Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Presbyterian with a Monstrance of Penicillium Mold

Devout Presbyterian layperson and wartime penicillin researcher Gladys Hobby recounts in her book "Penicillin : Meeting The Challenge" of  her rounds carrying a petri dish containing a big circular 'wedged' penicillium mold, every day through the wards at Presbyterian-Columbia Hospital.

This daily pilgrimage served no medical or scientific purpose, but it did serve the moral purpose of helping to sustain the spirits of the young SBE patients there.

They all knew that faced imminent and inevitable death from their disease, unless the tiny team of which she was a part of could produce in time enough of the natural penicillin to save their lives.

Anyone who has even seen an artistic rendering of  such 'wedged' penicillium mold and an artistic rendering of a Monstrance is immediately struck, as I was, that the two paintings are very hard to tell apart.

As a Catholic, I particularly relish the image of a Calvinist Protestant dutifully carrying a monstrance, so alien to her religious traditions ( and albeit a monstrance of penicillin-hope), daily through the pain-filled wards.

Truly, God works in mysterious ways ....

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

WWII as a baseball game between Modernity and Reality (and 'Reality Bats Last' )

WWII was (and it wasn't) a battle royal between the belief that reality is a lot more simple and predictable than it looks at first glance and the belief that reality is much more complex and much less predictable than it looks at first glance.

Everyone big and powerful lined up in support of the first position during the war and if there were many holding the second position they held their tongues and kept quiet about it .

Or simply groused about the foolish optimism of the bigwigs, back of the front lines , to the other enlisted men, much as Willy and Joe did.

So - in one sense - there was NO battle royal over this great divide.

But - in another sense - there was a tremendous battle royal with 70 million dead and much of the world's wealth destroyed.

This is because reality, with we can give it a human like capability for a wee moment , held fast to its own opinion.

Or so it would seem.

Because almost every prediction Modernity Man made during WWII did a big belly flop and batted zero .

In this baseball game, reality batted last.

And reality consistently revealed itself to be far more complex and far less predictable than all the politicians,CEOs,editors, scientists, generals (and armchair generals) had ever suspected.....

Smart phones & Dumb Cops : why WWII revelations are history not journalism

Tiny, high resolution , sound and colour motion cameras - like those found in even the cheapest of today's smart phones, didn't exist back in WWII.

Tiny (but noisy) 8mm color motion cameras did exist then, but were rare and needed good strong summer daylight to work well. The ability to record sound and film together in one compact package simply didn't exist for another 25 years .

The closest equivalent to the Internet and YouTube back then were the newsreel firms but these handful of global firms were under firm government censorship control in peace as well as in war.

Dumb cops - like the dumb cops in the Nazi extermination camps - could get away with a whole lot of evil back then, assured that at best a few grainy black and white stills might get smuggled out.
As indeed happened, once - with virtually no impact on public opinion - assuming many of the wartime public ever saw them.

But today a dumb cop shots a child nine times and the smartphone video (full colour, full motion, full sound of the whole thing) goes viral worldwide on YouTube before the police bosses and the police unions can even get all their lies in working order.

Poop hits fan, mothers ( voters) are outraged : men (aka "the dumb")  run for cover.

Nothing will actually change in any one specific case of dumb cops caught on camera, mind you.

Except that public cynicism about our leaders will only continue to grow beyond all measure, compared to how our grandparents trusted their leaders during WWII.

If YouTube and smartphones had been around during 'the low dishonest war' that was WWII, a lot of the really mean bad thoughtless things done on all sides might have been reined in a little by force of public opinion.

But they didn't - so few wartime revelations were first published as journalism in the same days and weeks they first happened.

Instead it will be the work of future historians - even 50 years from now - to first reveal this or that shabby tale of  wartime moral evil.....

Dr Kenneth Deeth , Canadian Armoured Division Medical Corps : penicillin just in time

In 1997, a Hengelo Netherlands doctor named W Y Sijtsema published (in Dutch) an article about the earliest known use of penicillin to save a life in his country : a very moving story and one with with a Canadian connection.

(I mean a connection beyond Canadian Dr Martin Henry Dawson's monumental pushing and prodding that got wartime penicillin going in the first place.)

Sijtsema's article title is translated (in English) as  "Penicillin: Just in Time".

After his doctor father Jan M Sijtsema passed on, W Y discovered some interesting dusty files in his father's attic, concerning a young new mother dying of childbed fever just after delivering a son, in early May 1945.

The son was healthy - amazing considering his mother had lived through the horrible Hunger Winter of 1944-1945  -  but the famine had ruined her health and she was so clearly dying that she had already said her goodbyes to her family and newborn baby before she fell back into unconsciousness and hallucinations for the last time.

The best medicine the Hengelo General Hospital had - sulfa drugs and blood transfusions - couldn't stop the deadly GAS strep infection.

But a Scottish doctor named Kenneth Deeth , a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF , seconded to the medical corps unit of a Canadian armoured division headquartered in Twickel Castle in nearby Delden , had earlier taken pity on a young Dutch boy dying at home with TB and had stolen/liberated some Canadian penicillin for him.

The penicillin family of drugs does nothing for TB but is still the best cure all for GAS strep.

So some of the ampules were taken in Hengelo General where the patient recovered almost overnight, decades later telling W Y Sjtsema of the feeling of wanting to remain in her half-dead hallucinatory state forever but the sight of her baby on the nurse's arm reminded her she had a new son and another child at home to care for.

For this young mother, her war at least ended not with a bang but with her newborn baby's contented whimper - thanks to a few bold people like Kenneth Deeth and a small illicit box of Canadian Army issue penicillin .

Operation Manna indeed .....

A war story for women : the story of the OTHER Manhattan Project

I fully expect many more women than men will read my book "Heart and Mind Agape - a Good News story from the bad news war".

Men already have tens of thousands of books  and films written about WWII, detailing all its violence, death and pain.

Do we really need to read yet another book about a baby being vaporized in the war's concluding big bang ?

Why not a war-ending true story that has a newborn baby nosily whimpering at her mother's breast after that mother was saved from death, just in time,  by salvation dropping from the skies like Manna ?

I wanted to tell the un-told story of Manhattan's other wartime Project, one with a much happier WWII ending and one with post-war ramifications much more uplifting than the other's enduring threat of nuclear death for all.

So yes, mine is a war book for women.

Men will just have to suck it up and get over it.....

"Penicillin : Just in Time" , a movie just waiting to be made

Too bad so many books, movies and TV shows force us to remember how WWII ended with a bang over a city in Japan, with tens of thousands of young mothers and babies burning to death in the streets below.

Because WWII also ended with a whimper, in a city in the Netherlands, and this time with a young mother snatched from death , just in time, and her new baby happily and noisily whimpering at her breast.

Her salvation was stolen from Allied government stores and wafted gently down to her, strictly on the QT, via a RAF issued handkerchief used as a makeshift parachute, from a bomber riding shotgun above her nation.

Life-saving Natural Penicillin , the only truly Good News story of WWII,  just won't have happened during WWII,  if not for a few brave souls.

