Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja
Sithu, Dr. Khin Muang Nyunt
In the post WWII period, many films with war background appeared on the screens, among them “The Bridge over The River Kwai” was the hit. The writer of this article saw this film at home and in London many times. Besides, he himself had the experience of acting as a side part in one war background Film named “Yesterday’s Enemy” and a war background story “He refused to die” which was serialized in John Bull Magazine November 1958. In the former the writer was a Japanese soldier depicting and behaving like a typical fascist soldier uttering few vulgar words and curses in Japanese. In the latter he posed as a village headman and the late Ko Kyaw Myint, Rector of Mandalay University and Director-General of Higher Education took the role of a village monk. We both were trying to give all possible help to a British paratrooper who was dropped in the Jungle. While the writer was a lecturer at Mawlamyine College, he visited Thanbyuzayat and the site of Death Railway and the Bridge with the help of his students from those remote areas. So the writer has many sentimental feelings in addition to his historical research in writing this article.
A quick look at the historical backdrop of WWII for the sake of present new generations. The First World War ended in 1918 with the signing of Versaille Treaty and other associated treaties. The League of Nations headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland had the Covenant which vowed to ban war forever and restore peace for good. International conflicts be settled by peaceful means. But all these treaties and the League could not work after an interval of two decades. The treaties contained the seeds of another war and the League could not peacefully settle the conflicts between big powers. There arose new, dynamic leaderships in defected nations — Hitler with his Nazism in Germany, Mossaloni with his Fascism in Italy and militarism of Kampeti in Japan. New generations hailed and haloed them everywhere. In Asia, SE Asia and the Far East, Japan became a role model to emulate in their struggles against the respective Colonial Rulers – the British, the French and the Dutch. Harvesting on the new political situations in Asia, Japan began its militarism with effective slogans: “Asia for the Asiaties” “East Asia Economic Co-prosperity Sphere”.
Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Kampeti Japan formed “Axis Power Alliance”, Germany to lead the entire Europe, Italy to lead entire Mediterranean world and Japan to lead East Asia and Asia. Myanmar young nationalists were attracted to Japan. Japanese wooed them. Aung San led his comrades in quest of a foreign assistance. Japan timely came in.
The above was a brief of how we Myanmar people were drawn into WWII. The Japanese left no stone unturned in their effort to win their cause. In the first phase of the WWII the Axis Powers gained supper hand. When Japanese occupied mainland SE Asia especially Thailand and Myanmar they began their work to support their armies.
The Bridge ove the River Kwai was a wooden Bridge for the train to supply all needs for the Japanese armies. It was across a jungle river called Kwai in Thai at the border between Thailand and Myanmar. The construction of the Bridge began in 1942 and finished in 1943. Starting from Ban Paung in Thailand and its end terminus was Thanbyuzayat, a town in Mon State of Myanmar. The total length of the rail line was 258 miles [413 kilometers]. This long rail line crossed 680 bridges, mostly built of timber trestle. Only eight of them were iron structures seven of which were on Myanmar side. With no machinery and no high technology, the line and the bridges were literally built by hand tools and human labour under most difficult climate, physical environment and health hazards. Malaria infested jungles, heavy monsoon, shortage of food, health care and medicine plus tortures and atrocities of Japanese soldiers. Deaths, loss of lives and limbs were untold. Estimated death tolls was 123,621 Prisoners of war [Pows], over 90,000 forced labour of local and Asian civilians [known in Myanmar as Chway Tat – Sweat Army]. Among deaths, Malays topped – 45,000 and Myanmar came next 40,000. The rest were Chinese, Indians, Javanese and Indo-Chinese. Though officially called “Siam-Burma Railway” it acquired the notorious name, “Death Railway” which in Myanmar is called till today “They min taman Lan” [Railway taking to the King of the Death Kingdom].
The total number of Prisoners of war (P.O.W) of the Western allies was over 12,000. British Pows number over 6,900, Australian Pows over 2,800 and American POWs. 100.
On 4 January 2016 which was the 68th anniversary of that Day that a site museum of the Death Railway line was officially opened in Thanbyuzayat Town in Mon State of Myanmar. Speaking on the occasion the Chief Minister of Mon State government Excellency U Ohn Myint says “This museum was built by the Mon State government and Tala Mon Co. Groups. Previous effects did not succeed to complete. Now, we have done our job…” U Min Binna San, Chairman of Tala Mon Co. Groups also spoke on the occasion. He says that “in addition to the museum, there are recreation park, play and sports ground, restaurants, souvenir shops, public conveniences and parking lots. Public can relax after viewing the displays in the museum. In the museum are shown photos, pictures, press-cuttings and memo rabilias pertaining to WWII and Death Railway. Prominent was the charcoal run locomotive which pulls a daily pleasure ride on the bridge for half a mile for visitors and tourists. The original locomotive that first ran the Death Train on the very first day on its operation is displayed outside the Museum.
Present on the occasion of the museum opening, there was a veteran Japanese army officer and his family. He was Mr Mikio Kinoshinla. While the Death Railway and the Bridge were built in 1942 he was a young army officer aged 24 [Company Commander] He eyewitnessed all difficulties, tortures and atrocities. He himself was involved in driving forced labourers in the construction of the Death Rail and the wooden bridge. He could still recapture the inhumane scenes of these days. He condemned war and worked for peace. He prayed there be peace in Myanmar. He donated cash and kind to orphanages and village monasteries. In the post WWII period he visited Myanmar 26 times. He was glad that the museum was opened for all to see and to be convinced that all wars and all armed conflicts never solve problems, they only lead to more wars and more armed conflicts.
In connection with this tragic story of Death Railway and the Bridge, the writer of this Article recalls another antiwar and pro-peace film shot by a Japanese Film Co. It was titled “The Harp of Burma” which wpm many Academy Awards. It was a true, real story of a Japanese army officer who unbelievably found kindness of Myanmar people both rural and urban and both laity and clergy after Japan was defeated and unconditionally surrendered after the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Instead of taking vegenance upon Japanese soldiers who had persecuted them during Occupation, they showed kindness to the Japanese soldiers. He was rescued by a Burmese village monk and villagers sheltered but hidden. He was given food, clothing and shelter and loving kindness. He made a Burme harp and made a village boy play. The boy played it with Myanmar classical songs. He shut his mouth regarding his Japanese master. Later the Japanese soldier liked that peaceful life in the village. He became a Buddhist monk. When orders came calling upon Japanese soldiers to return to Japan, he did not. He kept quiet and incognito, He, as a Myanmar Buddhist monk, he moved about in Myanmar societies. Torn between his homeland and family and adopted land he chose the latter where he was laid to rest. A very touching story.
The Writer wants to give his simple message to the readers.
Love begets love.
Kindness is returned by kindness.
To err is human,
but to forgive is divine.
Let’s forget our wrongs and mistakes
Move forward with our good heart
and good deeds.