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Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Current Affairs ...

I’m glad to read that the rescue of the boy’s soccer team (the Wild Boars) that became stranded in a flooded cave in Thailand was successful.

This is one of those slow-motion rescue stories that draws public attention now and then. Every so many years here in the USA, there is (or used to be) a mine incident where workers get trapped, and rescuers race against the clock to get them out alive. The drama of these situations is like catnip to the masses, and when it works and the rescue is successful (the more dangerous the better!), everyone feels a bit of a lift. Humankind shows that it can still come together when nature threatens one or a small group of its members, and we all feel better about our tribe. Perhaps a rescue incident helps us to forget for a few minutes about all the rotten things that we do to each other in the normal course of events.

So, the public got what it wanted from the Tham Luang Cave rescue. Except that there was a bit of tragedy, one brave diver died in the effort. I didn’t see too many articles about the man, a Mr. Saman Gunan, in the US press; to read about him, you had to seek out the various tributes published in the British, Australian and New Zealand press.

Way back in the 1960’s when I was a kid, mining disasters were more common; over the past 25 years, machines have largely taken the place of humans in dangerous mines, and unless you own stock in a coal or mining company, you really don’t care much if a slate wall caves in on a bunch of robots. So it’s not terribly surprising that in 1961, a song by country singer Jimmy Deal eulogizing a brave miner who gave his life helping his comrades to escape a cave-in became popular. I remember the song well, it was played regularly on the AM pop radio stations (WABC being the main station that you listened to on your little plastic transistor radio in the New York metro area). The song was called “Big Bad John”.

Here are the verses that summarize Mr. Dean’s story about Big John:

Through the dust and the smoke of this man made hell
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well
Grabbed a saggin’ timber, gave out with a groan
And like a giant Oak tree, he just stood there alone, Big John

And with all of his strength he gave a mighty shove
Then a miner yelled out, “There’s a light up above”
And twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave
Now there’s only one left down there to save, Big John

With jacks and timbers they started back down
Then came that rumble way down in the ground
And then smoke and gas belched out of that mine
Everybody knew it was the end of the line for Big John

Now that everyone at Tham Luang (which means “great cave of the sleeping lady“) is safe, a lot of things need to be resolved by the bureaucrats and lawyers. I’m sure that the soccer coach who led the team into the tunnel is in a lot of trouble; supposedly there were signs at the mouth of the cave, warning explorers not to go in during the rainy season (which it clearly was).

Reportedly, the Thai government plans to “take extra security measures” at the cave. To be honest, though, if I were a cave-explorer (which I might have enjoyed back when I was young), I’d feel kind of creeped out about walking down into a cavern where a good man died — kind of like walking into a tomb. I think that the Thai government should ponder the last verse of Mr. Dean’s song, as a fitting tribute to the bravery and humanity of “Big Saman”:

Now they never reopened that worthless pit
They just placed a marble stand in front of it
These few words are written on that stand
At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man
Big John

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:07 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Yes, I’ve tho’t too that there’s been almost nothing said about the diver who died while attempting to help the children. I guess nobody wants to remember the sad part of the story; maybe the world needs something really good for a while, except little of life is all good/all bad.

    I also remember that song you mention about “Big John”; I can still hear that low bass note on “John” when the song was so popular. I also remember the ship that went down in Lake Superior in a storm–the Edmund Fitzgerald; one minute it was there; the next it was gone. It took years for them to figure out how the ship could have disappeared the way it did. I believe it was Gordon Lightfoot who wrote the song about that tragedy.

    I’ve also read that spelunking is a popular thing in Thailand; even tho there are warnings, few people pay much attention to them—you’d think they were in America. I went one time, back in the 1950s, on a “tour” (much like these boys did) thru a cave somewhere in Wisconsin. Can’t remember the name of what and where the State Park where the cave is any more. But I’ve never really forgotten that trip thru the cave. It was so very interesting; after all this time the whole “stalactite/stalagmite” thing still stays with me, but I doubt that cave flooded—no monsoon rains for one reason.

    Just glad, for the most part, it all turned out OK. I’m sure the people of Thailand are remembering Mr. Saman Gunan. Perhaps he’s the one who guided them all to safety. Who is to say no when it’s so obvious there was some help there. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 12, 2018 @ 11:01 am

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