On one hand, they were human beings, such as the institutionalized chronically ill at Goldwater Hospital.
Or discarded young people , dying needlessly from subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE).
In both cases, he wanted to give them a second chance at a near normal life in what was, after all, the famed City of the Second Chance.
On the other hand, sometimes his focus was upon microbe beings, creatures about whom it can't really be said that he wanted to ensure their continued survival - he felt they did that well enough on their own !
Instead, he merely wanted all of us to take a Second Glance at just how well these incredibly tiny ,delicate, immobile sacs of water managed against extremities of physical conditions and the potent threat of the human immune system and modern medicine.
Starting in the 1920s, he pioneered studies of their survival techniques such as HGT, Quorum Sensing, Molecular Mimicry and Biofilms : still cutting edge science even today, eighty years later.
His subtle point was that if these, the smallest of the small, can manage survival so well than perhaps small human beings and small human nations can also manage equally well, if we just let them live rather than trying to enslave and kill them in the name of a Progress that must always be Bigger , to be Better.
The Allied governments never one to miss a chance to match the Axis in moral turpitude , wanted wartime penicillin to remain a secret available only for the 1As - "Penicillin from New York's Cold Spring Harbour's Eugenics lab" , as it were.
The tired, poor huddled 4Fs
Dawson was equally bull-headed in wanting to see the Nazis combatted morally as well as militarily, by demonstrating just how well we looked after our tired poor and huddled 4Fs, even during a Total War : "Penicillin from New York's Emma Lazarus", as it were.
Janus-like Manhattan tried both approaches at first , very strongly favouring the eugenic approach, until a few good Manhattanites rose up in protest.
Then wartime Manhattan was revealed to also come from the Venus of love and peace as well as from the Mars of anger and war.
Finally ... a Good News Story from the Bad News War.
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