A few with the moral courage and the intellectual courage (and in one case, the  physical courage) to stand up to doubting colleagues and censuring government bureaucrats and who were willing to break laws and steal penicillin, to do what was right and to try and save lives while there was still time to do so.

A few brave souls can indeed change our whole world, for the better, forever....

The world in September '39 : as divided as it had ever been, as divided as it had always been, as divided as it always would be

Seventy five years on, we still can see the differing value systems that divided modern liberal and conservative capitalist from modern communist and socialist from modern fascist and nazi.

But we now see something that they themselves could not see : just how united ,in so many ways, that these variants of High Modernity actually all were with each other.

If we want truly fundamental divisions, I am afraid that historians are daily revealing that we won't find it in what the socialists and nazis and capitalists of 1939 actually did , in practise, as opposed to what their high blown rhetoric claimed they believed they would do.

But a deep and enduring division did divide the world in 1939, as it does in 2013 and did in 1739 and will continue to do so till the End of Time.

The percentages of individuals on each side of this division probably remains roughly the same in each new generation.

But, more profoundly, the cumulative, collective, effects of the current strength of each individual's conviction does vary widely, depending on times and places and even upon immediate circumstances.

This varying strength gives rise to our habit of naming contrasting eras of human history to mark the varying strength on both sides of this Great Divide.

Age of Plato versus Age of Aristotle, Classicism versus Romanticism, High Modernity versus Post-Modernity.

Underlying each different era, I wish to argue, we can see the varying strength of the convictions held by collective humanity, each member holding one of two simple but profound assumptions.

Half of us believe that deep down, physical reality is much simpler and much more predictable than it currently appears to be.

The other half of us believes that deep down, physical reality is much more complex and dynamically unpredictable than it currently appears to be.

Now if I wanted to appear academic, I would at this point hasten to say that these two positions are but idealized extremes on a wide and subtly changing continuum of what real people actually believe.

But I won't say that because I don't believe it.

I believe that these two are the only positions held on this issue given that people hold them as deep, unconscious, 'gut' reactions rather than as something carefully and consciously thought out.

And what really matters is the intensity with which they hold one of these two positions at any particular time and place and on particular issues.

I believe that Henry Dawson always held that reality was more complex than it appeared, just as Howard Florey almost certainly believed that reality was much simpler than at first appeared.

The pair's different deep assumptions surfaced most famously in their fiercely held wartime support for either naturally-made penicillin or man-made penicillin.....

Modernity's fear : not the Wrath of God or Nature, but the Wrath of Neighbours

The claim that the 19th century saw the "Death of God" is so well known that it is easy to overlook that the Victorian Age also came to accept the claim of the "Death of Nature" as well.

Sir Charles Lyell came up with this particular claim, though he was always quick to say that he still believed in God,  despite most of his friends in Science no longer doing so.

Lyell was always a very superior person whenever dealing with 'lesser' beings, so it is little wonder he also took a distant Olympian view of the workings of earthly geological processes.

He dismissed the idea of  geological or cosmic catastrophes, not just in the past ( his best known claim) , but happening ever.

He did this by claiming that if you took a distant enough view of them, even earthquakes and volcanoes are but tiny wiggles in time, in the unending building up and wearing down of the Earth's surface.

Tiny wiggles up and down around a surface central axis that actually varied very little, in measurements of the overall diameter of the entire Earth, if  viewed over the long periods of geological time.

Eventually, he said, every volcano exploding above a city was matched by an earthquake sinking a city below the ground.

Any supposed 'catastrophe' , quote unquote, was thus reduced to being only local, small and short term, geologically speaking.

Humans actually living in the earthquake and volcano zone might dispute the minor-ness of  his august "Uniformitarianism" claims, but Lyell's real audience was those people living in the earthquake/volcano free zones of the Protestant north.

Indirectly, removing the possibility of global natural catastrophes  also reduced the possibility of a wrathful God having a physical means of punishing or rewarding humans, at least in the minds of 19th century Protestants who dismissed the idea of current Miracles but still believed in the workings of Providence.

So in effect, accepting the Death of Nature also eased one to accept the Death of any God capable of intervening in the physical , as opposed to the spiritual, world.

This is because Lyell's catastrophe-denying claim had wide metaphorical power, and moved quickly into many other areas of Science and civilized thought.

So it was that Lyell, the professional scientific expert and Christian,  who worked most successfully to remove the power of God's surrogates, the priests and preachers.

But I wish to argue that he also removed the independent power of those former DIYers, the bog-ordinary parishioners.

For Lyell's other main plank was his claim that all geological change happened exceedingly slowly : 'Gradualism'.

He claimed that while ,yes, earthquakes and volcanic explosions were over in seconds, the forces leading up to that moment developed over millions of years.

So generations of professional, expert, scientists could rest assured they had lifetimes to find modest, gradual, limited area solutions to modest, gradual, limited area problems.

 Nice, steady work with a good pension at the end.

Helping humanity could become a career, a sinecure, a new form of intellectual aristocracy, even !

Catastrophes were no longer massively global and sudden and thus beyond the power of anyone to ameliorate.

By contrast, Lyell's new micro-catastrophes ( local, small and short term and above all, slow developing) could be managed, given 'adequate' funding for long term scientific research : life-long work done by professionals like himself and his friends.

Earthquakes, cosmic collisions and great glacial floods being dismissed from the realms of possibilities , scientists quickly found new micro catastrophes in the ordinary vicissitudes of life, once handled more or less adequately by all of ordinary us, all on our own.

So it came about that today ordinary people (parishioners) are judged incapable, un-aided, of doing much of anything right.

 Even grieving the loss of their own family members. (Universities in the US now offer PhDs in professional grieve-counselling.)

Perhaps one half of us still does physical work ; the other half are professionals,experts, inspectors: those  who neither weave nor spin, but merely second guess the work of others.

And guess who gets better paid, works in better conditions and has higher social prestige ?

Catastrophes are the ultimate in sublimity : a liner dashed on the rocks by an ocean storm being so much more sublime than viewing just the storm itself.

But while God and Nature was no longer capable of supplying sublimity, that didn't reduce humanity's craving for the drug.

So catastrophe and sublimity crept back into life, no longer the work of God or Nature but of other humans.

The wrath of neighbours converted them into the sublime enemies of humanity : no more unearthly cries from jungle beasts, now it was the sound of our neighbour's Panther and Tiger tank treads that made our blood run cold.

It is no coincidence that Lyell's claims pre-heralded the mid 19th century rise of nationalism, with its single-minded group love and multiple group hates.

Even outside of nationalist warfare, catastrophes have had to always have a human cause.

No liner is ever sunk in a One Hundred Year storm as a result of an Act of God.

Now an official inquiry was sure to ask, given radio and radar, just what was the captain doing out on the seas at that time ?

Catastrophe, supposedly banished by Lyell, was back - smaller than ever , but also much more plentiful than ever.....

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Francis W Peabody : agape starts in the mind and moves to the heart

In the mid-1920s a busy dean of medicine, among many other things, briefly addressed a student body.

And then a year or two later he died, the early victim of fatal sarcoma.

