THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

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I recently watched (for perhaps the fourth time) the 1957 Academy Award Winning Classic “Bridge on the River Kwai.” However, for the first time, I saw a message to chiropractors in the movie! One would hardly think that a war movie would have something to say to us as chiropractors! The storyline involved a group of prisoners of war, mostly English soldiers, who were required by the Japanese to build a railroad bridge over a remote jungle river which would eventually aid the Japanese in their invasion of India. The Japanese commander was a ruthless man with one objective: the completion of the bridge. He would accomplish his objective at all cost. Men worked until they dropped and the miles of dense jungle surrounding them made escape a futile effort. The movie begins with a new group of POW’s, led by a Colonel Nicholson, who was brought in to continue work on the bridge. A Confrontation immediately occurs between the British colonel and the Japanese commander when the colonel refuses to let his officers work on the bridge. He cites the Geneva Convention which states that only enlisted prisoners can be required to work. Despite the threat of death for himself and his officers he holds to his principle. Despite days of torture and privation he does not relent. Finally the Japanese commander is forced to concede and exempt the officers from working on the bridge, an act which causes the Japanese a tremendous loss of face. Over the next few days the colonel, along with his officers, observe the erection of the bridge. It is going so poorly, partially due to the sabotage and purposeful actions of the enlisted POW’s building it, that the Japanese commander is already contemplating harikari. The colonel decides that if he were overseeing the building of the bridge he could have it erected far better than the feeble efforts of the Japanese engineers. An outstanding performance by Alec Guiness as the British colonel transforms the building of the bridge over the River Kwai from something that he would not lift a finger to help in doing to an obsession. The colonel can think of nothing else but erecting the most beautiful bridge in the world that will last a hundred years and be a monument to the British soldier. When it looks as though the deadline will not be met for the completion of the bridge, Colonel Nicholson even asks the officers to help in the building of the bridge.
The enlisted men and officers are somewhat puzzled at their change in roles, but it doesn’t take them long to assume the fervor of their colonel. When once they took pleasure in ways of causing sections of the bridge to mysteriously collapse, suddenly they are taking pride in their work. Everyone is committed to building the best bridge possible in the shortest period of time. Even the wounded and the ill hobble out of the camp hospital to pitch in and do their share after an inspiring talk by the colonel. An officer, who happened to be the doctor in camp [not a military man by vocation], questioned the reasoning behind this activity. To comply with the dictates of the Japanese under threat was one thing but to work with them in building their bridge was quite another. The colonel explained that the building of the bridge was for the benefit of the men. Since they could not plan escape, which all POW’s were obliged to do, they needed another avenue for their energies. The bridge would boost their morale, help to restore their pride and give the POW’s a feeling of self worth. Furthermore, it would enable them to work together as a unit.
The drama of the movie occurs when a BritishAmerican commando team is sent in to blow up the bridge on the day of its scheduled completion, as a train carrying Japanese soldiers and dignitaries is traveling over it. The British colonel, who by now has erected a plaque on the bridge commemorating the work done by his men, discovers the explosives and reveals the plan of the bridge’s demolition to the Japanese commander. The movie reaches its climax as the colonel and a young British commando are in hand-to-hand combat, the young soldier trying desperately to set off the charges and the British officer trying to prevent him from destroying the bridge he had come to love.
As I watched the movie it seemed incredible that an intelligent officer could possibly stray so far from his ideals and purpose that he could do what he did. Yet standing back and watching contemporary chiropractic history unfold shows us that we are in danger of doing the very same thing. Like Colonel Nicholson, we have become so wrapped up in our work that we are forgetting our real purpose. The medical profes ,( sion has not been able to eradicate chiropractic over the last 85 years because of our principle. We have withstood the attacks of medicine and not conceded an inch, compromised a bit, or backed down from the principle upon which the profession was founded. The battle with medicine for all intents and purposes was over 10 years ago. Like the Japanese commander who realized his efforts to build the bridge were futile, medicine realizes that any efforts it is now making are futile. But a strange thing has happened in the profession since that battle was won. Somewhere along the way we have allowed our principle to become less important to us, our ideals and our purpose to be overshadowed by our desire for recognition. As with the colonel, it wasn’t taken away. We have given it up willingly. We have lost sight of our objective. We have come to think that our purpose, correcting vertebral subluxation and restoring the flow of mental impulses so the body is able to work at maximum efficiency, is somehow not important enough. Colonel Nicholson somehow did not see the hindrance of completing the bridge as an important enough contribution to the war effort, although his men were working toward that end. Instead he saw the need to accomplish the Japanese objective in order to restore pride, boost morale, and give the men a feeling of self worth. The leadership of our profession, and for the most part, the rank and file, are doing the same thing. We have begun to work toward accomplishing the medical objective of treating diseases. For what purpose? Is it to prove our self worth, restore our pride, or prove that we are as good as the M.D., or better? Do we have to build medical bridges in order to give us that feeling of pride in what we do? Do we have to diagnose and treat disease in order to have a feeling of self worth? Colonel Nicholson wanted to prove that a British soldier could build a better bridge than a Japanese. We are trying to prove that we can perform medical procedures as well as or better than the medics. I for one have never thought that correcting vertebral subluxations was an unimportant contribution to the war effort. Perhaps the colonel should have challenged his men and instilled in them the importance of their continuing to sabotage the bridge as part of the war effort. Our chiropractic predecessors seemed to be excited about what they were doing turning on life until our own Colonel Nicholsons came on the scene and convinced us that we could only have a feeling of pride and professional equality ,( when we could prove that we could do what the M.D. was doing and we could do it as well or better. We are so wrapped up in our work that we forget our purpose. Those hundreds of British soldiers were so wrapped up in their work, building a bridge for the enemy, that they forgot their objective as soldiers who should be fighting the enemy in any way they could. The British soldiers who were engineers improved upon the Japanese design and location of the bridge. Similarly we are attempting to conform our chiropractic techniques and procedures to fit the medical mold. Our objective must be clear and our purpose as chiropractors must be clearly defined. The treatment of disease has been and always will be the objective of medicine. Our objective is different. If it were not, there would have been no reason for the war to have begun in 1895. It makes no difference that we believe the medical profession to be falling short of attaining their objective [the treatment of disease] or that we believe that we can do it better with our skills and our approach. The treatment of disease is simply not our responsibility. Our bridge over the River Kwai is the medical approach to treating man’s ills. It makes no difference whether it is erected by the efforts of the medical profession or the chiropractic profession. It still brings about the same results: a system of health care that is less than what humanity deserves. The bridge in the movie would carry the death and destruction of the Japanese army. It did not matter whether it was built by the Japanese, The British Army, or a joint effort of the two. The responsibility of every British soldier and officer should have been the same to oppose the erection of that bridge in every way possible. Instead they were so wrapped up in their work that they forgot their purpose. Will we, as a profession, realize our objective as chiropractors and return to that which we should be doing, restoring the vital life force within the body, or will we be like Colonel Nicholson, who after he exposed the plan to blow up the bridge, causing the death of the young commando who was trying to reach the detonator, finally saw everything in its proper perspective and uttered as he was dying, the words “My God, what have I done?”  V1n1

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