Thu 19 Jul 2012
Filed under: Opinion
(Commentary) – On a dark and rainy morning on July 19, 1947, hit men sent by Galon U Saw shot past the People’s Volunteer Organizations guards and sprayed bullets into the Governor’s Executive Council, as Aung San, the architect of Burma’s imminent freedom, rose to his feet; instantly killing almost the entire pre-independence cabinet.
Among those killed with Aung San, were Razak – a Muslim politician, Mahn Ba Khaing – a Karen politician, and Sao Sam Htun—the prince of Mong Pawn in Shan State. It was indeed the darkest day in Burma’s modern history and the killer U Saw was a Burman.
U Saw was a dominant politician in the late 1930s under colonial rule, and he was exiled to Uganda during the war after the British discovered his offer to help the Japanese invade Burma. He returned to Burma after the war with a German wife even though he was already married and had a string of mistresses. At the time, U Saw was trying to climb his way back into the mainstream Burmese politics unsuccessfully, with his Myochit Party, which was viewed as pre-war sleaze. According to historians, U Saw feared in the early days of Burma’s independence that without British help the country might wake up to find the Chinese in Mandalay one day, in Sagaing the next, and Rangoon the day after.
The death of Aung San had a profound effect on the future of Burma and the political status of the minority hill tribes. In 1941-42 during the Japanese invasion, the goal of Karens and other minorities was to secure a separate political status.
Still, in 1945 when the British returned to Burma after the war, only a few Karen, Kachin, Shan or Chin radicals were talking about political separation from Burma. But the negotiations in September 1945 made no attempt to integrate the armed minorities with the armed Burmese. There was to be two separate armies within one, with Kachins, Karens and Chins and the Burmese elements in the British army, and a separate 6,000 Burmanized officer corps of a second wing of Burma National Army (BNA). The Karens fears became even sharper when leftist army officers decided to raise yet another irregular force, the Sitwundan, the leaders of which were dacoits, criminals or political chameleons.
By early 1946, the factious nature of Burmese politics was also becoming apparent when there was an implosion of Burmese Communist political party, after Thakin Soe accused Thakin Than Tun and others of compromising Communist purity by making deals with imperialists. Aung San, who had formally surrendered his military rank to participate in politics, was caught between the British and the old guard like U Saw on the one side, and Thakin Soe and the Communists on the other.
And then, only weeks after Burma gained its independence from Britain on January 4, 1948, the Burman Communist faction was already on the warpath planning to cut off Rangoon from Mandalay. But even as the government was relying heavily on the minority forces for survival, an ethnic schism was inevitably formed as the Rangoon government viewed the Communist insurgents who were Burmans as a lesser threat to integrity of the Union than the ethnic minorities clamoring for their autonomous rights.
Today after more than 60 years, the Burmese military continues to use coercion and violence especially in ethnic minority areas, to enforce elusive peace and security, intent on building an ethnically and ideologically pure Burma.
By believing that it alone are the liberators of Burma, the Burmese military continues to control the monopoly on the use of force, leaving out the non-Burmese speaking minorities from the power structure with few exceptions even after convening the military-led Parliament in Naypyitaw today.
The military government’s mishandling of recent ethnic strife in Arakan and the escalation of war in Kachin State are direct results of Burman ethnocentric nationalism.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s belief that it is time for all sides in Burma, first to end bloody conflicts, and to face one another across the negotiating table will be no doubt met with delays, twists and turns, and paranoia.
President Obama and Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton, who are the architects of the latest relaxation of sanctions on Burma, must continue to bear pressure on the military to continue down the path of genuine peace and democracy. Burma’s new President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi are visionary and democrats. But their positions are tenuous in the face of such an entrenched and powerful institution as the Burmese military.
Their vision to turn the army, the only viable institution in Burma, into a positive force for democracy will be only a pipedream without outside interventions, now that the military government will be profiting enormously from financial investments by the United States and others.
The world must be especially vigilant now in what is taking place politically and financially in Burma. Burma is a nation racially and financially segregated by the army in Naypyitaw. The military continues to oppress by confiscating land, depriving farmers, and forcibly removing ethnic minorities to clear up large areas for various economic schemes slated to benefit only the most privileged army elites.
Salman Rushdie once wrote, “We are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses capable only of fractured perceptions, perhaps it is because our sense is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to our death.” No one knows it better than Aung San Suu Kyi, who lost her father a lifetime ago and now has already spent most of her life trying to find a way out for the country, the minority tribes and the army.
Maybe it is not too late for the army to admit that it is not god and that it should not act as one by preventing the Burmese people from mourning openly during Martyrs Day – today and forever.
It is now time that the army returns to the job of really defending the people as was originally intended, at the founding of Burmese Independence.