I have just finished reading an excellent book:
“And The Band Played On – Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic” by Randy Shilts.
The ‘Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic’ part of the title lets you know that this is NOT a fun read! It is a book which had me drowning in a whirlpool of emotions, heartbreak, anger, incredulity, despondency…..respect, admiration, hope…
In essence, it’s the story of the ‘appearance’ of HIV and AIDS in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s (though it wasn’t known by these acronyms until nearer the mid 1980’s).
I don’t want to give too much away – I’m recommending the book so I don’t want to spoil it for you – but I will say this:
I was shocked – literally, shocked – by what I read and learnt.
I am assuming that the first part of the book’s title, “And The Band Played On” is a reference to the band on The Titanic which kept on playing until the doomed liner went down.
If my assumption is correct, I further assume that it’s a parallel with the stoicism and courage of so many patients/victims, and helpers, doctors, administrators and politicians who stuck their heads above the parapet, faced up to a barrage of hate and kept trying, at the worst of times, to make people feel better and to make a difference.
Aside, however, from that (assumed) reference to The Titanic, I kept thinking of the stricken ship throughout my reading of the book. Read it and you will understand what I mean by ‘saying’ that just as no one should have died on the Titanic (and almost certainly would not have done if there had been enough lifeboats on the liner to hold all of the passengers and crew till help arrived), no one should have been killed by AIDS (or, more precisely, many, many who did die should still be alive and well today).
Arrogance, ego and money killed more than 1,500 passengers and crew on The Titanic.
Now, referring to SOME gay/bisexual people, some drug users and addicts, some politicians, some scientists/doctors, some civil rights advocates and workers, utter stupidity, mind boggling selfishness, naivety, ignorance, ambition, greed, jealousy, weakness, hatred to a psychopathic extent, it all killed, in the early/mid 80’s, hundreds of thousands of people, people who died agonising, horrible, terrifying deaths (and, to some extent, less in some ways, the same in others, those ‘forces’ are still in play, killing millions, literally millions, of people today).
Randy Shilts’ incredible research and his obvious heartfelt ambition and mission to give us a real, multi-dimensional understanding of the AIDS tragedy, the AIDS horror, the AIDS disaster, the AIDS scandal, has produced a monumental triumph of a book.
Having read the book, I now realise that I, to all intents and purposes, relative to what I know now, knew virtually nothing about HIV/AIDS before I read the book.
Of course, most people do have a rudimentary knowledge of HIV and AIDS and it’s that knowledge/memory of what happened in the 80’s that makes for such depressing reading of decisions taken, and not taken, in the early 80’s, makes for such depressing reading of the petty jealousies, ambitions and egos which blinded decision makers to facts and common sense, such depressing reading of the hatred and selfishness which we now know led to disaster. So many times during my reading of the book, I, literally, shut my eyes, my heart sank to the floor, knowing that the decisions and attitudes about which I was reading, knowing that they were fatal – cataclysmic.
According to “‘amfAR’, the Foundation for AIDS Research””
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 78 million people have contracted HIV and 35 million have died of AIDS-related causes.
That is a STAGGERING number but what is more staggering, and alarming, is that we only seem to hear about it when Elton John or George Michael is putting on a benefit concert – Elizabeth Taylor is sorely missed! As a society, we must ask why so many people, MILLIONS, are still dying agonizing, horrible deaths in relative silence. I’m sure that the fatal and destructive influences/forces of bigotry, ‘general’ and religious, and corruption are helping to feed the virus.
In 2015, 36.7 million people were living with HIV – another staggering number.
….and a statistic that really shocked me:
every day about 5,753 people contract HIV—about 240 every hour.
I keep referring to ‘statistics’ but those involved in AIDS work, charities, foundations, education, fund raising, of course they have to keep publicising the numbers, the statistics, but we need to know more about the people who are dying. Statistics are cold facts and, tragically, the bigger the numbers get, the harder it becomes for people to get their heads around them (Joseph Stalin allegedly once said to U.S. ambassador Averill Harriman: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic”). Health workers, educators, the charity and foundation workers, they need to humanise the messages, show and tell the world about the actual people who are dying – that is how to raise awareness and, crucially, consciousness. The continuing tragedy needs to penetrate hearts as well as brains.
From the bottom of my heart, I hope – and I do believe – that Randy Shilts’ great work will play a major part in waking people up to the tragedy of AIDS. It is not ‘just’ a virus striking at gay men, it affects society as a whole but even if it was only affecting gay men, that would not mean that everyone else could relax and ignore it. We are ALL part of one society, a society known as mankind and that being so, our hearts should go out to all who suffer.
PLEASE, read Randy Shilts’ book – it’s a real education about one of the avoidable tragedies of out time.