Normally a dean of medicine from 80 years ago is remembered, if at all, only as one name among many underneath the long lines of dusty portraits in the hallway leading up to the office of the current med school dean.

But in fact Francis W Peabody lives on, bigger than he ever was in real life, because of a very short phrase he spoke to that student assembly, just one of the many things he did in the course of a short but very busy, productive life.

Fame into Posterity, indeed, is ever a case of quality over quantity.

In his talk, Peabody suggested a re-boot of the traditional common sense definition of charity and agape altruism : it was not enough to be 'open' to the needs of someone in pain or trouble --- to be agape with your heart.

It isn't even likely to be medically effective.

One , first, needs to be agape with your mind  : to be open to others' activities, to them as individuals, individuals with an inherent dignity , even when not needy.

"Caring for an individual really begins when we first care about them as individuals," said Peabody.

He emphasized that the main satisfaction in the medicine life is through the forming of brief but intimate bounds with patients and their families, even if the medical staffer fails to obtain a medical cure.

Dawson and Peabody, not Dawson and Cole ?

Now it is well known that Dr (Martin) Henry Dawson was a 1926-1927 NRC Fellow at the Rockefeller Hospital in New York, becoming the first to ever work with DNA in a test tube, before moving on to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and his equally pioneering work with Penicillin.

But his arrival at Rockefeller was not his only choice - dare I suggest, perhaps not his first choice as a NRC fellow ?

The journal SCIENCE records in May 21 1926, that Dawson could take his fellowship at Rockefeller under Dr Rufus Cole or at Boston's Thorndyke Lab under Dr Francis W Peabody.

But, alas, Peabody already had terminal sarcoma and so was too ill to take on new fellows - he died later in 1927.

It seems like a tragically missed opportunity, because I see very little of Cole in Dawson's character while he and Peabody could have been soul brothers.

In October 1940, for the first time in his medical career, Dawson's heart was fully open (agape) to helping save the lives of the many young people facing certain death from the dreaded SBE, subacute bacterial endocarditis.

(SBE was in a section of medicine about as far from his medical day job as a disease could be, so he won't have normally had an opportunity to exercise whatever agape his heart might have felt for the SBE patients.)

And his was hardly the only heart open to helping the SBEs, the "4Fs of the 4Fs".

(Admittedly , when he did get involved, he went much further than anyone else to save them in wartime when the Allied governments had collectively ordered that they to be abandoned to a certain death.)

But Dawson's mind was also agape, that rare scientist in 1940 who was truly open to taking in all that that life's small and the weak were capable of, whether in need or not.

So as a result, he was intellectually ready to understood what the other doctors and the rest of humanity circa 1940 could not, that a lowly fungi mold (among the "4Fs" of non-human life) could indeed be capable of saving the SBE and many others as well, when the best of human chemists had repeatedly failed.

His intellectual agape made his emotional agape medically effective.

Dawson's intellectual courage in seeing natural penicillin could cure the SBEs and then having the emotional courage to continue to apply that cure, against stiff wartime Allied government opposition, is the best example we have of Francis Peabody's dictate in action...

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Low Dishonest War

Auden's phrase "a low dishonest decade" is - rightly - taken to mean The Dirty Thirties, but he first used that phrase in a poem written during the opening days of WWII , which he correctly saw as a direct consequence from the debased (lack of) ideals of the 1930s.

Indeed 'a low dishonest war' did follow the low dishonest decade,  because most of humanity fails to rise to the challenge and change its spots.

But some did - the few righteous from all nations, classes, creeds and genders - all who did their bit to redeem the worse aspects of WWII's low dishonesty.

Dr (Martin) Henry Dawson was one such individual and moreover his small actions pioneering penicillin had a huge ultimate impact - an almost exact example of the claim that 'saving just one person can ultimately help save all' ...

The Bad News war is really the Bad Faith war, more accurate but less catchy

Calling the new Halifax ferry "The William J Roue" might pass muster with the world class nervous nellies that make up the local elite.

But, hopefully, ordinary citizens - the young particularly - will simply come to say that "I'm taking the roue to Dartmouth", just as the young took to simply calling the Canadian Dollar "the loonie".

Because a catchy name trumps a more accurate (but more awkward) name almost every time.

I really wanted to sub-title my book "a Good News story from the bad faith war" but that sounds like something that would only appeal to philosophers.

But as yesterday's blog post explained, my view is that WWII was a really bad news war, not simply because of its tens of millions of deaths, but because it was also one of history's most perfidious wars.

 On all sides : Axis, Neutral and Allied.

A low, dishonest decade fallowed by a low, dishonest war.

WWII's really bad news was the tremendous amounts of bad faith floating about in the general moral atmosphere.....

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Aktion 4F : something done to 4Fs, rather than something done for 4Fs ?

For years, I have thought and written of Dr Henry Dawson's efforts to try and save the lives of young SBE patients ,"The 4Fs of the 4Fs" , as if it was a sort of counterpoint to Nazi Germany's efforts to kill similar chronically ill people, the infamous Aktion T4 campaign.

His own Aktion 4F as a sort of counterblast to their Aktion T4.

But Dawson wasn't actually directly opposing the German Nazis' murderously utilitarian disposal of humans judged useless consumers of badly needed resources in a Total War.

He was combating similar notions held by the powerful in the Anglo-American medical establishment.

The OSRD , the NAS and the MRC all judged SBE to be a "militarily unimportant disease" and refused to allow any penicillin be diverted to saving its patients.

This despite Dawson demonstrating over and over that penicillin was the only thing that could cure this hitherto invariably fatal disease dubbed "the Polio of the Poor".

So in a way, the Allied treatment of the SBE 4Fs , along with their diverting penicillin away from badly wounded frontline troops in the Mediterranean towards otherwise fit soldiers who had deliberately contracted VD to avoid combat , could be see as exact counterparts to how the Nazis behaved in similar medical situations.

(For example, secretly killing Eastern Front soldiers rendered permanently mentally ill in combat to free up medical beds and supplies for soldiers judged able to return to battle eventually.)

In which case, the co-ordinated campaign , around the Allied world , from the US to Canada to Britain to Australia , to deny penicillin to SBE cases, can be seen as being the true Aktion 4F.

Food for thought....

a GOOD NEWS story from what bad news war ?

Many people noting the unusual capitalization of the title of this blog post might begin to figure what it is all about. But even most of them will still be left wondering, "What bad news war , aren't all wars nothing but bad news ?"

Regular readers of my blogs, of course, will be in no doubt that I am referring to but one war in particular : The Good War, that war fought by The Greatest Generation Ever, aka WWII.

Rarely has any war been less worthy of being called Good and moral, rarely has one generation of wartime parents and grandparents (the attitude of the young soldiers is still an open verdict) being less accurately called Great.

For almost 15 years, dozens of small nations were beat up in the schoolyard by bigger - bully - neighbours while the rest of the world stood around like Bystanders at a Holocaust , only going to war against the bullies when they themselves were directly attacked.

A "Coalition of the very un-willing" indeed .

Princes of the churches, Statesmen and the collectives peoples of the gathered nations all fell down on the job : only a few individuals, here and there and plucked from obscurity God only knows why, actually did the sort of quiet heroics that the canonical myth said we all did back then.

