Aung Myo Thant

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Aung Myo Thant. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1.

I am Aung Myo Thant, previously lieutenant sergeant in charge of the 45th naval industrial battalion at Mawrawadi Naval Base Headquarters, Yebyu Township. I’m 35 years old, born in 1987, and I am a Christian with four children. I married young and joined the army at age 22. I already had a kind of career, cooking. I earned about 160,000 Myanmar Kyat per month as a chef, not bad. In my first year of the army I earned only 21,000 Myanmar Kyat per month, which depressed me. To be honest, I was kind of entrapped by the military. I do not want my children to trust other people easily like I did. Let me tell you what happened.

There was a downturn and I lost my cooking job in 2008. I came to Yangon on the promise of a new job in a handicrafts business, but on the way I met a military recruiter who tried to convince me to join. I talked to my wife about it and she said to do as I pleased. I was a bit confused as being a soldier was not what I really wanted or expected. The army was just looking for new people, they had no love or interest in me in particular. I felt hurt and lost. But I gave it a shot, had a medical check-up, and passed. While undergoing the check-up, I left my wife in a separate room. When I returned, she told me things were not going well. I said to the officer there that I did not want to join and be a soldier anymore. I was asked to come to another room.

The officer, I still remember his name, Sergeant Soe, told me they had already paid a lot of money to recruit me and I could not change my mind. Sergeant Soe kicked me in the stomach, slapped my cheeks. I was really scared and my wife was out there without me.

“What did I do wrong? All I said was I do not want to join. Do not do this to me, I have a wife!” I cried.

Before this incident, although I did not want to join, I still believed the army was fundamentally good.

In those days it was not easy to call back home via telephone, so it seemed like I had to give up and join, but it was unjust. I kept arguing with them and was pulled out by a man who turned out to be from the navy. He took me to a tea shop. I was very scared that if I continued like this, I would get into more serious trouble. The navy man told me that the navy rarely saw combat and he would take me in. So I joined. I went back to my wife, collected 20,000 Myanmar Kyat from her, as I did not know if or when I would be paid by the navy, and attended training in Phaung Gyi. I graduated from the military academy in December 2009.

At that time in 2008 and 2009 the army was in a period of expansion. They were dragging everyone into the army. You did not need to have any skills or abilities for they wanted only quantity, not quality. In fact, the army is still like this. There is only numbers, no quality. And there is definitely no status.

In 2009 I started my duties in Rakhine State. I was an office clerk. We were often told there was a system for promotion: three years to deputy sergeant, three years to sergeant, four years to higher sergeant, etc. But that is not how it works in reality. It took me nine years to become deputy sergeant. There is favoritism involved: the office of the commander-in-chief recommends and hands over their own men to higher positions. My most recent post was for six months in the Hein Se office, Mawlamyine.

There were a few reasons why I left the military after the coup. The first one is related to election fraud. As I was chief of staff at the time, I administrated some soldiers’ votes during the 2020 elections. In the army we had advance votes and regular votes. In my battalion, only ten people had legitimate reason to do advance, or leave (outside constituency) votes. But two thirds of the entire battalion were ordered from above to cast their votes as ‘leave’ votes. That meant that I was the one who actually cast all of those people’s votes! Then, this motherfucker Min Aung Hlaing says that Mother Suu (Aung San Suu Kyi) stole votes in the election … Did he not steal himself, through people like me!?

After the coup they formed this ‘election tribunal’ and I was asked to go and re-examine votes from the township; I was ordered to re-inspect votes from the whole of Yebyu Township. Now let’s do the math … there are ten battalions in one headquarters. There are four strategic departments and eight headquarters. Let’s say there are on average only ten real ‘leave’ votes per battalion (but two thirds of every battalion were actually cast by a single chief of staff)—so how many fraudulent votes would there be waiting to be uncovered? And I am only talking about the navy. There is also the air force and army. The army has more people, there are at least 15 to 16 troops in one battalion.

Another reason I finally left is that on 27 February I was assigned to Yangon for a short event and I was shocked at how scared people were when they saw our military vehicles driving through Pazundaung Township. I could really see fear in their eyes. When they saw our navy uniforms—they called us military dogs! I thought deeply about what we were doing: Was it wrong? I realized the Myanmar military is a failed army. They tell you lies. I started not doing my job well. I kept avoiding responsibility.

But I continued serving.

Then on 26 March 2021, in Myeik Town, I saw a protest take place on the beach road. I was just inside a shop watching. The protesters did not even have sticks, let alone any other weapons. They were peaceful. The police fired smoke and sound bombs. Ten more police then arrived and opened fire with guns, killing four or five people. One dead protester looked about twelve years old, the same age as my eldest daughter. I have been in pain ever since that moment.

Back at work, I hatched a plan with my colleague, who I will call Master Black, to leave the navy. But you know, the army prevents you from even using the mobile phone you bought and paid for with your own sweat and blood. We only managed to escape in October 2021. I had to leave my family to get out. But I thought long and hard: if I stay and prioritize looking after my family, I am not prioritizing the people as a whole. There is no need for them to grieve if I die standing up for the people.

Master Black and I snuck out of our base via a forested path. There were patrol cars often at night, so we dared not use the main road. We went over a hill and down an old rubber trail. Master Black suffered; first he broke his shoe, then he walked into a spiked branch that pierced his eye, suddenly blood splattered from it. The lower eyelid was ripped.

“Tie it with your shirt!” I said.

We finally arrived to Kanpauk Town in the morning. I had about 30,000 Myanmar Kyat in my Wave money mobile account. Our first plan was to go to Dawei, but when I tried to arrange a ticket I was asked for my personal details, so we decided to continue walking through the forest instead. We went for so long. We ended up deep inside a rubber plantation after going through the Tanintharyi jungles, in an area where it is known a tiger lives. We were seriously worried. It took three days to cross that forest. During that time we did not even know what rice was. Luckily, I found a connection with the People’s Soldiers, a group welcoming people like us, and could tell them about our situation. They took us in.

Leaving my family was very difficult, but I had contact with my wife through the Telegram phone app. They were under pressure after I left. They had to report to the headquarters commander twice per day and were asked if they had any contact with me. Orders were given to shoot Master Black and I if we were ever found. My wife asked for permission to visit relatives but the commander hesitated; he only wanted to release her if and when my dead body was found. Inside the army, people also want to commit sexual harassment if a woman’s husband is gone. In the end my wife and kids were released, but their journey out was also hard.

When this is all over, I will open a restaurant with my friend Master Black. Rather than aim to make money, we will provide delicious meals for people, providing rice and nutrients for daily living. I will never return to the army. Currently I am building houses for ex-soldiers to live in, I have some carpentry skills. I have already completed one house for ten people and am currently working on a house with eight rooms for twenty people, it’s about forty percent done. While I am building houses now, if I am told to fight for the revolution, I will immediately join the people and I will fight, even if I go to my death.