Just reading a new book* about the life of Jonas Salk, famous for being first to develop a successful polio vaccine in the mid 50’s. As a child in NY watching Armistice Day parades at the end of WWI he never forgot the images of amputee soldiers marching with a missing arm or a leg. That same year he also watched as horse-drawn wagons rolled down the street filled with coffins of the victims of an epic influenza epidemic. He observed children in schoolyards with leg braces from American’s first polio virus pandemic in1916. He resolved right then to do something good for mankind that would relieve sickness and suffering.
Most of us have similar stories about images from our youth that ignite our minds and set us on a path - to be a fireman, a scientist, a veterinarian, or to run Dad’s business. My own was very similar to Salk’s, but took place years later during WWII when I saw newspaper photos about the war’s victims in Europe, the wounded and dying, widows and orphans. Wondering why I was ok and they were not was a big life question for me. And I decided right then, when I grew up I would work to stop wars from bringing chaos and pain to people’s lives.
It took awhile for my resolve to be realized: I was in my early forties when I launched a magazine devoted to reporting on the science of defense. “Countermeasures”, followed by “Defense Science 2001+” featured articles by experts on the philosophies and tools of war, in an effort to educate our military, government, and industry leaders about our country’s inter-disciplinary capabilities that would ensure we would win any altercation and thereby limit or eliminate the desire of potential enemies to tempt our resolve to use them. With my interest in art, instead of guns and tanks on my covers and features I used artwork from the brushes of my internal staff and artists like op art visionary Victor Vasarely. I interviewed more than 200 industry and government leaders and gave voice to their efforts to prevent war in the skies, under the sea, and through the ever miniaturizing world of microchips. I published editorials by experts like Edward Teller, Alvin Toffler and Issac Asimov. With a circulation of more than 55,000 my magazines were read by generals, CEO’s and congressman. It seemed to be working: the Berlin Wall came down in November of 1989 and after 17 years as a publisher, I was ready to turn my attention to art, painting and my own particular visions.
Jonas Salk encountered incredible obstacles in the process of realizing his potential as a scientist and humanitarian. And debate continues even today about what he ultimately accomplished. For me, the fact has to be faced that the war on war is far from over; rather it’s a constant battle and one each generation apparently has to fight in its own time and place. “I had my fling,” quipped Salk when his efforts to develop a vaccine against Multiple Sclerosis ended in a blind alley. Then he went on to help in the fight against HIV. Quite a mindset, if you ask me.
*See Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs