My viewing of Public TV tonight was focused on the Japanese railroad associated with the Bridge on the River Kwai made famous in a movie I happened to see in the early sixties. The program was "Secrets of the Dead".
Most of these historical "mystery" shows are stretched almost interminably to fill the time slot building to the final seconds of significance. This program did build to the finish, but was however interesting from start to finish. There was new information..at least new to me..that guided bombs were used in WWII to hit the 4-foot wide railroad and wooden bridges on the railroad built with slave labor.
The perspective started with the engineering angle. How could such a massive project be completed in wartime with scarce resources and equipment in terrible jungle conditions for work and disease. Ironically, the engineering of the bridges was based on a US engineering manual used by railroads building trestles in the US and copied by the Japanese.
One of the Japanese engineers was still alive, but seemed to be in a complete state of denial of the actual horror of the construction and the inhumane treatment of indentured Asian laborers and families and the British, American, and Australian war prisoners. A Japanese engineer who was notorious for sadistic treatment of workers and prisoners had been filmed before his death claiming that the deaths were due to prisoners and laborers failing to eat sufficient rice. They were actually systematically beaten and worked to death as well as starved.
Several ironic points in the story however. When it came to knocking out the actual bridge on the river Kwai, it was not done with guided bombs, but with 4 1000-pound bombs dropped from very low elevation and aimed at the concrete pilings of the bridge.
The engineer interested in the engineering of the railroad became convinced as he saw the evidence that while it was an engineering accomplishment, it was also almost emotionally devastating because the story is the near equivalent of a holocaust in pursuit of wartime engineering. Probably over 100,000 people died in the construction of that railroad. The irony in that was that perhaps only 9 prisoners and workers died in the contruction of the actual Bridge on The River Kwai.
The final line or nearly the final words in the program were by a survivor of that terrible ordeal who remembering his feelings when US soldiers finally rescued them from the Japanese military and military engineers, his response was something like, "I finally realized I was a free man again. I had beaten the bastards and now I could say "no" again."
The right to say "no" is critical. If we cannot disagree with our government or are given only terrible alternatives and punishments for disagreement, the "freedom to say yes" is not terribly significant in comparison with the right to say no. The idea that we should have a draft again is another way to remove the freedom to say "no".
While it may be a stretch from the Bridge on the River Kwai to South Dakota, the recent attempt by theocrats in SD to make it impossible for women and girls to say "no" to carrying a rapist genes in their children and depriving them control of their own bodies also indicated the significance of the "freedom to say "NO"." Rapist rights were partially shot down in the recent election and women retained some of their rights to just say no even if it is after the fact of "no" being meainingless to protect them.
***Stay tuned even if now and then you just can't take your eyes of of history on TV---Doug Wiken