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Open Features: The Porcelain Bowls

A writer with the pen name Pitter-Patter tells of two highly significant porcelain, then charts the course of recent human history.

The significance of the porcelain bowls.

They were just two small bowls that could fit into the palm of my hand. Plain white bowls with a little faded decoration, and around the rim of the one, a blob of what looked like melted plastic.

The valuer was quite frank when he assessed them, saying straight out, “On the surface of things, these bowls have no value at all. What can you tell me about their history?”

“My father served in the American Forces in Japan during WW2. He picked them up six miles from the centre of the city a few days after the explosion of the first atomic bomb,” replied the grey-haired man, gently touching the rim of one of them. One could see that he was remembering his father and all he had meant to him; the years they had shared together, the loss of the mother and sister and the momentous events of more than sixty years ago.

Temperatures over 1300 degrees Centigrade.

“Well, before we go any further I’d like to explain about these two small objects. They are made of unglazed porcelain with a bit of decoration around the sides. This kind of porcelain must be fired at temperatures in excess of 1300deg Centigrade, and the blobs around the rim indicate that where they were found temperatures higher than 1300deg C were reached, as the porcelain has started melting again.

The bowls are commonly used for drinking tea or broth; they are just everyday bowls of no particular importance. As I said, they have no value, but when you realise the significance of where they were found, six miles from the centre of Hiroshima a few days after the explosion of the first atomic bomb, and how that large Japanese city was literally vaporised by this explosion and the high temperatures it created, you begin to imagine what happened. It gives you some idea of the destruction that was caused, the enormous number of people who were killed and how the “mushroom-shaped cloud” which is etched in people’s memory as a symbol of the atomic bomb, destroyed a whole way of life in just a few seconds. What was lost can never be replaced. That explosion symbolised the destruction of innocence and a belief in man’s innate goodness. It has made mankind fearful of our potential for destruction and more mindful of the fragility of the world we live in. That enormous explosion which catapulted the world into the “atomic age” heralded huge technical advances, dangers and changes to our environment never seen before in world history.

So, in every respect, these two bowls your father picked up out of the ruins of Hiroshima on that day are...... Priceless.”

How our world has changed.

If the explosion of the Atomic Bomb over Japan on 6th August 1945 marked the beginning of the Atomic Age, then the scientific and chemical advances made during the war years have formed the basis of our lives today. The V1 and V2 rockets developed by the Germans in the last years of the war were the beginning of the rocket science that put man on the moon, while the electronic and technological advances made in communication and travel would never have occurred had it not been for the desperate need to invent and build aeroplanes to fight Hitler in the 1940s, leading to the jet age and the era of mass travel.

The “Space Race” and what it led to.

When America and Russia’s “Space Race” put satellites in space, it produced a communications tool that linked individuals and communities throughout the world. A “global village” was created where anyone with a cellphone has instant worldwide communication at his fingertips.

For the first time in history, medical science and chemistry has enabled women to control their own fertility with the birth-control pill. In consequence, social attitudes towards sex and marriage have changed beyond anything we and our parents could ever have imagined, and women are now emancipated to the point where former taboos have melted away.

And now, with all the capriciousness of human nature, when the family unit is breaking down, society is beginning to ponder on the propensity for man to constantly invent and re-invent itself whilst at the same time destroying so much of what was good. The pendulum is swinging the other way.

The world as we know it today.

The world is running out of resources; population increase is threatening supplies of food, water and raw materials; epidemic plagues are laying waste to populations without acquired immunity from the new diseases. In many countries crime and anti-social behaviour amongst the young is a huge problem.

To cap it all, fossil fuels are running out, with all that implies to society and world economies.

So - where do we go from here?


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