Tuesday, February 5, 2013

America LOSES WWII : because of quarrels between government agencies, such as over Penicillin

The above headline sounds bizarre to our ears, because we are  used to only hearing it being used as the standard explanation given as to why Japan and Germany lost the (largely technical and scientific) world war against the Allies.

After all, both of these nations had talented and committed cadres of scientists and engineers but endless feuding between various sub sections of the government seriously diluted the impact they might have had on the war, if only they had worked together.

In Japan the Army and Navy Departments frequently seemed more at war with each other, than with America.

In the case of Germany, each of the senior figures in the Nazi hierarchy commanded a lot of semi-independent resources and each Nazi war lord seemed to spend as much time trying to grow at the expense of their political bureaucratic rivals, as in uniting against the common enemy.

But Vannevar Bush chooses, in the foreword to his famous "ENDLESS FRONTIER",  not to see any serious conflicts in the American and Allied scientific and technical effort.

And we believe him - the historians (grateful for the steady diet of research grants to peacetime academics that he is credited with having created) above all .

And after all his side won ----- shouldn't that alone silence all potential criticism ?

Still, in this particular foreword, he chooses to blow his particular agency's horn very very carefully indeed,  when it comes to penicillin.

So for once, it is not his own OSRD that he credits with seeing that "our grievously wounded men" got penicillin in time : he says  it was "the government"  that did the bang up job of co-ordinating the research and development that speeded penicillin up to the front.

For a very conservative Republican ,like Bush, to be praising "the government" is truly a startling sight. He more usually carefully distinguishes agencies like his own highly conservative OSRD from the left wing agencies filled with New Dealers, such as the WPB's own OPRD.

But what could he do ?

For his own right wing OSRD agency chose to take the totally wrong turn on the way to moving penicillin to the D-Day beaches and delivered not one tiny sliver of its vaunted synthetic penicillin to our troops or anyone else : not on June 6th 1944 and in fact, not ever.

It was left to the left wingers in the OPRD to get literally tons of penicillin to the Allied side, between the time they first took up the cause in September 1943 and the end of the war.

They did this not merely by the unimportant but useful work they did on the production side - for by statute this was their job, just as the OSRD's job was not production but research - but by also doing the OSRD's job , in an area of research that the OSRD choose to seriously neglect.

 That was the OSRD-neglected research in studying ways to up the very front end of the penicillin process  : upping the initial biological yield of penicillin.

Biology : horrors !  Just saying that word in front of Bush and the OSRD was like waving a garlic-infused cross at a vampire.

So we must credit the left wing OPRD with starting the research that resulted in that biological yield ( ie , yield before extraction) now being 2500 times as productive as it was in 1943 when the OSRD threw up its hands at the problem.

Just as the quarrelling Japanese Army and Navy did on radar, the two warring branches of Bush's "the government" , the OSRD and OPRD , came to a fork in the road on penicillin and instead of uniting to find a way to use the least resources to solve the problem, they disagreed and pursued independent courses.

Bush's Orwellian use of words like "the government" or "the nation" or "the Allies" ,to explain who won the war , allows him to dissolve any internal conflicts those huge collectivities might have encountered in very slowly moving their overwhelming larger populations into defeating much smaller and very resource-strapped enemies.

So historians mustn't simply accept Bush's Orwellian arguments on blind faith but instead carefully ask , if the nation or government "did" this or that , did that mean that all the nation/government do this or that or did just parts of it do while other parts disagreed, stood around doing nothing or even held things up ?

After all, on the evidence of their own internal memos, the OSRD not merely failed to produce the penicillin that saved our "grievously wounded", they also had no intention of wasting penicillin on anyone who couldn't aid the war effort on recovery, if they didn't have to.

That meant no wasting penicillin, if they had to choose, on those so severely wounded that if they did make a recovery, it would be to discharge and a permanent disability pension.

 And it meant, that if they had to chose between saving a boy dying of endocarditis and instantly curing a boy GI of VD so he could quickly return (to perhaps die) on the Italian frontlines, they'd won't help the endocarditis case, because his disease-weakened heart would not let him do much for the war effort, even if he did recover.

So, if the only thing I ever do in my life is to destroy the OSRD's reputation for furthering penicillin when what they actually did was hold it up and then conspire to use it for truly wicked eugenic ends, I will consider my life well lived....

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