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Chapter 1 | Rachel Carson | American Experience | PBS

Chapter 1 | Rachel Carson | American Experience | PBS


It was 1962 — the height of the Cold War — a moment when unrelenting anxiety about the future was leavened by an abiding faith in the power of science to secure our safety and prosperity. Then came an incendiary book that sowed seeds of doubt. This is one of the nation’s best sellers,
first printed on September 27, 1962. Up to now 500,000 copies have been sold, and
Silent Spring has been called the most controversial book of the year. At the eye of the storm was Rachel Carson, one of the most celebrated American writers of her time. With her first three books — a lyrical
trilogy about the sea — Carson had opened people’s eyes to the natural world. Now, in Silent Spring, she delivered the dark
warning that they might soon destroy it. If we are ever to solve the basic problem
of environmental contamination, we must begin to count the many hidden costs of what we are doing. Miss Carson maintains that the balance of
nature is a major force in the survival of man. Whereas the modern chemist, the modern biologist,
the modern scientist believes that man is steadily controlling nature. It was sort of the gospel at the time that
human ingenuity would triumph over nature; what Carson was arguing was for caution. She really confronted the orthodoxies of her time. She was accused of being a Communist, of being
a hysterical, female Luddite. The reaction was to attack the messenger. Carson was an unlikely heretic. Dutiful, demure, and so jealous of her solitude
that her most intimate relationship was conducted mainly through letters, she’d thrust herself into the public eye — all the while harboring a secret that was literally killing her. To some, Silent Spring was an act of heroism; to others, an irresponsible breach of scientific objectivity. But there could be no dispute that with her
rebuke to modern technological science, Carson had shattered a paradigm. Rachel Carson not only changed the kind of
questions we ask about the environment; I think she caused us to start to ask those
questions. She’s the instigator. In mid-July 1945, as the Second World War
ground on in the Pacific and weary Americans scanned the morning’s headlines for the word
“victory,” Rachel Carson was trying to call attention to what she believed was a war against
the earth. Carson was 38 that summer, and restless. A writer by inclination and a biologist by
training, she’d spent much of the previous decade in the employ of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, overseeing publications about its conservation work. The job paid the bills; but Carson craved
a wider audience. Now, the agency had undertaken a study she
felt warranted public attention. As she put it in a letter to the popular monthly
Reader’s Digest: “Practically at my backdoor…in Maryland an experiment of more than ordinary interest and importance is going on.” On a vast, forested tract at the Patuxent
Research Refuge, not far from Carson’s home in Silver Spring, Fish and Wildlife scientists
had begun to examine the environmental impacts of a relatively new chemistry-lab creation: a so-called “synthetic” pesticide known as DDT. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, DDT. It was first synthesized back in the 19th
century and it sat on lab shelves for decades. Nobody knew if it did anything, if it had
any useful purpose, until 1939 when a Swiss chemist named Paul Müller discovered that it was a very potent insecticide and killed all kinds of bugs very readily. Absorbed through the feet or other parts of the body, DDT effects the nervous system and motor coordination of the insect. Several hours elapse before symptoms develop; then in sequence follows restlessness, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and death. Farmers have been doing war with insects and
other pests for a long time and they had been using what we think of now as almost obviously homicidal poisons to do that. But for the first time we have a sort of new
generation pesticide. It’s a whole new fascinating kind of chemical
formula that’s not obviously toxic to people and insects are dying all over the place. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S.
military had rushed DDT to the battle zones, in an effort to protect American troops from
insect-borne diseases such as typhus — which was spread by lice, and left untreated could kill. This was Naples, Italy, shortly after the
Allied occupation. Its crowded population lacked almost everything
for the safeguarding of public health. The perfect set-up for epidemic. Naples is really a city under siege. And typhus spreads quickly under those kinds
of conditions. So they set up spray stations in the cities,
spraying thousands of people a day with hand sprayers — people who wanted to get sprayed,
people who didn’t wanna get sprayed, children, elderly. Next, the 40,000 Italians dwelling in the
jam-packed air raid shelters were deloused. In all, more than a million people were dusted
with DDT, and the epidemic was stopped in its tracks. “Neapolitans,” the New York Times reported,
“are now throwing DDT at brides instead of rice.” Meanwhile, in the tropical Pacific theater — where more soldiers had been sidelined by malaria than by gunshot wounds — entire islands
were saturated with DDT. General Douglas MacArthur once said that in
war an Army commander had three divisions, one in the front fighting, one in reserve,
and one in the rear being refitted. He said, “I have one in the front, one in
reserve, and one in the hospital” because of malaria. But with DDT that problem diminished substantially. It was considered to be a miracle substance
in that it saved hundreds of thousands of lives. By the middle of 1944, TIME magazine had pronounced
DDT “one of the great scientific discoveries of World War II.” To Reader’s Digest, Rachel Carson was offering
a new angle — a piece exploring DDT’s potential to cause collateral damage to wildlife. Biologists for the Fish and Wildlife Service
begin to see pretty quickly that when DDT is used in certain areas there’s evidence
of problems. There’s evidence of fish kill or bird kill
and they see that and like any expert they publish it in a place where other experts
will read it. But how that information then filters out
to a larger public is a very big question. Carson understood the implications of this. She wanted to write a story warning people
that, “We need to be a little bit careful with this. This looks like it’s a great thing but we
maybe need to be cautious in how we use it, how much of it we use.” But Reader’s Digest doesn’t want this article. They essentially say, “Oh, housewives would
be just turned off by this. They wouldn’t wanna know about this terrible
stuff so no. No, thank you.”

