Sunday, August 18, 2013

Remembering when Manhattan was from Venus

"Now I am become Hope, Healer of Nations."

Why Manhattan choses to only remember its death-dealing activities during WWII is quite beyond me.

Just because that is all that the 9/11 bombers chose to recall , is no reason to emulate their example.

(Ie, the 911 planners chose only to focus upon the Mars side of Manhattan's Janus-like face.)

Yes , Columbia University in Manhattan ( along with a dozen other sites in greater NYC) was a key part of the best known wartime Manhattan Project, the militarization of the death-dealing atom.

In fact, the key part : because Columbia perfected gaseous diffusion, the method used on all sides to produce all the megadeath weapons of the Cold War.

Native Manhattanite, Robert Oppenheimer, seemingly sealed that image of Manhattan for all time, when he intoned after the first atomic blast, "Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds."

But Columbia University in wartime was also home to the other - the unknown - Manhattan Project :  ensuring that the life-sustaining properties of natural penicillin were freely available to all , at a low price, and during the war years when it was so badly needed.

Henry Dawson did not discover natural penicillin, but he was key in insisting it be widely produced during WWII, rather than a half dozen lacklustre years later.

Far more fundamentally, he was key in de-militarizing wartime penicillin, making it not just a secret medicine available only to the Allied front line, but something than people of all nations, races, creeds and genders felt they had a right to obtain when they were dying, without the cost bankrupting their families.

It remains to this day, seventy five years later, that rarity : an inexpensive safe lifesaver that has never been patented and over-priced.

The dying Dawson did all this because in an era when Bigger was Better and the small were just impediments to Progress, he so strongly believed in their right to existence and happiness.

From his tiny lab in upper Manhattan he radiated a message of hope to a troubled world.

Like Lady Liberty herself, he reminded the world of the Venus side to Janus Manhattan....

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