Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wartime Manhattan's "Double V" triumphs

Synthetic plutonium ( in the world's biggest killing machine) and non-synthetic penicillin (in the world's smallest lifesaver) were the twin - and Janus-like - triumphs of wartime's two Manhattan Projects.

A "Double V" triumph indeed : one a victory by humanity against Nature and the other a victory of humanity with Nature.

And they were victories by the Allied world alone - unlike radar and jets, scientific and technological breakthroughs that the Allies shared with the Nazi war machine.

a Janus-headed Victory

As a school kid of the postwar era (and in tandem with every other schoolchild of my generation), I was educated to illogically savour that conflicted Double V triumph.

To share both in the victory of the big and powerful against the small and weak atom ----- and in the victory of the big and the powerful together with the small and weak microbe.

But the illogic of that yoked Double V couldn't hold together forever and by the time of my young adult years , it had begun to give way.

For what academics call the eras of Modernity or of Postmodernity can be better - more succinctly - described as synthetic autarky against Nature or non-synthetic commensality with Nature.

The inconsistent character of the Double V triumph over the last global disaster (WWII) explains the inconsistent response of my generation , the counterculture generation, as it leads the world and faces the current global disaster , The Sixth Extinction.

A counter culture well over thirty and that has become "The Man"

A generation convinced it should never trust anyone over thirty , never trust "The Man", is itself well over thirty and is itself "The Man".

Because the children born between 1941 and 1966 are now the ones within the dominant voting years - those citizens most likely to vote, the voters between the ages of 50 and 75.

This age group will now determine elections all over the world by dominating the numbers of the relatively few voters who consistently bother to get out and vote.

And we simply don't know how this generation of voters and leaders - my generation - will react on the question of preventing The Sixth Extinction.

For the generation that marched for civil rights for minorities, gays, women, the handicapped and marched against nuclear war has - by and large - not marched to defend the Earth against the rapacity of advanced human civilization.

The personal is political, is public

Over the years, as a political and environmental activist, I have puzzled , read and researched over this inconsistent failure within my generation.

I was eventually driven back to my earliest school years and beyond, in seeking an answer.

For I am fully a child of wartime Janus Manhattan.

Someone who  grew up totally in awe of the synthetic atomic power from massive power plants that would soon power my future but also totally in awe of the life-saving antibiotics derived form Nature's smallest and weakest, medicines that had repeatedly saved the Strep-afflicted lives of my family and I .

Janus Manhattan's Children, the book and the blog , thus is as much a private memoir as a public history .

The first volume will take in the years 1940 to 1946 and will be a history of wartime's Janus-headed Manhattan Projects--- a period of time when I wasn't even born to be an eye witness but one that shaped decisively my postwar upbringing.

The telethon that changed my life

The second volume will cover from July 1957, when my first childhood memories of public events began to September 1961 when I began reading adult-oriented news magazines and adult-oriented books, becoming rather adult-like, virtually overnight.

It will centre around a simply fabulous B&W* telethon for Rheumatic Heart Disease I saw one night in those years and never forgot.

(In both senses of that term !)

And don't ask me exactly where or when - I can't remember with any certainty but the fact that I thought, at the time, that the filmed people might be dead ghosts suggests Victoria BC ,between 1957 and 1959,when I was very little - only between the ages of five to eight.

My family just caught the telethon one evening when the weather was iffy but just right --- so we could get American TV from across the border loud and clear.

It was a new-to-me mix.

First, working class - minority - teenage rheumatic heart victims cum musical singers, very much alive and lively, testifying emotionally at the front of the stage.

In between singing a heady mix of gospel or blues or rock and rock or country.

As a middle class kid living in a middle class neighbourhood, these were not (yet) 'my kind of people'.

Awkwardly 'assisting' them were some upper middle class doctors and head nurses.

Directly behind and above them was ghostly-silent historic film footage of when they were very sick teenagers in hospital, dressed all in scary white garments like their doctors and nurses.

Figures I have said that the small me wasn't certain were not actual dead ghosts with the people up front these ghosts brought back one night to assist this charity telethon.

Meanwhile the on-stage band nosily riffed away, like a congregation at a Pentecostal church, commenting on both the silent film action and the emoting singers.

Altogether, it simply blew me away -- I was never a big fan of music as a small kid but this oratorio like blend of fact-based talk and emotional singing and playing was much more my cuppa.

The first early - miracle years - of antibiotics, kiddies, wartime suddenly stopped being something remote and distant that my parents and teachers had often talked about without ever exciting me - to something very real, very close, very scary and yet very hopeful.

In a sense the telethon simply retold the events of Volume I, but from a child's mind view rather than from the viewpoint of an adult author.

Volume two will thus be more of a personal - childhood - memoir, reflecting upon the impact public events had on the awaking of my pro-commensality conscience.

Both are works that I am driven to research and write.

Driven as much by my own private attempts to understand my own generation's upbringing as by shared public concerns over our fate  - concerns held by many before and after my own generation ...

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