And Henry Dawson's heroic story is surely one of those that richly deserves to be told, for the very first time, and in all its details...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Raymond Loewy, High Modernity's Greatest Scientist ??

Raymond Loewy's vision of a cannon-blast propelled rocket liner in 2039 propelling passengers from New York to London in an hour, was the star turn of the fabled 1939 New York's World Fair --- beloved by the public, the media and most significantly, by the scientific establishment.

That is if we can take scientific silence for assent.

The scientific community are like bullies all over : the victims of their anger are always carefully chosen to be much smaller and much weaker than themselves.

So well known figures from interwar organized science were always eager to speak out about the inanities of spoon-benders, perpetual machine advocates and faith healers of various creeds --- the latter a signal sign of just how weak they judged Ole Jehovah had become.

A 'cannon' (sans a real barrel) powerful enough to propel a passenger liner clear across the Atlantic Ocean with a single short sharp shock of an explosion , would momentarily generate enough G-Forces to render the delicate human bodies inside into instant eggnog.

This was Newtonian ballistic science, circa 1939, on LSD and drinking its own Kool-aid.

Make your careful calculations, set the dials just right and then just pull the trigger : 'fire and forget'.

One hour later the rocketship, in a fiery parabolic arc, would reliably land softly and gently down on a tiny rocketport pad after a ten thousand km free-flight.

Loewy freely admitted this trip was not yet possible - but it was only a short matter of time - merely awaiting the proper sort of fuel.

No - it was then and will be for all time - a totally idiotic idea - and the scientists of 1939 knew it - having long ago done the experiments that proved it so.

But while Christians might have their martyrs, who as ever heard of atheist martyrs ?

What scientist has ever bit the hand that fed them ?

This, the star-turn of the World's Fair, was sponsored by Chrysler, and whatever was good for Chrysler was also good for university presidents and science professors.

So those among the scientists who knew better bit their tongues and genuflected in awe like the rest of the visitors.

At least we hope they did .

But what if they secretly believed like Loewy, that all that was needed was a anti-gravity cannon fuel and surely that can only be a matter of time ?

It sounds like science fiction but who , if not young scientists to be , were the main readers of Sci Fi in 1939 ?

Scary isn't it ?

Now perhaps WWII, the war between the scientists, seem more explicable ...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Technology makes planes that fly ; Science merely makes claims that MIGHT fly

The DC-3 , a plane that technologists designed 80 years ago, is still flying in commercial airlines around the world despite the fact that the last civilian units were built over 70 years ago.

Made of the claims that Scientists made 80 years ago about the world and reality have failed to stand the test of time  ---but the DC-3s built back then still fly as good as they always did !

This is why I have the highest possible regard for small "s" science , as broadly defined as possible - and that definition includes all of us who have ever tinkered, by trial and error and careful observation of existing actions , to make something better.

But I regard  the exalted claims of the successes of capital "S" Science,Scientists and Scientism with the attitude of a critic from Missouri : "Show Me !" ....

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Group love and Group think --- formula for a disaster : or WWII

It is well accepted that an excessive group love, for the so called Aryan Race, led Germany on endless wars of conquest and that excessive groupthink by Hitler's inner circle defeated an hope of permanent success in those conquests.

I want to suggest that group-love and group-think are intimately related and equally doomed and that by contrast, an expansive openness to others, all others - as individuals and as collectivity, in need or not in need - is the best way for humanity to survive in a dynamic uncertain world.

I plan to contrast the WWII career of little known doctor Henry Dawson, with his manhattan project to save SBE patients by de-weaponizing penicillin, with the mistakes made by those WWII excessive lovers of their own groups and their groupthink, in both the Axis and Allied camps ....

Dawson rebukes the "bystanders" of the Allied "coalition of the UN-willing"

In 1939, the British and French empires were initially unwilling to honour even the letter of their solemn pledge to come to the aid of Poland if it was attacked.

And they remained in no mood to truly honour the spirit of that pledge and provide serious help to the Poles.

But - pushed by some bold MPs in the British Parliament - they at least (and at last) declared war on Hitler and thus began the formation of the coalition of people that finally stopped him.

And these two empires did so without themselves being attacked by Hitler's forces.

Let us always honour them for at least that.

For all the other nations in the ultimately victorious Allied "Coalition of the Unwilling" only took up arms against Hitler when his forces attacked their own nation.

And then they defended their homeland against him with a fiery determination.

Militarily impressive but morally indefensible.

Because until then, the sight of Hitler (and Mussolini and Tojo) attacking neighbour after neighbour the previous ten years had left the bulk of these people strangely unmoved.

They loved their own collectivity (group-love) oh fully well , but not their neighbours (no agape self-less love for them).

Often their narrow group-love went beyond the indifference of bystanders to an active dislike of neighbours as a collectivity and as individuals.

So the battle between ultimate good and ultimate evil would have had very few participants, if Hitler and his Axis trio had only restrained themselves.

Just a few aggressors, a few victims and a few defenders ----- along with a whole bunch of "bystanders" , as such conduct is referred to in books on the (Jewish) Holocaust.

Maybe it is past due time that we extend the use of this term "bystander" to cover the conduct of most people on most aspects of WWII - in particular their global inaction during the long ,slow buildup to the formal declaration of war.

We bystanders stood back and did nothing while Manchuria, Ethiopia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ,Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece and Yugoslavia got gobbled up by bigger bully neighbours.

It took two Axis mistakes to finally get the American people into the ultimate fight of good versus evil .

One was the stupid Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbour along with the British and Dutch eastern empires , and the other was the even stupider personal decision of Hitler to declare war on America.

So there never was any internal moral impulse that moved the bulk of Americans to 'do the right thing'.

But individual Americans did try to do the right thing : I intend to focus on the largely unknown agape efforts of Dr (Martin) Henry Dawson.

Conventionally, Agape, the English word, means openness in general, including openness to new experiences and ideas ; Agape, the Greek word, means openness to others' needs .

My sense of Dawson's efforts was that his agape-ness showed a very broad 'openness to others' ,  open both to their individual needs and to their individual experiences and ideas.

His WWI efforts to help those wounded in combat extended to his 1930s and 1940s concern for the forgotten institutionalized chronically ill.

He was clearly open to others in need ; this is why he started to grow his own penicillin to try and save the dying SBE patients.

They had been abandoned to die by an American wartime medical establishment seeking to emulate how the wartime Nazis would treat their own SBE patients.

But Dawson was open to the pioneering idea of using natural penicillin made by the lowly penicillium mold .

All the other doctors expected penicillin could only be made by man-made efforts.

I think he did so because his studies on commensal oral bacteria had opened his eyes to the versatility of the humblest types of lifeforms.

Because when we approach others in a spirit of Dawson-like agape-ness, we not only seek to help them when they are in trouble, we also cherish them when they are not - because they have interesting ideas and experiences that we do not have and we are never smug that our group has all the answers.

Agape-ness gives us clarity as well as charity....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

WWII : excessive group-love led to excessive groupthink

In my previous postings over the past few years, I have tried - separately - to indicate that the horrors of WWII were caused by excessive group-love and by excessive groupthink : I now realize both are bound intimately together.

