During my time as a student, I knew the Secretary-general of the United Nations was a Burmese called U Thant, which has been translated to Yue Dan 宇丹 (now Wu Dan 吳丹 in the mainland). This gentleman had been the Secretary-general since 1961 and announced he would not seek an extension in 1971. During his ten years tenure, U Thant received support from large countries such as the U.S. and UK and was trusted by emerging countries. He represented the UN to mediate whenever there were regional conflicts and had many achievements. It was a miracle a small country could produce such a great figure. U Thant graduated from the University of Yangon when Burma was still a British colony. Education in Burma inherited the tradition of a British colony, and the University of Yangon used to be very famous in Asia. When Burma became independent in 1948, the University of Yangon was still one of the best in Southeast Asia alongside the University of Malaya. At the time, the National University of Singapore has not yet started. But when General Ne Win, who fought for Burma’s independence with General Aung San, launched a military coup in March 1962 and then ordered to transform Burma into a Burmese-style socialist state in April, Burma started its big setback and has not risen again. Ne Win was in power until 1988 when the new generation of military robbed his place. The family of dictator Ne Win had a tragic end, karma to someone who ruined his country.
From 1962 to 2015, the military has held power in Burma for 53 years. In the past five years, the military has retreated to the background and let people-elected Aung San Suu Kyi take office. Burma liberated slowly, people’s livelihood improves, and international investment increases. We thought Burma would follow the footsteps of Vietnam and Thailand. But the Burmese military decided Aung San Suu Kyi is an obstacle and initiated a coup last week. The soldiers have arrested several hundreds of government and parliament officials, and Burma has gone back to the military dictatorship.
Ne Win could be counted as a military hero when he fought for independence back then. But a little-educated person with a weapon is always the biggest threat to a country’s democratic system. These people only know how to fight and look down upon academics. They have the mentality of “we fought hard to get independence, so we should keep the power.” But these soldiers only have power, money, and weapons in their eye and do not know how to rule a country. Their recklessness has destroyed the country, and it is a tragedy for the people. In 1974, U Thant died of illness in New York, aged 65. When his body was flown back to Yangon, Ne Win had forbidden all official ceremonies and banned the officers from going to the funeral. Surprisingly, tens of thousands of people turned up, and U Thant’s coffin had ended up being snatched by some students who buried him under the grounds of the University of Yangon Students Union, which, of course, was later destroyed by Ne Win. A country that is brutal to its people and undermines knowledge, and ruled by the military will never have a future. Those who have been investing in Burma in the past few years should start praying for God’s mercy now.
(Zuo Ding-shan, columnist)
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