The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge

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Behind the Scenes

How did I come to write "The Iron Bridge"?

Author, David Morse

One of the shaping influences on the book was an experience I had fifteen years ago, visiting two different towns, on different sides of the planet: Weirton, West Virginia; and the town of Kamaishi, in Japan. These two towns, so different in language and culture, share in common a single feature so striking as to almost obliterate their geographic separation. A huge steelmill stood in the center of each, utterly dominating the economic life of the town. The low buildings surrounding it were stained rust red.

At Kamaishi I encountered a woman drying cuttlefish in the sun. She spoke only a little English, and I only a little Japanese, but she ran to the phone to call her English teacher. The following day, the teacher introduced me to another woman, also Japanese but with red hair. This red-haired woman claimed to be the descendent of a Dutch engineer, brought secretly to Kamaishi in the 1860s to help build Japan's first western-style blast furnace at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, when - after over two centuries of isolation - the Japanese were trying desperately to catch up with the West.

"Impossible" I was told later by knowledgeable officials. Japanese society was too closed during that era for such a foreigner to have been smuggled into Kamaishi without attracting attention.

The mystery remains, and in some inexplicable way continues to feed my fascination with ironmaking - just as the sight of those two towns dominated by their respective mills has become one in my mind, a testimony to the global dominance of large-scale technology in ordinary people's lives.

That, for me, is the meaning of the iron bridge.

The Iron Age took us from the Bronze Age of Homer well into the mid-twentieth century. Ironmaking put weapons into the hands of the masses, touched off vast migrations, altered the way humans related to nature. That is a huge span, although brief in evolutionary time - reaching from agricultural to industrial society. It has been largely an era of conquest of indigenous peoples and of the natural world. Only now are we beginning to see how destructive it has been, not just for the losers - those who were enslaved or robbed of their land or exterminated - but to the so-called victors.

Could that destructive path be altered, if we could somehow go back to the early Industrial Revolution and effect some small change? That is the premise behind "The Iron Bridge".

And what can we do today - seeing the fragility of eco-systems, watching tens of thousands of species vanish every year before they can even be identified, let alone understood - before it's too late? That is the question we all have to ask.

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© copyright David Morse, 2003-2011