Sunday, June 26, 2022


Continuing a look at the events and people in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Each two lines represent a year.

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, "Bridge on the River Kwai"
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide
Buddy Holly, "Ben Hur", space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U-2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo


Chou En-Lai:

Chou En-Lai (1898-1976):

Chou (also Zhou) En-Lai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China serving from 1 October 1949 until his death on 8 January 1976.

Zhou served under Chairman Mao Zedong and helped the Communist Party rise to power, later helping consolidate its control, form its foreign policy, and develop the Chinese economy.

Mao Zedong and Chou En-Lai

As a diplomat, Zhou served as the Chinese foreign minister from 1949 to 1958. Advocating peaceful coexistence with the West after the Korean War, he participated in the 1954 Geneva Conference and the 1955 Bandung Conference, and helped orchestrate Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China. He helped devise policies regarding disputes with the United States, Taiwan, the Soviet Union (after 1960), India, Korea, and Vietnam.

Zhou survived the purges of other top officials during the Cultural Revolution. While Mao dedicated most of his later years to political struggle and ideological work, Zhou was one of the main driving forces behind the affairs of state during much of the Cultural Revolution. His attempts at mitigating the Red Guards' damage and his efforts to protect others from their wrath made him immensely popular in the Cultural Revolution's later stages.

Mao's health began to decline in 1971 and 1972, and Lin Biao fell into disgrace and later died in a plane crash. Amid these events, Zhou was elected to the vacant position of First Vice Chairman of the Communist Party by the 10th Central Committee in 1973 and thereby designated as Mao's successor (the third person to be so designated after Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao), but still struggled internally against the Gang of Four over leadership of China.

His last major public appearance was at the first meeting of the 4th National People's Congress on 13 January 1975 and died one year later. The massive public outpouring of grief which his death provoked in Beijing turned to anger at the Gang of Four, leading to the 1976 Tiananmen Incident. Zhou's ally Deng Xiaoping was able to outmanouvre the Gang of Four politically and took Hua's place as paramount leader by 1978.

Relevance to 1957:

In 1957 he survived an assassination attempt whilst on the charter jet Kashmir Princess, having changed planes. A Koumintang bomb killed the 16 others.

Bridge on the River Kwai:

The 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwai was a big success, winning 7 Oscars including Best Pic.

Some trivia:



During WW II, allied POWs in a Japanese internment camp are ordered to build a bridge to accommodate the Burma-Siam railway. Their instinct is to sabotage the bridge, but under the leadership of Colonel Nicholson they're persuaded the bridge should be built to help morale, spirit. At first, the prisoners admire Nicholson when he bravely endures torture rather than compromise his principles for the benefit of Japanese Commandant Colonel Saito, but soon they realise it's a monument to Nicholson, himself, as well as a form of collaboration with the enemy. Nicholson becomes so focused on building the bridge that he loses his perspective on the war, the enemy and his own men.

The movie's story was loosely based on a true World War II incident, and the real-life character of Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey. One of several Allied P.O.W.s, Toosey was in charge of his men from late 1942 through May 1943 when they were ordered to build two River Kwai bridges in Burma (one of steel, one of wood), to help move Japanese supplies and troops from Bangkok to Rangoon. In reality, the bridge took eight months to build (rather than two months), and they were used for two years. They were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid in late June of 1945. Toosey's memoirs were compiled into a 1991 book by Peter Davies, titled "The Man Behind the Bridge".

The cast includes Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and Sessue Hayakawa.

This movie has many elements of truth woven into its fictitious narrative. While prisoners were used as slave laborers to build the railway depicted, the factual commander, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey was the senior officer in this camp and risked his own life many times by deliberately sabotaging the bridge building efforts, completely different from the senior officer in this movie.

Colonel Saito was inspired by Major Risaburo Saito, who, unlike the character portrayed in this movie, was said by some to be one of the most reasonable and humane of all of the Japanese officers, usually willing to negotiate with the P.O.W.s in return for their labor. Such was the respect between Saito and Lieutenant Colonel Toosey (upon whom Colonel Nicholson was based), that Toosey spoke up on Saito's behalf at the war-crimes tribunal after the war, saving him from the gallows. Ten years after Toosey's 1975 death, Saito made a pilgrimage to England to visit his grave.

Screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman had been blacklisted in Hollywood after having been accused of having Communist ties at the time that this movie was made, and went uncredited. The sole writing credit, and therefore the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, went to Pierre Boulle, who wrote the original French novel, but did not speak English. Clearly he had not written the English script, and this became a long-running controversy between the Academy and the actual authors to achieve recognition for their work. In 1984, the Academy retroactively awarded the Oscar to Wilson and Foreman. Sadly, Wilson did not live to see this, and Foreman died the day after it was announced. When this movie was restored, their names were added to the credits.

Director Sir David Lean initially wanted Nicholson's soldiers to enter the camp while singing "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball", a popular (during World War II) parody version of the "Colonel Bogey March" poking fun at Adolf Hitler and various other Nazi leaders. Sam Spiegel told him it was too vulgar, and the whistling-only version was used instead.

See and hear the scene by clicking on:

See a further clip:


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