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War, Love, Loss...and Hope
part 2

The few that stood up against thousands: Mahn Robert Ba Zan and comrades just before the battle of La Aw village Tenasserim District, 1997

Mahn Robert Ba Zan and comrades
< cont'd from part one...
Our very beautiful and once prosperous country of Burma has been under inhuman and barbarous Burmese military rule for more than 30 years: no elections, no free speech, no free press, no demonstrations, no freedom of thought, no freedom of assembly, and no freedom of religion. The Burmese army uses 200 battalions(100,000 soldiers) to oppress and kill our Karen people. Our people in Burma have become Burmese slaves. But some of us have made it to America, and here we are free.

As soon as my feet touched American soil, I felt like I was dreaming. In America there were no inhuman acts, no big guns, no mortars, no rockets, no small arms fire, no army jet bombs, no forced relocation, no forced labor, no villages burned down, no girls and women crying, and no gang rapes.

I would like to tell you of some of my experiences in war, which has taken my brothers, nephews, cousins and many loved ones.

The Loss of a Brother

October 1987: The Red Hill Battles of Wakha

The Red Hill Battles of Wakha are among the most well known battles in Karen war history. The battles were fierce with deafening gunfire and explosions that lasted both night and day. When the battle was over, a private from our 101 Special Force informed me that nephew Moe Aung Win was wounded. Unfortunately, we had become accustomed to our comrades getting wounded at the front. But the private continued his report and informed me that my brother had been killed in action. I could not believe my ears, I felt as if thunder had struck my head. Of my two brothers, now the youngest was dead. Was this the revolution reward I deserved and the gift that I inherited from my father?

A few days before my brother had fallen, he told me, "Brother, I am going to get married!" I replied, "You are now of marriageable age?" He said, "You have to make a wedding ring for me." In my surprise I shouted, "An ounce of gold for a wedding ring, it will cost at least two thousand five hundred Baht(Thai currency). Where can I find this much money? I am soldier and I spend all of my time at the front line." But that day I promised him that I would try to get him the ring. Now my brother is dead and I do not know where the wedding ring is either.

A funeral service was arranged and he was buried with a gunfire salute and full military honors. During the burial, as tears jumped out of my eye sockets, I clenched my fist and swore to take revenge for my dear brother.

A Lesson from War

How many lives have been destroyed during the fifty years of this civil war in Burma? How many tears have fallen for those who have died? How much property has been destroyed? How many widows have been made? How many human bodies have been mutilated and disabled? There has been countless suffering over the last fifty years of civil war, so much suffering that only God can calculate it.

On May 27, 1989, a platoon of comrades and I were sent to reinforce Wakha. We prepared all of the supplies that we would need: food, water, ammunition, and medicines. We knew that soon we would be facing fierce fighting. We were well prepared and had invested our lives in the defense of our position. Once our preparations were finished, I said to my heart, "Brother, I will take revenge for your blood tonight."

"Phu Khi Doh" and mortar crew

"Phu Khi Doh" and mortar crew

Of course, there will always be hatred and vengeance as long as the civil war continues. And where there is aggression, there will also be self-defense. My platoon and I were ready. I told my comrades, "Let the enemy come through. Let them pass through the second fence and do not fire until they reach the third fence. I will be the first to open fire." All of my comrades agreed and waited for the enemy to approach the fences, which were only twenty five yards from our position. At last the enemy came. Two by two and then four by four they entered through the first fences. In the moonlight, I could see them clearly. With my finger on the trigger of my Browning Automatic Rifle(BAR), I tried to concentrate on the fire fight that was soon to come, but my mind was conflict. On the one hand, I felt that the approaching enemy was responsible for my brother's death. They were the ones that burned our Karen villages and raped our Karen women. On the other hand, the enemy in front of me were young men who had not chosen to join the Burmese Army but were forcibly conscripted. All of us had been born in the same country and we were all brothers. We did not know each other and we had no personal conflict with each other. I knew that soon they would be dying in front of me. I would be killing them. I felt both hatred and brotherly union spirit towards them.

The enemy soldiers methodically cut through our barbed wire fences. Soon they had cut through the first fence and had started cutting through the second. The enemy was probably getting more and more excited as they thought that they would catch the "ringworm Karen"(derogatory Burmese term for Karen people) sleeping.

