Cave Children and Other Children

Boys in Thailand cave

It is fall, and a summer has passed. And with it the momentous events in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand, in the period 23 June - 9 July 2018, where a group of 12 boys and their coach were trapped. This article presents this story from a critical perspective.

In the Cave

It started innocently enough. A group of boys, members of a football team and their coach went on an outing. At the end of the day they decided explore a cave. They had been in it before. They possibly thought they knew it well enough. So, on they went, hiking and climbing until they got some 2-3 km into the cave. Then, for reasons that are unclear, they got stuck maybe their flashlights stopped working, maybe they got lost and could not find the way out, maybe water suddenly filled a part of the cave and so prevented them from returning out. At any rate, they were stuck in there, and were so for several days. For the outside world they were considered lost, until a diver eventually came across them and alerted the outside world. Thus began maybe the most complex and larges cave rescue operations ever.

It quicly became a world sensation. The global reach of media - especially as regards social media have to take the responsibility. The whole world (whatever "whole" means in this case) followed every quirk and turn of this unfolding story, and eacbh millimeter of the work to get into the ledge the boys sat on. As divers managed to establish a safe route to them, we - the world - got word of their situation: they were freezing, they were hungry and thirsty, they missed mom, dad and friends, they prayed to get saved, and they look forward to what they would do once they got out. The world could do nothing but emphatizing with their fate, hoping and praying for their fast and safe release. In the process we learned volumes about the international resque operation that was mounted: people with more or less relevant experience from across the world flooded (pun intended) the area, mor or less usefull technology and advise from throughout the world was pouring in, maps of the cave was prepared and released, a whole village of media reporters established camp and reported 24/7 to a world that just couldn't get enough of this spectacle. The whole country of Thailand especially - from the King down - held its breath, and Buddhism came to play a major role.

A number of stakeholders entered the scene. Chief among there were several Thailand stakeholders. I have already mentioned the King and Buddhism. The regional district political administrator was a key figure, if only because he insisted on it. He quickly, already from the beginning managed to pretty much get full control over the situation. This is fair enough, somebody had to take control and manage the whole very complex operation. Additional stakeholders included several international groups that worked on cave exploration. Several international firms that produced various types of equipment and technology wolunteered it, convinced that their equipment would do the trick, and save the boys. One rather aparte situation occurred when one Lemon Tusk wanted to bring in a special piece of technology, and, once turned down, started what can only be understand as a smear campaign.

Eventually, in an operation that impressed the world with its daring approach, dedicated staff involved, and technology involved, the boys and their coach were safely evacuated. They were immediately whisked away from public exposure and scrutiny. With this began the second part of this global story, one that is evolving as I write this.

The Aftermath

The aftermath of the event has had far-reaching implications for a number of people, including for people that were far-removed from the actual happenings. The boys and their couch have of course attained instant stardom and success, especially within Thailand. One example is that they were legal aliens in Thailand, but have become citizens of Thailand. And that is just the beginning. A bright future awaits them all, and perhaps especially the coach who has been credited with being responsible for the fact that the boys survived their ordeal, mentally psychologically/mentally and physically. I will be very surprised if he has not already signed up for a book deal. As well, I will be surprised if he does not start giving lectures about the ordeal, and how to survived under adverse conditions like the ones they went through.

As for the men who planned and performed the extraction of the boys and their coach have become immediate bona fide heroes. Certainly in their home countries and in the small circle of cave explorers that they belong to. Interviews have appeared, and will continue to appear. The Thailand Prime Minister has stated the the rescure heroes will be awarded top civilian awards. One hero is being proposed to be appointed as "Australian of the Year." More than 45,000 Australians have signed a petition that two Australian heroes be awarded The Cross of Valor, Australia's highest award for bravery.

