The "Vietnam Syndrome"
Project Inform concluded its commentary with some speculation about Duesberg's motives for continuing to pursue the controversy. Portraying Duesberg as "a propagandist, not a reasoning scientist," Project Inform's report noted the incendiary quality of Duesberg's claims when he labeled AZT as "iatrogenic genocide": "He presses the hot buttons of genocide, distrust of authority, fear of doctors, and suspicion of business—all in two carefully chosen words." Why would Duesberg be doing this? What could he possibly stand to gain? And doesn't the fact that he is being silenced by the scientific establishment mean that the AIDS movement should support him? Project Inform had its analysis at the ready: "Having gone out on this limb, personally and professionally, he got stuck there and is hanging on with great tenacity. It is true that the scientific mainstream sometimes (but rarely) makes a giant error and clings stubbornly to it, it is far more common that individual scientists do so."
Had Duesberg—along with other dissenters whose credibility was on the line, like Sonnabend and Root-Bernstein—simply gone too far to turn back? Had they become trapped by the nature of their prior investments? Even Bryan Ellison acknowledged, in describing his mentor's progress: "He slowly got more and more into it, and now, what's he going to do, back out?" Yet such arguments cut both ways.
Thomas Ryan, a supporter of Duesberg writing in the gay magazine Christopher Street , used the metaphor of the U.S. government's pursuit of victory in Vietnam to describe the ongoing commitment of the establishment to the HIV hypothesis: they simply had invested too heavily to pull out. And this could be said not just of the scientists, whose professional reputations were at stake, but of the wider "AIDS community" that had fashioned its very identity in response to the ramifications of the HIV hypothesis. "If anything positive has resulted from the AIDS crisis, it is the solidarity it has inspired in the gay community, and nothing has so threatened that uity as the HIV debate," wrote Ryan. Or as Drew Hopkins, another Duesberg sympathizer also writing in Christopher Street , observed: "If HIV is not the cause, the entire body of AIDS advocacy is undone from its foundation. Every issue must be re-examined from a new, uncertain perspective. Such a confusing period would also generate a dangerous vulnerability. As AIDS has become a more and more political issue, it would take very little for a Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, or William Dannemeyer to seize the day, using the period of reassessment on the part of the AIDS community to conduct still more virulent campaigns of fear and hatred."