Shannon Selerowski: Web Source Evaluation: The Burma-Siam Railroad

The following internet resources demonstrate valid general information describing the Burma-Siam railroad. There are many sites constructed by organizations of war veterans and their families, many which contain diary entries, personal memoirs and sketches of those who labored at the railroad site. Most of these resources have scattered or little historical information, but are useful in gaining perspective of those who had first hand experience of the Burma-Siam Railroad. Sites created by educational institutions (the few that there seem to be) provide the researcher with information from a more historical perspective and contain maps, drawings, graphs and photos, and also provide researchers with material describing the “aftermath” of the war in relation to the Burma-Siam Railroad. However, the majority of websites containing information on the Burma-Siam railroad are extremely general and provide the reader with surface information.

Building the Railway

This site provides the reader with a clear picture of the life of those who worked on the railroad. It describes how the POWs reached the worksite, the specific work duties and the difficulty of the work, jungle diseases contracted by many of the workers, the pre-existing insects and wildlife of the area, and the physical hardship endured by the workers. As well as providing the history, Building the Railway also briefly addresses war crime tribunals and compensation of the victims. There is also a short section describing the current day tourism of the area. Though there are sketches done by railroad prisoners, these do not effectively support the given information and look as if they could be from any wartime situation.

The author of the site is Hill Davis and her e-mail address is given. Besides author contact information, links to external websites are also provided. The website states that its purpose is to address many facets of the railroad project, using voices of various people involved with the project. Basically, it strives to provide information from a non-biased standpoint (which seems impossible because of the emotional weight of this historical event). This site also contains a thorough bibliography which many of the references are primary sources.

Pros: clear, concise information constructed by a reliable source ( Wake Forest University)

Cons: information is very basic and site only skims surface of the subject

The Thai-Burma Railroad

The Thai-Burma Railroad focuses heavily on the lives of the workers inside the camp and especially outlines how work was conducted on the railroad. Personal memoirs are included and provide vivid descriptions of the workers daily tasks. This site also mentions the widespread disease and famine that spread rampantly throughout the camp. Scanned images of official documents (as well as maps, photographs and sketches) are used to support the article and add an interesting dimension to the website.

This is an organizational website constructed by families of POWs involved in Burma-Siam railroad incident. There is a contact e-mail that allows readers to reach the organization, but not the individual contributors. There is also an address that allows people to submit their war experience, which makes one question the reliability of the site. The site quotes figures and facts from primary sources and the historical facts are accurate. Links to related sites are also provided.

Pros: interesting personal memoir brings history to life

Cons: extremely biased, uses derogatory terms when referring to the Japanese, information is slightly disorganized

Death Railway

This site is different from many of the others as it explores the progression of the POWs quality of life over time. It specifically brings to light the suffering endured by the workers, including the food (or lack thereof), medical procedures, and the black market inside the camp. The photographs used by Death Railway are very effective and support their information. The quality of the images is surprisingly clear and the photos they have chosen depict the suffering embraced in the text.

This is also an organizational site whose mission is to acknowledge and honor those who were involved in the tragedy of the Burma-Siam Railroad. As with The Thai-Burma Railroad web page, this site encourages people to contribute any information or stories to “add to the Fepow Story”). There is an e-mail address to contact Ron Taylor although his affiliation with the site is unknown. The author of the site is unclear. There are also spelling and punctuation errors which make one leery of the validity of Death Railway. This site provides no external links.

Pros: best photograph and article combination, photos are all relevant to text

Cons: does not look at camp in relation to surroundings, focuses mainly on local issues, question of validity arises.

The Thai Burma Railway and Beyond

This site is the text of a speech given by Fred Seiker, a POW survivor of life in the work camp of the Burma-Siam Railroad. Although this article is extremely biased, it is descriptive and provides a real depiction of the life in the POW camp. Seiker’s speech evokes great emotion, even in this textual format. The Thai Burma Railway and Beyond provides a whole different dynamic to life on the Burma-Siam railroad and is by far the most interesting site, although it does not give any formal historical information. This site is strictly composed of text.

This site describes itself as a charitable organization working to support the development of a museum at the Kwai Railway Memorial in Thailand. Contact information as well as other useful links are provided.

Pros: moving personal experience

Cons: no formal history given

The internet has limited historical data on the Burma-Siam railroad and rather contains an excess of sites on personal experiences and memoirs. These memoirs are helpful in grasping the lifestyle of the POW workers. Web sources should be used as supplements to primary resources, not as a main source of information. The above four sites, when used together, provide a wide array of information concerning various aspects of the railroad project.

Japan at War is listed as one of the sources, which made me very excited, but also made me want to write “Just read the book! It is much more interesting and goes into further depth than any of these websites!”