The Age of Modernity (1870s to 1960s) was exemplified above all by a lack of charity and a lack of clarity.

By excessive group-love, I mean an inability to regard others others outside your nationality, ethnicity, race , class or religion as worthy of concern and compassion.

It is why most nations and most people choose to remain neutral in WWII, even as the greatest evil ever known gobbled up small nation after small nation, unless they themselves were directly attacked.

But the Allied willingness - even eagerness - to bomb and bombard a hundred thousand civilians to death in occupied Europe and Asia - people supposedly on the Allied side, does not just stem just from a group-love disregard for others.

It also stems from the Allies' prewar groupthink that touted strategic aerial bombing and naval blockading as the fastest, cheapest way to defeat Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini.

It hadn't worked in WWI - the evidence was already there if you were willing to look - and it prolonged rather than hastened the end to the misery of WWII.

But groupthink cherry-picks from a mass of conflicting evidence only that which fits their rhetorical-cum-scientific thesis.

WWII still holds powerful lessons for all of us - particularly for new emerging giants like Brazil and India where the powerful middle class still disdains their own poorer citizens as less than human.

Other people may appear simple-minded, small, weak, ill, dark, dirty, and poor but they are actually are as fully complex and interesting as we are.

In addition they hold useful gene combinations we don't have and would do well to preserve.

They definitely have different viewpoints we would do well to consider.

An unwillingness to open our hearts to other people goes hand in glove with an unwillingness to open our minds to other ideas.

Reality out there has always been and always will be highly dynamic and uncertain : a diversity of peoples and a diversity of ideas is the best way that humanity can survive life's challenges.

At least I think that is what Henry Dawson thought when he embarked upon his project to de-weaponize penicillin and other so called "war-medicines"....

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Some conversations, a couple should never have to have...

It was a private conversation , so we can only imagine what was said, based upon our knowledge of the events discussed and the personalities of the pair.

Marjorie, always a bit of a coquette , never more than when she has news like this, came in to talk to Henry just before New Year's Eve 1940 :

"I've been to see the doctor and..." a teasing, girlish lilt leaves the sentence unfinished.

Henry has a more subdued personality while also being much more intense. With a ready wit.

A dry,wry ,sardonic sort of wit, very much in the scottish presbyterian style.

So typically he simply says, in a quiet throwaway voice:

"...And so have I..."

Marjorie, the flow of her expected storytelling interrupted, reacts with surprise :

"Why Henry, whatever for ?!"

(Because after all, Henry himself was a highly regarded medical doctor.)

"No. Marjorie, you go first."

Marjorie proceeds to tell Henry the hardly unexpected news, given her obvious manner : they are to have a new baby, in September or October of next year.

It will be their third - a late child, because their others (Shirley and Keith) were born in 1928 and 1930.

Marjorie will be almost 38 when the baby is born, Henry just turned 45.

But parents their age are much more likely to immediately start calculating just how old they will be when baby is in some expensive university.

No couples more so than the Dawsons, themselves both were educators and very well (and very expensively) educated.

Both are likely to be retired by the time this third baby finishes its first of several degrees.

Yet it was already looking like they won't have enough money to provide a good education to their two existing children.

In fact it was the only issue the two ever fought about.

"You're always helping other people's children - isn't past due time you started helping your own children ? By opening a downtown private practise like all your friends ?"

Part of the problem was that a post-graduate education takes time and money and so Henry was 33 before he had his first steady job, and that at the very bottom of the academic hierarchy.

He had only gotten tenure as a professor four years earlier, at the last possible opportunity : obviously then he was not one set for the fast advancement lane.

His real problem - if there was one - was he lived only for his science work and had no aptitude for well paid medical administration or making lots of money working with well-to-do private patients.

Marjorie had a job but it was low paying and her obviously good education and drive had to be set against the fact she had a severe congenital hip defect, which despite many childhood operation hadn't been able to be set right.

She needed a cane sometimes, and a special driving license, and the problem was only going to get worse with time.

But enough about the good news.

There was no way to sugarcoat Dawson's news and he wasn't inclined to either over-dramatitize it or lie about it.

(To his wife anyway, his children needn't have this hanging over their crucial teenage years.)

"You remember the odd way my eyes and face have been looking the last month ?"

Marjorie had .

But she had put it down to Henry trying to do his day job and be a good father and husband --- while simultaneously completing the editing of the big book, deal with his father's recent death and above all, by throwing himself headfirst into his latest scientific project.

Oh the Project ! Above all, Henry's unilateral snap decision to advance its pace by about three months : the straw that broke the camel's back, in Marjorie's mind.

Marjorie was not alone in thinking he should have gone slow on his latest project , at least until the big book was back from the printers and in the subscribers' hands.

But Henry had been unmoved, saying death couldn't wait until the beginning of the next semester.

So now this.

"Well", said Henry, "I read a little." " On the possible causes of those - unusual  - set of facial features, because I had never seen anything like them before as a doctor."

"After just a bit of reading, I quickly went to see a specialist - a neurologist."


"It is early days and there be another explanation , or it might only be a minor version of these diseases - but it is starting to look like either a brain tumour or MG : Myasthenia Gravis..."

A quiet, in-drawing, "oh" from Marjorie.

But Henry wasn't quite finished:

"...and I hope to God, its a brain tumour."

A much louder "OH!" this time from Marjorie, because what could be worse than brain tumours ?

Brain tumours, with their intensely painful headaches and their usual quick deaths, possible operation or not.

But what is MG - or rather more importantly, what was MG as seen from the point of view of 1940?

In 1940, it is now certain that many people had mild cases of MG but never saw the inside of a hospital about it . They never knew they had it and generally as long a life as anyone else.

It was not easy to diagnose this autoimmune disease in 1940.

We now know that it happens when our own body creates antibodies that inadvertently interrupts the chemical process that sends signals along our nerves.

But we still don't know what agent triggers the body to create such antibodies in the first place.

It is easiest to detect when it involves the nerves of the eyes and the face : the combination of a flattened smile, distinct facial sagging and drooping eyes is pretty unique.

Repeated use of these nerves and muscles appears to 'tire them', though what is actually happening is a build-up of the antibodies at the nerve interceptors.

Frequent rest periods will stop this process and restore these nerves and muscles' function and the face will appear normal looking --- for a while, until the build-up occurs again.

But often the mouth muscles are involved and then we see a nasal voice and uncontrollable drooling.

It is hard to get a good cough and it becomes difficult to swallow water or food successfully.

Despite this, there is no loss of reflexes, no lack of the senses mental or physical ,no lack of coordination and above all no generalized sense of fatigue.

The disease is not 'progressive' itself ,(progressively getting worse over time), and seems to go away after these localized tired muscles are rested.

So why did a Canadian study, published at the time of Dawson's disease ,discover that on average MG patients lived only four and a half years and had a miserable and painful life over that period ?

The key word is "patient" : only those with severe enough symptoms to become hospital MG patients were counted in those statistics and these patients almost all had bulbar muscle and sometimes even respiratory muscle involvement, in addition to eye and facial issues.

