as your armour) and leadership bravery (inspired military leadership, from safely well behind the front lines.)

This latter definition of bravery proved a morally slippery slope.

Because soon scientific efforts and organizational planning of  production and logistics in modernity's wars became almost as important as mere generalship.

Soon, appearances to the contrary, a well educated healthy, wealthy young 1A man safe behind a desk in Washington wasn't evading the draft, he was - in fact -  'winning the war !'

And to the middle-class, middle-aged men running the local draft boards, it didn't seem fair that only their well-fed, well-educated sons met the draft requirements of a modern mechanized armed forces.

(This was all thanks to the dozen years of the Great Depression reducing the health and occupational skills of the working class and poor.)

So soon those failing the first draft calls : those illiterate, in indifferent health, in jail, black, latino and aboriginal were lifted and they were being drafted as fast as possible.

 They were to provide the physical bravery in the front lines, at the pointy end of America's big stick.


But these quasi 4Fs couldn't be led (aka pushed) without inspired bravery from the 1As in the rear, the lions.

So the sons of the middle class and sons of the upper ends of the prosperous working class got exemptions from the draft ; they were needed at home to provide the skills to create the mechanical equipment that would really win the war.

(The donkeys in the infantry would merely form the occupation garrison after the real battle was won.)

The middle class has always loved mechanized war, the more high tech the better: it lowers their chances of actually having to die in the front lines to a much lower level.

Old fashioned infantry wars come down to personal bravery and this , eugenically speaking, should be found more in the middle class 1As than in the 4Fs of the poor - so as in the 19th century myth, the middle class would have had to dominate the front lines of every infantry battle.

There were just a few flies in this happy middle class ointment.

( I won't discuss the most ironic one : that the supposedly safe middle class military occupation of driving a high tech plane dropping bombs on civilians 3 miles below you, turned out to be even more dangerous than the ultimate low tech job of the poor slobs holding a bolt-action rifle in a foxhole !)

One was that there were never enough well feed well educated young white men freed up to fight America's mechanical war all around the globe.

So one way to free up more such mechanically-trained men was to
say that mom's husband , as well as her sons, should be liable for the draft.

Exempted men opposed this idea strongly, claiming that they weren't being cowardly (they were potentially 1A draft picks after all) but that it was more important that they maintained the home front: their daughters really needed a father to see they weren't off running round with 4f boys.

Or worse : getting a factory job.

Because some patriotic fools wanted to see draft-free women do many of the industrial jobs that men had always traditionally done and were still doing in wartime.

Men literally rioted over this threat to their safety, though they were careful not to put it in those terms.

Women, they exclaimed, were too physically weak, intellectually weak, above all too emotionally weak : they'd wet their pants, trying to tighten the bolts on the outside of an armoured car.

In fact the real fear was "that if women got my job, I could now be drafted and end up in that same armoured car, under enemy fire, wetting my pants !"

This reminds us to never take people's surface reasons for their actions at face value, but to probe the real, often hidden, reasons for their behaviour.

Finally, at long last, to wartime penicillin and the words of those two famous penicillin lions, Dr AN Richards and Dr Howard Florey.

The normally highly-combative Howard Florey, on his trip to the combat zone of the Middle East and Sicily, quietly knuckled under to the dictate that precious penicillin wasn't to be wasted on soldiers dying of  wounds.

(I take that to mean that his initial protests were mere pro forma and I think that even his most sycophant biographers who agree with me.)

The thinking was that these wounds were so severe, that even if they healed, they'd still be discharged and be of no further use to the army.

 and from then on , they'd just a burden to the decent middle class people at home who fund the military pension plan.

(Oh no, they'd never be so blunt as that - in public - but even a fool could follow their drift.)

Instead, the dictate read - use your precious penicillin on men who already have several alternative treatments for their non-fatal disease, the clap.

So why in earth use precious penicillin on their non-fatal wounds while letting other brave soldiers die of their combat wounds?

Because front line soldiers - like the paratroopers - by some strange coincidence - proven very likely to contract non-fatal VD (despite their free condoms) just when there were strong rumours a big push was about to begin.

(The morality of them being unfaithful to wife or girlfriend back home didn't enter into the discussion till later when the scandal went public ; for now, this was just man-to-man locker room talk.)

The treatments of VD, before penicillin, did work but involved toxic drugs and months away from the front line as careful needle followed careful needle -- by contrast, non-toxic penicillin could cure in 2 days.

Result ? The hapless paratrooper couldn't avoid possible death in the big battle , but would soon be back in the thick of it.

He mightn't be happy, but from Sicily back to Iowa, other men would sigh in silent relief : ' better him than me in the line of fire and near-certain death.'

Because if our reputed brave but clapped-out paratrooper wasn't dying for his country, who would take his place ?

Yep, chump, you would !

America's penicillin czar - the closest man to filling Dr Florey's role in the UK on penicillin - was another 'doctor' : AN Richards, part time head of the (in) famous OSRD's medical division and full time shill for Merck.

He , like Florey, cheerfully admitted that his interest in penicillin hadn't been humanitarian.

His explanation is often glossed over, so let us parse it carefully.

His interest, he wrote, wasn't in saving German or Japanese lives which is why he claimed he censored news of penicillin ( untrue - he censored only its patentable, post-war commercial aspects: in this his real enemy was his Allies' own pharmaceutical industries).

He wasn't interested in saving Allied civilians lives - which is why he never pushed for an all out effort at production of imperfect, impure, natural (again non-patentable) penicillin.

He wasn't even interested in saving Allied soldiers' lives, he wrote.

His only priority was 'getting (wounded) allied soldiers back to the front' : better your son die there, than mine, in other words.

Morally, this sort of triage: saving only those soldiers lightly wounded and thus capable of going back to the front in place of my as-yet-un-drafted son, is a very slippery moral slope.

We can beat the Nazis by being beastly, like the Nazis....

Morality, once upon this slope, ends up sliding down to a railway siding outside Oswiecim Poland , where doctors like Florey and Richards, in jackboots and whips triage the descending passengers of trains like some satanic football coach : you, to work out on the field, you, to the showers.

Doctor Henry Dawson, by way of total contrast, won his Military Cross for rebuking this heartless form of triage in WWI and from October 1940 onwards, gave up his life during WWII to rebuking it with regard to wartime penicillin ,both as to who made it and who got it.

We can only win by being as moral as the nazis are immoral...

His October 1940 war aims were not yet the Allied war aims, but that too would change - in time......

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