Re-posted from July 2014
Two weeks to go before the publication of Robert F Kennedy jr’s book about vaccine mercury and we all know where we are headed: the same place as last year when Jenny McCarthy was given a job on ‘The View’ and Katie Couric scheduled a program in which the safety of HPV vaccines were questioned: the unspontaneous howls of pain are starting. It does not matter that the book is apparently couched in the most diplomatic language or that its claims have been diluted, it will be too much for the sensibilities of the vaccine lobby. I am sure we have often referred on these pages to Hans Christian Andersen’s tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ but this time I have been thinking of an even more succinct and ironic tale ‘The Princess and the Pea’. A prince wants to marry a princess but the only way it can be confirmed that she is a real princess is because the candidate is so sensitive that a pea hidden under a pile of mattresses causes her to lose a night’s sleep. I think we can be sure that the vaccine lobby is according to this definition “a real princess”, and that there is no criticism so slight that we will not be told about the terrible pain it has caused.
There is no doubt either that the voice of the princess is about to be heard in the land. There is no criticism so gentle or diplomatically couched that the princess can withstand the pain: the outraged opinion pieces will appear in every newspaper, the sage doctors will emerge from every corner on the TV saying “Get the damn vaccines”, we will have wall to wall Dorit Reiss: the princess will tell us how painful it all is. Of course the moral of Anderson’s story is that it is not princesses who have to endure a lot, it is ordinary people: the princess is a great deal more trouble than she is worth. She has also arranged that ordinary people cannot be heard, or they are brusquely pushed to the side. Only the princess’s pain really matters in the great scheme.
Of course, the argument will be that all this sensibility is for the benefit of ordinary people, but if this was so the princess would listen to ordinary people when they tried to express their pain rather than trying to shout them down or shut them up, hiring a mob to help her. The princess is highly manipulative and knows how to get her own way.
Unfortunately, Robert Kennedy will not be able to appease the princess any more than Jenny McCarthy or Katie Couric. Instead we will just have another great tantrum and the usual hysterical, unhinged display of self-righteousness.
The Princess on the Pea
By Hans Christian Andersen translated by Jean Hersholt
Once there was a Prince who wanted to marry a Princess. Only a real one would do. So he traveled through all the world to find her, and everywhere things went wrong. There were Princesses aplenty, but how was he to know whether they were real Princesses? There was something not quite right about them all. So he came home again and was unhappy, because he did so want to have a real Princess.
One evening a terrible storm blew up. It lightened and thundered and rained. It was really frightful! In the midst of it all came a knocking at the town gate. The old King went to open it.
Who should be standing outside but a Princess, and what a sight she was in all that rain and wind. Water streamed from her hair down her clothes into her shoes, and ran out at the heels. Yet she claimed to be a real Princess.
"We'll soon find that out," the old Queen thought to herself. Without saying a word about it she went to the bedchamber, stripped back the bedclothes, and put just one pea in the bottom of the bed. Then she took twenty mattresses and piled them on the pea. Then she took twenty eiderdown feather beds and piled them on the mattresses. Up on top of all these the Princess was to spend the night.
In the morning they asked her, "Did you sleep well?"
" Oh!" said the Princess. "No. I scarcely slept at all. Heaven knows what's in that bed. I lay on something so hard that I'm black and blue all over. It was simply terrible."
They could see she was a real Princess and no question about it, now that she had felt one pea all the way through twenty mattresses and twenty more feather beds. Nobody but a Princess could be so delicate. So the Prince made haste to marry her, because he knew he had found a real Princess.
As for the pea, they put it in the museum. There it's still to be seen, unless somebody has taken it.
There, that's a true story.
John Stone is UK Editor of Age of Autim