The bulbar muscle affects above all that complicated dance we must all do, all the time, whenever we attempt to swallow and breath at the same time.

Mess it up and food and water end up our nose or in our lungs and we become prone to death by pneumonia either from bacteria or from faulty aspiration of solids into our lungs.

Call this death from the top of the lung.

Some patients even have reduced function of the various 'outside' muscles that support lung function : the muscles of the diaphragm, thoracic and upper airway. Call this death from the bottom of the lung.

By 1940, most patients that were diagnosed with the severe forms of MG and who lived very near good medical care survived the first few of what were called immediately life-threatening "MG Crisis." (Basically a breathing crisis.)

But each crisis left damage to lung and heart and so while the disease itself wasn't really "progressively getting worse", one still died a painfully slow death from the side affects, as each repeated crisis left one more vulnerable to the next one.

By 1940, there was a drug that helped, but its side affects were bad enough ,particularly as correct dosage was in an early stage , to make many patients wish for the quick,quiet release of death instead.

Also by 1940, there was treatment in iron lungs - only decades later was it realized this made the condition fatally worse ,not better, because the air pressure process was moving in the wrong direction (it was negative not positive.)

Unfortunately, this single simple change (a flick of a switch) came too late to save thousands; not arriving at his Henry's own Presbyterian Columbia hospital, for example, until 1962.

Finally by 1940 a brand new surgery process showed a cure for about a half of the severe cases - the other unaffected half were mostly men in Henry's age bracket, for whom it did nothing and only left them further weakened by a major operation.

Still in 1940, there was a flicker of hope, for even the most severe examples of MG.

It was the simple fact that drug, iron lung treatment and surgery were all literally brand new and could only be expected to improve dramatically over time and perhaps spur even better ideas.

If 1940 MG patients could totally change their lifestyle, they might live long enough to be around for the better treatments when they arrived.

But when Marjorie asked Henry what did a patient need to avoid to be spared the worst of MG, she had to cry out in anger.

The things be avoided were all the things that Henry liked to do in excess !

Always had, always would :

Repetitious eye and muscle use, such as reading medical journals, peering into microscopes or talking with patients to get detailed patient histories.

Working long hours into the evenings, weekends and holidays, without proper food ,water or rest, in hot chemical-filled atmospheres.

Working in environments where virulent throat and lung bacteria are common.

Emotional work-related stress. 

"Henry, you just have to stop all your involvement in this project - leave it to someone else - think of your children, above all the new baby."

"I don't want to be raising three kids on my own in four and a half years , not on my tiny salary and this bad hip."

Marjorie was entirely typical of people all around the world in 1940 and it was people like Henry who were - Thank God ! -  the lonely exception.

She cared, truly cared, for example, about all people starving in the French and later Greek famines.

But she was like Henry's colleagues who admired his moral sense but decried his lack of a sense of proportion , of knowing when to stop.

"You've made your point - and it is a good one - but now it is time to move on."

Henry was willing, even eager, to move on - or even more likely not to have gotten involved in the first place - if only there was someone else to do the job right.

For Henry Dawson was no volunteer, no charismatic leader at the front line, spurring others on.

But he was of a type, a not un-common type : a 'stepper into breaches' -------- but only when he was needed.

"If I stepped back, you know that this part of the project would die."

"Sorry, bad choice of words - those young lads in Ward G-East would die."

"I do care about my family and friends, but someone in this darned world has to also care about strangers too."

So, with eyes badly drooping but jaw firmly set, Henry wearily got up.

He had a needle to give ; a very special needle of his very special new home grown drug.

The needle won't contain much of the drug despite months of unremitting hard work and it probably won't save this particular patient.

But it offered the negro lad hope and shown him at least someone cared .

After he gave the youth his needle, Dawson would sit for him a while - not just to see if it had an effect , though that is what he told his colleagues.

He would sit with him because the young man was all alone and he was dying and because it was New Year's Eve.

The young man would be all alone and dying and all around him he could hear the sounds of young student nurses and young student doctors merrily celebrating new beginnings and the New Year.

So Dawson would sit with him through the celebrations and talk with him, maybe share a little something with him.

And do so with dignity : because now he , too, would grow to know what a re-occurring ever-worsening fatal disease feels like.

From the inside.

So there they sat, in the dark of New Year's Morning, January 1st 1941 : dead men , waiting .....

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is Oscar Schindler proof that God has a sense of humour ?

The fact that the scoundrel Schindler personally rescued more Jews than did almost any canonized or beatified "Prince of the Church" is a particular vivid example of an ancient Bible claim.

The Bible repeatedly contends that God deliberately chooses to use the most weak, foolish and the broken of individuals to confound the Wise and Mighty, whenever these powerful beings fail to live up to their advance moral billing.

Almost all of the Princes of almost all the Faiths proved to be desk bureaucrats , rather than martyrs,  at this extreme junction of Good confronting Absolute Evil.

They were determined that their church structure survive as an institution, even if it had to be at the cost of emptying out all their church's ethical teachings.

Another example, perhaps, of God's sense of humour : the fact that some publicly avowed anti-semetics became leaders in the efforts to save Jews from Hitler !

Despite disliking these people individually and collectively, they still struggled to save them as fellow ( if "useless") beings.

Schindler, along with tens of thousands of others, broke Nazi laws and would have been executed if caught, because he operated inside occupied Nazi Europe.

In the rest of the world, probably only a few hundred in total risked, at most, their careers and social reputations when they broke or bent their country's immigration laws to bring out Jews ( or other refugees) from the fires of Hell.

One wants to ask two questions ; why so few when the risks were so much lower AND what personality features led them to become the rare exception ?

Despite death staring them in the face, many in Europe paradoxically had an easier opportunity to save Jews , for the potentially saveable Jewish family just lived next door.

Only a few in the rest of the world had the money, time and connections to be effective 'rescue operators' in the remaining Neutral nations that bordered Occupied Europe.

Today, millions worldwide can easily take to the nearest street to protest , before TV cameras, about an remote injustice - all doing their small bit to achieve an enormous result.

But in the 1930s and 19940s, street protests seemed something only Communists and Fascist-Nazis did : mostly  being deliberately staged street brawls between the two .

If potential protesters from any nations could have done it, culturally, even in wartime, it was Americans, yet even there any street marches on anything were extremely rare.

Street protests were not yet, culturally, a 'middle class' thing to do (and didn't become so until the mass European and North American protests against nuclear war in the mid-1980s , forty years later.)

The answer to the second question is that the people who put in extraordinary efforts to rescue all kinds of refugees in the 1930s and 1940s, operating in the free world, are usually described by the academics who have studied their biographies as already being 'outsiders' , thanks to their ongoing resistance to some institution or other in their own countries.

This seems to have made it easier for them to contemplate breaking the national laws to get the refugees in.

This makes one wonder if Dr Henry Dawson's outsider status revolved around scientific differences he had over the validity of American  War medicine replacing American Social medicine in a time of crisis.

