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Contests on the River Kwai: how a wartime tragedy became a recreational, commercial and nationalistic plaything

By R W Braithwaite and Neil Leiper


In 1942–1945, the Imperial Japanese Army used prisoners of war and Asian labourers to construct and maintain a railway linking Thailand and Burma. Approximately 98,000 died, due in large part to harsh and often brutal treatment by the Japanese. Among the remnants of the railway is a ‘bridge on the River Kwai’, the best known of several sites along the railway route that tourists visit. Information regarding these sites’ wartime history varies in quality and some items distort or hide the truth. Discordant narratives reflect different commercial and nationalistic interests. Consequently, the experiences of many tourists can be summarised as recreation with a dash of lite infotainment, while the dark tragedy in the historic background is largely ignored. By learning about the history of the tragedy, people can learn what an ineffective and horrific way war is for resolving international problems and this can also help reconciliation between nations that were wartime opponents. However, peace through tourism is an impeded strategy. Learning about these issues is best achieved at home, through routine educational and social processes, away from the distractions of tourism

Topics: Prisoners of war, Thai –Burma railway, tourism narratives, dissonant heritage, dark tourism, Tourism
Publisher: ePublications@SCU
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1080/13683500903249312
OAI identifier:
Provided by: ePublications@SCU
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