Comments (24)

  1. Much needed story to be re-told!

  2. its hard to imagine why people would give thumbs down for Rachel Carsons work, her work seems to me more important now than even , esp considering we keep hearing that were in the biggest extinction period since the loss of the dinosaurs. And the pathetic excsuses, ill defined time lines for this loss , general disinformation & censorship nowadays. Geo-engineering , High Frequency Atmospheric heater arrays, Monsanto Weedkillers & GM. This is suicide, maybe Genocide a better word, all for the dollar.

  3. I was her in the 5th grade wax museum

  4. Because of this person, millions still die of malaria around the world, curse this person and her book.!!

  5. Why would people dislike Rachel carson she saved animals and us from DDT

    R.I.P Rachel carson
    Will be remembered

  6. She died 2 years after her book came out. Strange.

  7. Thanks so much! Really gonna help me with my humanities project.

  8. Big thanks from the Ecological Manifesto (https://www.facebook.com/EcologicalManifesto/?ref=br_rs) for sharing this video!

  9. Rachel Carson was a great hero we need more like her more than ever now that they are spraying again with the solar Geo Engineering program

  10. She was a intelligent biologist and save animals

  11. In 2nd grade we had to do a person who died and I had to be Rachel Carson She was born in Pennsylvania

  12. OMG THAT CHEMIST MESSING WITH CHEMICALS WITHOUT GLOVES :O

  13. Of course every time we jump in the car or on a plane (which are really just mechanical polluting devices) we are killing ourselves and our children. But it's all so universal, it seems innocuous.

  14. THANK YOU RACHEL CARSON FOR SAVING THE NATURAL WORLD–INCLUDING US HUMANS.

  15. This woman's misinformed book is single handedly responsible for the 100's of millions of people's deaths world wide via insect borne illnessess. Chagas, Lyme, Bed Bugs Lysteria, Malarira, EEE and West Nile have all been around millions of years and we're finally put into check by the USA in 1897. After this knucklehead wrote her misinformed manifesto in 1962 they ALL had a massive resurgence. Killing 100's of millions of people. The WHO has actually started to back the use of DDT again to combat most of these diseases. Don't believe me look it up.

  16. She ought to be far more famous than Doris Day.

  17. Learn more about our documentary, RACHEL CARSON, including where to watch the full film: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/rachel-carson/

  18. If only someone had told her that Mercury was in our vaccines….

  19. She's an idiot, an extremist, a provacatour and has no sense morale compass. This woman's misinformed book is single handedly responsible for the 100's of millions of people's deaths world wide via insect borne illnessess. Chagas, Lyme, Bed Bugs Lysteria, Malarira, EEE and West Nile have all been around millions of years and we're finally put into check by the USA in 1897. After this knucklehead wrote her misinformed manifesto in 1962 they ALL had a massive resurgence. Killing 100's of millions of people. The WHO has actually started to back the use of DDT again to combat most of these diseases. Don't believe me look it up.

  20. Rachel Carson was a great and pioneer to world people welfare. Scientists told that DDT was good for people and plants. Biut Rachel made experiments about DDT and found it was harmful both people and plants After appeal to Government to ban DDT, finally it was banned . It was her greatness

  21. Wow Rachel Carson is Lee epic god I rlly need dis for Lee epic test

  22. https://bookerystore.com/downloads/silent-spring/

  23. I am in 5th grade and I read Rachel Carson I know her books like silent spring and those dangerous chemicals called pesticides bug killers she struggled either to be a writer or scientist when I grow up I will be just like her I want to be a scientist and she chose to be both writer and scientest like if you love Rachel Carson she saved the world from almost dying she saved humans and animals and life women of our time:Rachel Carson May 27 1907 to April 14 1964

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