Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Resetting the Allied moral compass so that it diverged from the Nazis, not merely followed a muted parallel course

It remains unknown whether Henry Dawson expected his quixotic wartime efforts (to "waste" weaponized penicillin on 'useless' SBEs ) to go as far as they ultimately did.

He certainly was extremely unhappy that America was treating its wartime 'SBE lives unworthy of life' in almost as bad a fashion as Nazi Germany was known to be doing to its SBEs and others seen as "useless mouths".

But did he suspect his assault on weaponizing penicillin would extend beyond the Allies' horrific wartime neglect of the poorer chronically ill ?

He probably couldn't have foreseen just how quickly the pipeline of ever-newer ever-better sulfa drugs would dry up or just how quickly so many strains of deadly bacteria would become resistant to any sulfa drug , leaving penicillin as the  only  wartime lifesaver between disease and death.

This meant de-weaponizing penicillin had consequences far beyond those people suffering from SBE and denied their only chance at life.

If weaponized penicillin had remained throughout the war successfully censored and had remained denied to the civilian world (as weaponized DDT successfully was, never let us forget) , it would have ranked as one of WWII's major war crimes, like Katyn Forest or Auschwitz.

Millions of people around the world during WWII would have died needlessly from massive infections that only penicillin alone could have stopped.

Penicillin in 1943 was not as it is today,  just one among dozens of antibiotics - it was the only one - and in addition, no new anti-bacterial sulfa drugs were coming along to replace the ones that bacteria had so rapidly grown resistant to.

Refusing to divert a tiny amount of war resources to make penicillin available to civilians - anywhere and everywhere - was to refuse them Life itself.

Worse, there was no trade-off  to debate ; penicillin, like sulfa before it, was no war-winning secret medical weapon, at least in its intended war-winning use at the front .

Brand new (front line) wounds either contain abundant alternative bacteria foods to the deadly sulfa 'food' (the Fildes theory, known since 1940) or contain abundant proteins to bind to penicillin and render it useless.

However penicillin, and sulfa, were very useful a little further back in the military hospital system, as a life-saving systemic in cases of possible blood poisoning.

The case against secret weaponized penicillin gets even worse.

As an impure natural drug, penicillin would have taken the Germans at least a year or two or three to successfully mass produce it , even if its virtues had been sung from the heavens by the American media in 1942.

But as a pure synthetic penicillin in supposedly cheap abundant mass production (an event that in fact as not yet ever occurred) the chemistry-minded Germans would have rapidly back-engineered the drug and synthesized it rapidly themselves.

Because remember it took 15 years of hard effort to purify natural penicillin enough to determine its structure - but only months thereafter to 'synthesize' it artificially.

Back-engineering that synthesis would also only have taken months.

Penicillin's real secret was just how difficult the mass production of natural penicillin could be if you set your mind on doing everything the hard way ---- not the OSRD-Merck-Oxford fantasy of secret synthesis.

Dawson certainly set up the stage for the Allies re-setting of their moral compass , from his endocarditis efforts from September 1940 to September 1943 : but it was the immediate outcry resulting from the Patty Malone and Marie Barker cases that forced them to actually do something concrete.

His gut instinct in 1940 ,that not treating the otherwise fatal subacute bacterial endocarditis would prove the acid test for the Allies' pernicious morality, certainly was correct.

But while he couldn't have foreseen how far his actions would impact, he wouldn't have been unhappy that they did so......


  1. What do you mean by weaponized penicillin?

  2. Anthrax has been happily killing animals and humans for a long long time without any help from Science.

    But a lot of the world's best scientists have struggled for 75 years to "weaponize" it without an clear signs of success: we are still in danger than the anthrax spreads back to the side that launched it.

    Just as the Canadians failed to successfully "weaponize" the chlorine gas they tried to send over to the German side at Vimy : the winds changed it it ended up only killing Canadians !

    A success weapon that your side invents has to help your side more than it helps the other side.

    The hollow charge was invented by a big nation, America, but generally it has helped its tiny opponents (as used in IEDs) more than it has helped America.

    The richer Allied medical forces did not want penicillin to help the poorer Axis medical forces more than it helped them, so they tried very hard to keep it a secret --- a frequent feature of weaponizing something.

    Another way they weaponized penicillin was to try to make it a pure dry stable lightweight powder like sulfa powder, that could be just poured into a fresh war wound on the combat lines at the battle raged without need of skilled doctors giving IVs with help of refrigerated penicillin.

    Later on , the dumb simple idea of ice lined plywood iceboxes did allow penicillin and whole blood to save lives on the front lines - no need for compilcated and nearly useless dried blood and dried penicillin powder !