Sunday, August 18, 2013

Wartime Manhattan : from Mars ... or from Venus ?

If I might be permitted to gently chide the citizens of Manhattan, may I suggest that they had done very little, themselves, to balance the horrific wartime image of their city created by being tagged as the place that 'birthed' the atomic bomb and its potential destruction of the entire world.

To the 911 bombers, it is the best known image of the borough.

(And by the way, it is only men, like the bosses of the best known wartime Manhattan Project , who talk about 'birthing the bomb' and think of naming it 'Little Boy'.)

Woman know better.

They actually do birth children and know that a bomb isn't a baby.

But little Patty Malone was a baby - and it was only the fearless challenging spirit of the native born Manhattanite that saved her life ... when a heartless government refused to help.

So, People of Manhattan, take a bow.

True, it was only men that did all the heavy lifting in saving this particular child, but I am convinced that her story moved millions of Doctor Moms to demand that their men get off the sofa and start making penicillin for real, right away.

In particular, her story moved one Doctor Mom with the real power to move mountains of inertia : Mae Smith.

She was the wife of the boss of Brooklyn-based Pfizer,  John L Smith.

In the summer of 1943, his firm was best positioned (culturally) in the world to make the needed penicillin ---- all by its self.

But he was a very cautious and frugal man and he refused to do the right thing, rather than the financially safe and lucrative thing.

Until his wife reminded him, once again, that Dr Henry Dawson had always insisted that their eldest daughter would have remained alive, if only penicillin had been earnestly produced, not long after its discovery.

Learning of little Patty Malone plucked from death's door touched Smith's heart ; finally made Dawson's claim seem real to John L.

In a few short months, Pfizer was indeed producing enough penicillin for all those in the world dying of susceptible infections.

Abundant amounts of Pfizer Penicillin created an opportunity for America to practise influential penicillin diplomacy , replacing Pax Britannia with Pax Americana.

Britain and its Dominions had the most moral capital, from standing all alone against Hitler for years, and it had the moral first claim on penicillin.

But for want of a price of a single additional bomber squadron for Butcher Harris, the Conservative Party-dominated British government threw all that moral capital away, handed it over to the Americans on a platter, gratis.

That price, of just one bomber squadron among many, would have given Glaxo a Pfizer's sized plant, months before Pfizer.

By contrast, WWII is usually seen as the process that finally killed the hopes of the New Deal.

But I argue, that the New Deal's final act was actually its finest hour.

Britain's Ministry of Supply set the amount of penicillin it wanted produced during the war years to just be enough ( barely) for front line troops.

It forbade the bigger colonies like India to make their own penicillin (postwar export market considerations dominated official thinking.)

The supply amounts set by the gutless Dominions perfectly reflected Britain's niggardly attitude to the needs of their own civilians and the civilians of the occupied lands.

By contrast, in May 1943, one of the last big New Deal organizations created, the American WPB (War Production Board) , set the amounts of American penicillin it wanted produced so high that it could easily supply America ( military and civilian) and most of the world besides.

Thirties style "Social medicine" concerns had finally won out over the Forties "War medicine" niggardliness.

Henry Dawson's long, lonely defence of heightened social medicine in a time of war against an enemy who didn't believe in it even in peacetime had finally borne fruit : now America was preparing to combat the Nazis morally , as well as just militarily.

Venus Manhattan was in the driver's seat, along with Mars Manhattan ....

No comments:

Post a Comment