Friday, April 22, 2011

River Kwai reminders of how atrocious man can be to man

It would be very remiss of me to visit Kanchanaburi province in Thailand, and not visit the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Of course, the bridge that's there now is not the same one built then destroyed during World War II. But close by, there are a pair of memorials that serve to remind us of man's inhumanity and brutality to his fellow man.

 Riding the tourist train over the Bridge on the River Kwai.

While the events that transpired around the bridge did not take place exactly like the movie (or for that matter, the novel) tells it - it was eventually blown up by a bomber airplane, not a group of commandos coming in through the jungle - the brutality and poor treatment of the POW's who worked there was real. That's all documented at the Jeath War Museum, located not far from the bridge in Kanchanaburi province.

A visit to that museum will show you displays of old newspaper accounts, as well as photos and artwork depicting the actions that took place there. There are also a few displays of some old army equipment from those times.

A quick drive will take you to the site of the bridge itself. There, you can ride a tourist train over the river along the bridge. At night, you can eat at a restaurant by the water and see the bridge lit up.

Hellfire Pass, also known as the "Konyu Cutting," was on the same railway line as the infamous and better-known bridge. The Thai and Australian governments joined forces to build a memorial museum and place markers along part of the trail where the old railway ran, to commemorate the horrific loss of life suffered here during World War II.

Walking the trail of the Hellfire Pass.

As I strolled down the trail, breathing the cool morning air of the jungle, it was hard to believe a place this peaceful was the scene of such horror and brutality.

Yet the images shown on film in the museum do not lie. There were some terrible things done here, people treated horribly. Going inside from the peace of the forest to seeing those images can jar one's senses.

Like any museum whose focus is war, or least military in nature, this museum's role is not to glorify battle and killing; rather, its most important role is to serve as a reminder of how badly humans can treat their fellow men and women - and remind us of how we have to guard against that, or - paraphrasing another war movie set in southeast Asia, Apocalypse Now! - to help us keep "the dark side (from) overcome(ing) ... the better angels of our nature."

Amen, to that.

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