(Dawson rescued 'The 4Fs of the 4Fs', patients dying from SBE, from death by deliberate medical establishment neglect, during WWII : de-weaponizing penicillin in the process.)

War medicine's underlying scientific assumption was that Nature had shown that the Bigger were better than the small and the weak, so that the big replacing the small was not just inevitable, it was also beneficial overall.

War medicine just hastened a process that was not just inevitable anyway but was better for all.

Dawson, through his study of R,S,M,L and V forms of oral commensal strep bacteria, had perhaps grown to see that the most ancient form of life, the bacteria, hadn't died out over billions of years, despite being small and weak and simple.

They were surviving, nay flourishing , and it just might be because they did not evolve the ability to kill-off their chronically weakened and weirdly mutated mates.

In this horizontally-oriented Evolution, the avirulent and the weak bacteria were not second-rate, but rather were just another(equal) part of a vast potential genetic pool, to help bacteria instantly response to changes in an ever dynamic world via Horizontal Gene Transfer.

Somehow, he might have mentally transferred this sense of the value of retaining a bigger genetic pool over to the worthiness of keeping even SBE 4Fs alive inside a Total War.

Sickle cell humans are a mutation that has remained in the human genetic pool, because while it causes one weakening disease, it also reduces the possibility of another life-ending disease.

But in addition,we should, but usually don't, recognize that every human offers up not just more variety to the human gene pool, they also contribute more variety to the human culture and happiness pool.

Every male scientist in 1941 who claimed that severely retarded children with a permanent mental age of only one were suffering and caused their parents to suffer and so deserved a merciful death by lethal injection , had obviously never played with their own one year old children.

( In fact, many a normal parent happens to wish their kids remained forever at age one when they were at their most loveable and obedient behavior ! )

Dawson with his own new infant, might have been struck anew by the absurdity of this old chestnut and became determined to confound the Dr Foster Kennedys of this world.

At least, this is all food for thought....

Monday, July 8, 2013

WWII : more troops , longer war, but only 1/3 number of VCs

Canada had almost twice as many troops in WWII as in WWI, and it was a world-wide war that lasted 50% longer than the first war, but despite all this, Canada had less than 1/3 as many VC winners.

It is only given for bravery in face of the enemy, so the fact that  combat was far more mechanized in WWII ( ie fought at long distances from the enemy)  is often offered up as the excuse.

Dropping bombs from 20,000 ft might seem then to eliminate you from ever receiving a VC in theory --- but not in practise.

Bomber crews actually did get VCs ---- for trying to save fellow crew members  high up in the flak-filled skies.

The other view - mine anyway - is that people were less selflessly brave, over all,  in WWII than in the earlier war.

The character of virtually all the world's western-influenced population changed - for the worse - after WWI .

But not as a result of WWI , merely as the result of death carrying off the holders of older Victorian views on selflessness, replaced by the young bearers of the up-to-date, modernist , scientific, view of the proper morality:
"Be quick to defend your own national group to the death (and beyond) - but ignore or despise all others' cries for help."

In the 1930s and early 1940s, Philip Marlowe's mean streets were world wide......

Bystanders make Bullies : in schoolyards or in World Wars

When Tojo, Mussolini and Hitler first crawled out from under their rocks and set to work, the nations they led were relatively weak and ally-less, particularly compared to the combined 'rest of the world', a world that professed to oppose them root and branch.

But when in fact that whole wide world stood around the schoolyard just watching as bystanders ,without intervening, we gave the bad guys their very first triumph.

Albeit these were triumphs over very small victims, but it gave them the confidence to move on and upwards, to successfully take on ever bigger victims and to take on ever more of them at the same time.

The three were always bullies-in-waiting, from birth, but it was the in-actions of we bystanders which gave them room to grow in self confidence, brutality and hubris.

In  bullyboy genocide, it always takes two types to tango :  one active bully and many in-active bystanders...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Modernity: Have we got it Wrong ? Rigid not Fluid ?

The usual claim that Modernity represents an extraordinary degree of change and dynamic uncertainty must butt its head against the co-current rise of hyper-rigid nationalism in the same time and space.

This newly reified term, nationalism, was generally based upon a single ethnicity, which was usually coded at the time, incorrectly, as "race".

No longer were all citizens of France or Germany regarded as French or German by simple reason of being legal citizens.

Instead a hopelessly il-defined and yet paradoxically rigid  innate quality made you either part of The Glorious French Race or not.

Not, meant you belonged to another nationality slash ethnicity cum race.

You had no choice to say that you shared a number of different groupings varying upon your politics, religion, main language , place of birth and parentage.

Individuals effectively ceased to be individual and had to be members of , and hyper-loyal to , a particular block of humanity, the Italians or French, etc.

Contrast this to the Middle Ages's Christians who saw the Jews not as a solid group to be put to the sword, but as a group of individuals - some sinners and some saved - depending upon whether or not they individually accepted Christ and were baptized.

So WWI's vestiges of chivalry and empathy and altruism were not crowded out by old fashioned and immoral individual selfishness ( which was not any more common or any more popular than it has always been).

No, they were replaced by a new supposedly highly moral form of group selfishness.

People protested that concern for your kin had always been ruled morally legitimate - all that had changed, under Modernity, was that there were a lot more kin in your vastly enlarged German/British/Russian family.

By contrast, a pretty Russian or a handsome German was no longer a possible marriage mate for a French youth , as an attractive fellow human being who just happened to - currently - speak different and go to a different church.

Now different ethnicities might as well been different species and marriage with other ethnicities seem dangerously close to bestiality.

Not only were you rigidly placed in one ethnicity - from birth and fixed rigidly for all time - but your entire ethnic group was also rigidly and permanently set in a hierarchy of worthiness, from valued to useless.

So, regardless of the actions of individual Italians,  individual combat units or individuals battles, Italians as a group were dismissed ,in advance, as permanently bad soldiers.

In this bizarre moral universe of Modernity,two billion human beings around the world saw the big nations beat up the little nations and did nothing, but each rushed loyally into  fearsome combat the moment their own nation was itself attacked.

Each warrior felt he or she was on some moral high road but they were not.

For if Hitler hadn't attacked Russia and declared war on America, Europe would probably still be under his descendants' heel.

Altruism was at a very low ebb between 1931 and 1946 and so all the more reason to honour it where ever and when ever it was found...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

God Only Knows why Henry Dawson did what he did - because no one else does ...

Next year will be ten years that I have been at it, trying to figure out why Henry Dawson did what he did and I am still no further ahead.
Consider this :

In late December 1940, Dawson got both some very good news and some very bad news from the doctors.

At age 45, he would be a father for the third time : Hurray !

Albeit his wife was in her forties , was physically handicapped and earns only a small salary.

This matters, because Henry had also just been told he has Myasthenia Gravis, a very serious auto immune disease that in the early 1940s generally killed within four and half years.

However, if he kept shorter hours, cut back on his stressful activities, stopped working around strong chemicals and ate and slept healthier, he might eke it out until better treatments came along.

Instead, Dr Dawson chose to plunge in ever harder into his self-chosen war task: bad chemicals, lots of stress and all.

