Monday, September 23, 2013

Churchill's bombers burn babies while FDR's bombers deliver penicillin to babies

I have tried awfully hard to find stories of Churchill's bombers delivering bottles of penicillin, rather than bombs of napalm, to the world's babies.

No luck so far.

But newspapers in 1943-1944 were rife with stories of FDR's bombers delivering various tiny bottles of penicillin half way around the world to save babies.

It is usual to emphasis how well the left-leaning FDR government got along with the right-leaning Churchill government but it is also possible to overdo all the censor-approved bonhomie.

Wartime penicillin is a clear example where the two differed wildly, with dire permanent consequences for Britain and the British Tories.

The Tory-dominated Ministry of Supply ,egged on by the likes of Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey, successfully kept the miracles of penicillin out of the popular British press, so that it might remain below the radar of the German chemists.

The hope was secret penicillin could be a medical-military weapon, a nasty surprise to drop on the Jerries on D-Day when Allied troop casualties quickly returning to the front while Axis wounded festered and died with only the outdated sulfa drugs to heal them.

The cost of the beginnings of an adequate supply of penicillin for British civilian and soldier alike was only one or two of Butcher Harris's endless bomber squadrons, but the MOS successfully throttled back penicillin production expenditures so that only British troop needs could be ( just barely) met.

In America, FDR's new Deal was dying, a victim of the war.

But in its last hurrah, the very New Dealish WPB (War Production Board) set the USA supply requests at a level a thousand times higher than the British levels, despite a population only three times bigger !

Thanks to Henry Dawson and Dante Colitti and Citizen Hearst, an outraged American public, led by Doctor Mom, demanded to know why the American drug companies were not cashing in on those massive 'firm orders' from Uncle Sam.

Henry Dawson's early supporter from the drug industry, John L Smith of Pfizer, took up the public's challenge and soon was producing penicillin at rates many dozens of times higher than the rest of the world combined.

Flush with excess penicillin, America could easily afford to divert some of its bombers off the killing work and towards delivering tiny vials of penicillin to dying children world wide.

Widely reported in the world press, this penicillin diplomacy from America quietly replaced the Pax Britanica with Pax Americana despite the fact that the Brits had held an exclusive on the life-saving balm for more than a dozen years.

Back home in the UK, things got worse for Churchill.

He had been widely expected to win the 1945 election - not the least by his lackluster opponents in the Labour Party , for his efforts in winning the war.

But doubts over Tory fairness in the quality of medical care for rich and for poor, highlighted in a famous Daily Mirror cartoon of a wounded British soldier, silently moved many voters (in an era before 'public' public polling) over to their opponents.

Unfairness of who got or did not get scarce British penicillin ( versus news stories of obvious American abundance), highlighted by newspaper stories of dying British children with SBE being denied the life-saving mold , was an important part of that emerging move away from the Tory-led government.

Penicillin was British-born, damn it all, and Churchill's government had fumbled the ball, giving it away to the Americans and yet denying it to British civilians.

Who gave a hoot - now - about how many European babies Butcher Harris's bombers had burned while flying above a war won on the ground by millions of Ivans ?

Wartime penicillin never cured Churchill's pneumonia - that is a myth.

But its British failure surely killed his electoral prospects, just as its American success helped pull Harry Truman back out of his expected electoral defeat.....

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