The enemy dismantled the second fence and now was started on the third. At this time I decided to fire and I pulled the trigger of my BAR. Almost instantly the group of Burmese soldiers in front me collapsed and died.

The fighting began at 3:00 am. The gunfire and explosions were so hellish it felt as if the end of world was coming. Shortly, all the soldiers who entered the second fence were killed, but the enemy kept pouring in wave after wave. The defensive spirit of the Karen fighters was stronger than the enemies will to overrun us. Gradually, the enemy's offensive waned and the gunfire ceased. All of the defenders of Wakha were heroes.

I was full of joy and shouted, "Brother, we have made it! We have avenged you!" The enemy dead were scattered everywhere. Some of the dead Burmese soldiers hung in barbed wire and others lay in the bamboo. It was an ugly scene.

Lance Corporal Saw Nge stepped out of our bunker and began to collect the guns of the dead Burmese soldiers. "Take care and pass the weapons to each other. Be careful of land mines!" I cautioned. I saw my beloved comrade Bajamod bring back two 40mm grenade launchers and two G-4 rifles into our bunker. One by one many different weapons poured into our bunker. The total enemy equipment that was seized was: 79 individual weapons(including two Browning pistols) and two PRC radio sets.

I sat on top of my bunker and stared down at the bodies of the slain enemy soldiers. Most of the bodies were badly mutilated. As a soldier, I was full of joy because we had seized many weapons and munitions and above all, we won the battle. But in reality did I really win? Could I ever really avenge my brother? Did I not kill my brethren, my own countrymen? Is this the right way for us Karen people to solve our political problems? Is this a fair solution?

How can we reconcile our differences with our brethren? How can we help erase the mistrust between our peoples? Is killing the only way that our differences can be solved? Is this the solution? As Barat Dogre said, "War destroys not only the vanquished but the also the victor."

Even though we long for peace and are sickened by all the bloodshed, if the other side continues to send tens of thousands of troops into our territory to kill our Karen people, rape our Karen women, burn our villages, forcefully relocate our people, what can we do? Should we keep quiet and bear these abuses and insults in our ancient homeland? Is it wrong for us to defend ourselves, with whatever means, in order to shield ourselves from these inhuman acts? Should we be considered rebellious? What can we hope to accomplish by preaching the message of peace to the murderous Burmese military junta? Can non-violent struggle be applied in all situations?

"Phu Khi Doh" protests against Burmese Junta,  Washington DC, 2001

"Free Burma! Free Tibet! Free Burma! Free Tibet!"
"Phu Khi Doh" protests against the Burmese Junta in Washington DC, 2001

Consider the military actions taken by NATO and the US against dictators like Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. If these actions were taken in order to preserve freedom, peace, and human rights, why shouldn't they(US and Nato) take the same actions against the abusive military dictators in Rangoon and restore peace in Burma? I would personally like to know Daw Su's feeling on this matter so that we can review our current strategies and plans.

I was born and grew up in this cruel civil war. I have lost my brothers and many comrades. I myself was seriously wounded and tens of thousands of my people are now refugees. The economic situation in Burma is in shambles, and so many peoples from Burma work in neighboring countries in horrible conditions. This is what we have reaped from our civil war in Burma. I am naturally anti-war. I bitterly hate war. I pray that this cruel civil war will come to an end soon.

"Phu Khi Doh" making a speech at the Free Burma Coalition

Activism, the bloodless battlefield:
"Phu Khi Doh" making a speech at the Free Burma Coalition Conference,
Washington DC, 2001

A Message from Mahn R. Ba Zan to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

We all vow and pledge to join hands with you in course of freedom and People's Democracy in Burma.

May all vicious hate end among the various peoples of Burma.

May all peoples of Burma enjoy equality and freedom.

May love and peace last forever among our peoples.

May all peoples of Burma receive human rights and justice.

May tri-party talks take place soon.

May there be a genuine federal union established in Burma.

May there be love, peace, and prosperity for all children in Burma.

May you, Daw Su, be in good health and live long.

Sincerely Yours,

Mahn R. Ba Zan


For comments, suggestions, or questions contact:

rzan555@yahoo.com
or
kawthule@yahoo.com

Please also read more about this topic at Tham Hin


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