Other developments involve a local artist who has created an enormous mural in Chian Mai titled "The Heroes" to honor the rescue operation. There are plans to make the cave, and the site outside its entrance, into a living museum showcasing the cloths and equipment used during the rescue operation, and through this show how the operation unfolded. An interactive databased will be created. The museum is expected to become a major tourist attraction. Book deals are already underway. Already before the boys' cloths had dried, Hollywood was working on turning the story into another blockbuster, with A-list actors. The mines who were trapped when mine in Chile collapsed (Note 3) warns the boys that they stand the high risk of being exploited, whether it is tourism activities, films, TV shows, book deals and what not (a motion picture film was made, but the miners did not get a cent of the proceeds).

The usual team of crisis management experts, including assorted psychologists, psyciatrists and others, who had already voiced their expert opinions to whatever media that were interested (and many were), now entered the stage in force to come to the rescue. The world was informed about the likely (or obvious, depending on the expert who were asked) psychological problems that might befall the boys. We have beeninformed that the situation likely were serious for several of the boys. They have flocked to the scene, offering free their services.

Researchers and experts from several disciplines are already hard at work on scholarly articles, or articles anyway, about the case. They certainly have enough material to go through, and they produce themselves additional material (Note 3).

Why Was the World so Taken?

Now that the story is over, certainly as far as media coverage is concerned, it is time to address the crucial question of why it entered the world stage to the virtual exclusion of, if not everything else, certainly other events of global and regional importance. We know how it happened, through mainstream media that reported live throughout. The important thing to understand is why we all, millions of us, got involved to this extent in an admittedly minor - even common place - event that happened far away, one that affected only a small number of persons, to the extent that we did not focus on anything else for as long at it lasted?

There are at least two sides to this. First, there are we, the individuals living across the world, a nd what we like and prefer, and how we accordingly react when stories like this break (Note 2). As a social scientist, I find it intriguing that there appears to be uniformity in this across cultures and countries - we seem to think alike and react in the same way. We crave non-political stories with a strong human angle and touch to them. Perhaps because we can relate more to them than to the admittedly more important news stories about, say, wars, global conflicts, and climate change, whose impacts on our lives are we know in theory but have problems so relating to in practice, partly because the implications often will appear and be felt in future. Further, we seem to excel in stories that balance on the edge of life versus death, of success versus failure, and of pleasure versus pain. There is may also be an element of mass suggestion - because everybody else watch it we too watch it.

Second, there is the media, and how it plays out this story and became deeply embroiled, to the extent of spinning their own side stories that emphasize whatever they think will appeal to the audience. In a certain sense it may be possible to argue that the media creates this and other stories. And if it did not create them, it certainly keeps them alive through continual reporting.

The mainstream media wants feel-good stories. They aspire to please as well as inrease their audience. Ratings are all important. This means to give the audience what the audience wants. There is not one news broadcast that do not end with some feel-good huyman-angle story or another. They are very often about animals, specifically cats and dogs, and about humans that believe the animals understand them. Many among us tend to prefer mainstream media that reach widely and have large a audience, believing that quantity implies quality. The argument of whether mass media reports on existing stories, or whether they create (or certainly embellish) them, enters center stage. As does the parallel argument of whether we, the audience, gets the news we need, or whether mass media gives us what they want us to read and see, or believe that we want to read and sea. I cannot help it, but the adage from Roman times of "bread and circus" does come to mind.

The Aftermath and an Outside Perspective

I salute the many persons involved in this extraordinary operation. They have done a great job, there is no disputing this. And, yet, I have my misgivings.

Lars T Soeftestad

(1) Many will recall a similar story that also entered the global media scene about a mining accident in Chile in 2010 (Wikipedia n.d.a.). Consider also the airplane that crashlanded in the Andes in 1972 (Wikipedia n.d.b.).
(2) An internet search for the terms "thailand cave rescue" on 26 September 2018 led to around 14,000,000 results (sic).
(3) Photo credit: unknown.
(4) Permalink. URL:
(5) This article was published 26 September 2018. It was updated 10 October 2018.

Wikipedia. n.d.a. "2010 Copiapó mining accident." URL:
Wikipedia. n.d.a. "Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571." URL: