Sunday, June 21, 2015

Was WWII's battle over Penicillin a microcosm or a macrocosm of that horrific war ?

WWII was far too big for one mind to encompass and far too horrific for one stomach to handle.

The even longer but much smaller battle over penicillin production and delivery seems easier to handle and to stomach.

But just like the war itself, many, many people died because of decisions taken over the course of the twenty year long battle over just how penicillin should be made and to whom it should be given to.

True : all these people were deadly ill, by definition.

So possibly many would died anyway, with or without penicillin, though probability suggests that in fact most would have lived, if given enough penicillin early enough.

Unfair premature death is still unfair premature death, but their slow deaths from disease, caused by not so benign neglect, lacks the visceral horror of thinking about mothers and babies being murdered in a field with a bullet to the face, Einsatzgruppen style.

Preventable death due to lack of should-have-been-readily-available penicillin was still death on a massive scale.

But it remains deniable because it is only viewable, faintly and through the softest of gauze*.


So yes, I plead guilty - I want to have it both ways.

I want to discuss the biggest, most horrific, issues of the war but also to sugar coat them.

To reduce them to closeups of the lives of a mere handful of individuals, most who don't die and even of those few who did die, didn't die violently.

But I also want readers to think back, back behind these few representatives.

To think of the literally tens of millions of people, unnamed and un-described, who died needlessly throughout the world because cheap abundant penicillin-for-all was delayed so long.

(Delayed for up to fifteen years for a few lucky ones and up to twenty five years for many, depending on your class, race, gender and where you lived.)

That is a death toll that approaches that of WWII itself.

So it really should never have been so casually dismissed, as it has been, all these years....

* I know of only one death among those tens of millions - that of Marie Barker of Chicago in September 1943 - that happened with enough detail provided day by relentless day to the reading public as to still bruise our collective conscience.

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