He was trying desperately to save the lives of "The 4Fs of the 4Fs" : young people needlessly dying of the disease SBE,  because they were judged by the powerful to be only a burden in a time of Allied Total War.

Dying because the medicine that could save them (penicillin) was being reserved instead to use as a weapon of war.

If this sounds eerily like a more subtle version of Hitler's infamous T4 Aktion, you won't be far off.

Dawson's tiny little project was a sort of Aktion 4F, a moral counterblast at both the Allies and the Axis.

Now Dawson had a great moral right to do what he did with penicillin (including stealing scarce government-issued penicillin in a time of war !) because he was the first person in history to use it to try and save a life ( actually two : two SBE patients) - penicillin he had grown and processed himself.

This happened before America was at war, but at a time when the nation's medical and scientific leadership was hardening its heart in preparation to be as ruthless as Hitler, when and if Congress ever chose to fight him.

I believe Dawson reacted against this moral hardening of the arteries, seeing it as the absolutely worst way to win the "hearts and minds" battle against Hitler's ideas.

 Dawson was cautious, modest and retiring - his High School yearbook would have voted him "The Least Likely to Rebel".

His own field of expertise was miles and miles and miles away from SBE (Subacute Bacterial Endocarditis - a then invariably fatal heart disease).

He had never before ventured into making and purifying a brand new unknown drug.

He was regarded as a bit of a cracked pot by his colleagues with regard to his own personal research projects, which tended to limit his ability to draw in people into this Aktion 4F project.

This project of altruism literally killed him in the end - but he was not a religious believer so the basis for his extreme act of alturism is hard to find.

So why did he do it ?

I don't know.

But I do know he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

SBE became one of the most curable of fatal diseases, thanks to Dawson's pioneering efforts.

But he did far more than that.

His project forced the Allies to change their War Aims - to stop treating penicillin as a weapon, kept in short supply only for curable Allied frontline troops.

Instead he forced them to seriously mass produce it and to start treating it as something that should be available for all, regardless of race, color or war status.

By late 1944, penicillin had become the ultimate symbol of that highly elusive "good" the Allies had been promising would surely come about , if only all the neutrals of the world got off the fence and helped defeat Hitler.

One explanation on why Dawson did it and how he did it, is  that God sometimes picks cracked pots and non-believers ,together with the weak and the foolish, to do big things and confound the Mighty and the Wise.

Dawson seems to fit all four categories.

And certainly the Age of Modernity, the Age of WWII, was the most hubris-bound age ever ; if any age ever needed confounding it was that one.

Dawson and God and penicillin and 4Fs : it just sounds like a Match made in Heaven to me ....

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hitler vs Henry Dawson : why contrast these two scientists ?

War historians are unlikely to ever be happy with a Hollywood movie presenting WWII as "The Battle between Ultimate Evil and Ultimate Good".

Like us ordinary laypeople, they can all quickly find the human who best represented ultimate evil , but again like us, they can't settle on the exact nature of this thing called ultimate evil : what was the common thread uniting all of its obviously horrific deeds?

But the war historians know too much (and have spend too much of their careers detailing all the many Allied moral failings we'd  much rather forget) to find any one human representing all of what little 'ultimate good' can be found in that long sorry mess of a moral conflict.

Sure, Winston and Franklin both talked a good line, but the historians know that these two leaders' actions too often failed to be in the same universe as their soaring rhetoric, let alone be found reading from the same page.

The fact is that despite all of its death and destruction, 1939-1945 represented Planet Earth's far-from-total-war, a war that most of the world's nations sat out, most of the time.

If sitting out the battle of absolute good and evil was itself evil, than there was a lot of it going around.

Because the sad truth is while we today all agree that a big country like Germany invading a small neighbour just to steal and enslave is a great moral wrong, well worth going to war to stop, the world of our grandparents obviously didn't think so.

Many nations didn't think so in September 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria, or in October 1935 when Italy invaded Ethiopia. Not even in March 1939, when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia after specifically promising the world it would never do so.

They retained that opinion right up until September 1945.

WWII movies remain intensely popular world wide but most nations must enjoy them vicariously, because of the fact that their own nation did not really fight in WWII, but instead chose to sit out what today is regarded as the greatest moral conflict of all time.

Hard to imagine, for example, how much pride Mexico's 100 million citizens can take in the bathetic fact that the grand total of three (3) of their grandfathers died in combat in WWII .

Still that was a lot more combat (Brazil aside) that all the rest of Latin America's two dozen democracies saw put together.

Almost all the nations of the world remained neutral while dozens of small nations were gobbled up by big nations.

 Almost all the rest remained  *"effectively neutral" , unless and until their own soil was invaded.

(* "Effectively neutral"  is a term I use to account for the many nations who 'declared war' on another nation but didn't go into actual combat against them  -- their declaration of war was not a moral but rather a diplomatic decision, usually so they won't be kept out of the UN at the war's end.)

A mere handful were more forthright : Germany, Japan , along with Italy and sometimes Russia were the obvious big territory-seeking aggressors.

Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia in Europe - together with Thailand and Burma  in Asia- were some of the small jackal nations who saw a chance to take land from some of the other small nations around them  if they nominally joined in with the war started by the big aggressor nations.

Noteworthy that even the big aggressors too all remained neutral , if they at all could, when one of the others in their group invaded a small neighbour.

Only two nation-empires fought WWII without themselves either being invaders or being invaded : England and France, and even this nearly didn't happen, as is well known.

Worth remembering that even these two sat out the earlier invasions of small nations undertaken by Japan, Italy and Germany.

So if  examples of absolute good existed in WWII, it can't found in the conduct of any individual nation on Earth, but only in the activities of individual individuals.

Hitler was always at pains to show how conventionally his scientific racist theories were and that all he did new was to put into action what other scientists had only ever talked about.

Taking Hitler at his consistent word, from his word in 1919 to his last word in1945, on the scientifically conventional nature of his thinking and actions, I then sought out a contrasting figure whose scientific views were as far as possible from being conventional in 1939.

 They had to not just to greatly contrast with Hitler, they had to join in with Hitler and put their scientific beliefs into concrete political action.

This because most scientists (conventional or otherwise) fail to take their scientific beliefs outside the lab and into the thick of the real world.

Henry Dawson's Aktion 4F project, that lesser known Manhattan Project, was as far opposed as it was possible to be to Hitler's Aktion T4 project, which I take to better represent the core of his thinking that his Holocaust of the Jews.

The Jews, to Hitler, were but a subset of the weak and foolish human germs Hitler saw as infecting the volk body : the Aktion T4 hoped to kill them all.

Dawson's Aktion 4F sought to remind the Allies that they couldn't hope to really defeat Hitler's thinking if they simply did to the Allied weak and small as Hitler was doing the weak and small in Europe.

It doesn't really matter in 2013 that Dawson's actions in WWII were far smaller than the actions of the British Conservative Party or the German Nazi Party : whose ideas of 75 years ago, as opposed to actions of 75 years ago, best reflects the majority's way of thinking today ?

I don't think Winston Churchill won WWII, not if by that you mean that his prewar views are reflected in our postwar world --- but Henry Dawson's prewar ideas certainly are.....