Saturday, June 20, 2015

To understand WWII penicillin is to understand WWII

We thought we knew the history of WWII, even as it was happening - a world neatly divided up into either very good guys or very bad guys.

But as the years go by and the silently guilty die off, more and more revelations emerge that make the whole thing much murkier than we expected.

I think telling the full story, the actual story, of  wartime penicillin is about the gentlest way to tell the true story of WWII.

Done by closely examining a small but representative fragment of it.

It is true that wartime penicillin had its own horrors, but I don't think recalling them will make readers toss the book aside in anger, shame and disgust, as is bound to happen when we use the various holocausts of WWII as a way into that war.

But I think the original Allied intentions for penicillin sprang from the same deep impulses as did Aktion T4 and the Final Solution.

But penicillin's death-by-denial effort emerged in a very muted fashion (without those programs' direct violence) ----  openly condemning unknown numbers of people to death by benign neglect as regretful but necessary.

All because they said that the penicillium itself was being so uncooperative towards the war effort.

This was all hooey - they knew it and God knows it.

After my book is done, I hope we all know it....

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