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Saturday, May 22, 2010

HEROINE: This statue of legendary nurse Florence Nightingale can be found at Waterloo Place, Westminster, London
By Alan Rogers
AS HUMANS we are an intricate part of nature and many of our scientific discoveries often derive from the wars in our world.
We have experienced so many wars with losses of life to soldiers and undoubtedly even more civilians of so very many nations, yet many beneficial discoveries are the result of such conflicts.
Take for instance the Crimean War, when legendary nurse Florence Nightingale in the 1860s discovered a natural antiseptic plant, sphagnum moss, growing in temperate climate peat bogs which proved to be a substitute for lint in plugging bullet holes and sabre slashes. It worked.
I recently read in The Borneo Post about the Iban Trackers of the Sarawak Rangers during World War II and later during the Emergency.
I just wonder how many soldiers they saved with their local knowledge of healing medicinal plants ... now recognised and identified by medical experts internationally as a source of scientific development here in East Malaysia. That horrible barbed wire defensive measure, often used on the perimeters of our factories and land enclosures, was a product of the Boer Wars in 1900 to 1905. Rocket design in World War II led eventually to putting man on the moon some 30 plus years later We fly overseas in jet planes — aircraft were devised late in World War II but first came into military action in the Korean War, during the opening years of the 1950s.
The resulting travel is easier but we do leave large carbon footprints when we make these trips.
It was with great surprise when in 1941 a German Luftwaffe fighter pilot ran out of fuel and baled out to be arrested by six women of the Air Raid Precaution Wardens in the far South West of England.
He offered no resistance for they gave him a cup of tea whilst they were more concerned about his silk parachute, which they cut into six sections. Rumour has it at dire times in that war, they wore the best petticoats in Cornwall!
As from 1943, to replace unavailable Asian silk and hemp, parachutes in Britain and in Germany were made of nylon, a synthetic product invented by the Wallace Brothers at Dupont Chemicals in the US in 1935.
The starting point of the invasion of plastic into our lives and the changing of the oceans into gigantic garbage dumps. A young PhD student first suggested the demise of poly bags in shops in a small coastal town in the UK some four to five years ago. The shopkeepers there accepted her ideas and subsequently most major supermarkets in the UK have followed suit.
Thank goodness non recyclable plastic shopping bags are on the way out and let’s hope hemp or paperwill replace such synthetic material. How many of us can remember the photograph in our newspapers on June 8, 1972 depicting the absolute cruelty of war inflicted on an innocent nine-year-old girl as she ran naked along a road near Trang Bong in Vietnam? She was very badly burnt by a napalm bomb. That lady now lives happily in North America. She was saved and treated with the use of a synthetic/nylon based pressure garment especially devised by an Illinois company for victims so burned in that war.
Thank goodness for the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which banned the use of napalm on civilians. Some 10 years later, my son as an eight-month-old child pulled a kettle of boiling hot water over him destroying 15 per cent of his upper torso skin. He lived in a similar pressure garment for two and a half years and was thus saved by a young physiotherapist who had learned of the napalmvictim’s garment. What a fantastic by product of war.
Today some 27 years later, he is an international hockey player, recently gaining his 50th Senior Hockey cap for Wales versus no other team than Malaysia in the World Cup Qualifying Championships in New Zealand. Suffice to say Malaysia won by one goal!
We have read in recent editions of The Borneo Post articles highlighting prosthetic limb designs and a new tongue sensor device for those blinded and badly damaged by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whilst there is a tragic loss of life in any war, those killed will never realise that because of their sacrifice much scientific progress has been made. The ravages of war have left marks on humans and the natural world.
Next week, I shall focus on more subtle meteorological advances through several wars, which few realise or indeed know little about but affect us all today.

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