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Carnival at Thai Bridge Criticized

By Micool Brooke, Associated Press,
Monday 27 November 2000 9:53 AM ET

MANCHANABURI, Thailand (AP) - Hundreds of revelers whooped it up Monday at the Bridge on the River Kwai in a garish carnival that some veterans said commercializes a World War II atrocity - the Thai-Myanmar Death Railway.

More than 100,000 Asians and 13,000 Allied prisoners of war from Australia, Britain, the United States, New Zealand and the Netherlands died building the bridge and the 260-mile railway under the yoke of the Japanese Army.

At the carnival, which commemorates the start of the Allied bombing campaign against the bridge in November 1944, Thais and foreign tourists enjoyed rides, discos and rock concerts.

In Japan, the war is not even discussed, but here at the River Kwai it's a big party with dancing girls, said Yugo Saso, 27, a visiting Japanese actor.

The noisy two-week festival got under way Sunday after a somber memorial ceremony in the rain attended by Western diplomats, veterans and Thai officials at a nearby war cemetery in Kanchanaburi, 80 miles west of Bangkok.

Tim Moffat, 41, of Kansas, a school teacher in Kanchanaburi, said he was appalled by a replica bamboo hospital with 50 wooden crosses nearby, built to give festival-goers a feeling of wartime.

Kanchanaburi has built a prosperous tourism industry out of its war history, thanks largely to the success of the 1957 Academy Award winning film, The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Pong-anan Sunpanich, the Tourism Authority of Thailand director in Kanchanaburi, defended a glitzy sound-and-light show depicting the U.S. air-raid that finally knocked out the bridge in June 1945. The show's plot includes a fictional love triangle, pitting a Japanese officer against an Allied POW for the affections of a Thai beauty queen.

The story helps express the pain and anguish of those who were forced to labor building the bridge, Pong-anan said.

But Japanese war veteran Takashi Nagase, 83, who has made more than 100 missions of atonement to the River Kwai after serving as a military police interpreter during the war, said he was ashamed.

For the Thais it's just a carnival, he told The Associated Press. But we Japanese feel a deep sense of shame at how sensitive issues are so rudely portrayed in the light and sound show.