Many of us have enjoyed the Academy Award-winning film The Bridge on the River Kwai starring William Holden and Alec Guinness (released in 1957). Undoubtedly it is a great film, but it is also historically inaccurate according to Ernest Gordon, the author To End All Wars. Mr. Gordon, a Scottish captain during World War II, told his story as a first-person narrative, not just in order to set the record straight, but also because he was there and desired to bring to life again the many Allied prisoners of war who shared the tragic horror of inhumane treatment by the Japanese.
The Burma-Thailand railway, nicknamed the “Railway of Death” for the tragic toll it incurred, was the notorious 280-mile stretch passing through rainforest and malarial swampland that caused death through injury, starvation, overwork, and tropical diseases. A quarter of a million Asian workers were forced to work with sixty thousand Allied prisoners of war. Over eighty thousand men died during the railway’s construction – 393 lives lost for every mile of track constructed.
The brutality of the prisoner of war camps under the Japanese not only killed human beings, it destroyed souls. In To End All Wars, Mr. Gordon describes “the law of the jungle” that took over the hearts of prisoners and caused them to succumb to death even faster. The author takes readers on much more than simply a horrifying journey, however, because he found a way to rise above the suffering. Compassionate fellow inmates reached out to Gordon while he was in the “Death House” expected to die of complications of beriberi and began a transformation in his life that led to outward changes in camp life.
This fascinating story offers graphic details of prison life and authentic historical context of the war in southeast Asia. I am not a war novel or autobiography “buff”, but I was both mesmerized and uplifted. Mr. Gordon had a gift for storytelling and used it well to offer a narrative filled with passion, humility, and honesty. I believe one of the primary reasons he survived this experience was so he could tell us about it to help us overcome evil with good in our own war-torn 21st century.
“My father’s message and mission could be summed up in the word fellowship, a concept that guided him throughout his life. During his three-and-a-half years of captivity in the POW camps of southeast Asia, he learned the hardest lesson of all: to forgive- and even love- one’s enemies. These weren’t allegorical opponents from biblical times, but modern men of the twentieth century. While so many of his comrades were consumed by anger, he discovered a sustaining belief in God and the capacity for love – even in a death camp. “ Alastair Gordon, “In Memory of Ernest Gordon” 1916-2002, preface of To End All Wars).
Mr. Gordon’s book was first published in Great Britain under the title Through the Valley of the Kwai (1963) and subsequently in the U.S. as Miracle on the River Kwai (1965).
To End All Wars, (231 pages) was published by Zondervan in a 2002 edition with photos of the author, a preface by Mr. Gordon’s son offering a heartwarming epitaph of his father, and the author’s own reflections on his experience of returning to the River Kwai during the shooting of the film To End All Wars, a major motion picture starring Robert Carlyle and Kiefer Sutherland (released in 2001 and directed by David L. Cunningham).
For an in depth look at the 2001 movie, check this out: http://www.allinoneboat.org/2012/10/18/to-end-all-wars/.