Htet Naing Aung

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို အင်္ဂလိပ်ဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

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

I am twenty-nine years old. I chose to participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) even though doing so led to the destruction of my wedding engagement. My girlfriend and I were serious about each other and had a plan to marry, but when I told her I wanted to leave the army and do CDM after the 2021 military coup, she begged me not to. She didn’t want me to go far away, no matter about politics. I left anyway. I want the children I sire in the future to be proud that their father was a soldier who stood up for the truth. A month after I left the army, my fiancé and I broke up.

My family is also upset that I joined CDM. My parents are the ones who pushed me into the army. They forced me to take the Defense Services Academy entrance exam when I was only in tenth grade. They paid off the examiners so that I passed. But I lied to my family and said I still failed. They were unhappy with me, but we came to an understanding. I said I would join the army after I finished my full education, and they should let me stay in school and go to university first. And that’s exactly what happened. I graduated with a degree in mathematics and immediately joined the army on November 14, 2012.

From 2013-2015 I worked with aircraft. I spent quite a bit of time in Laukkaing Township. While I was there, I experienced being shelled by artillery. It was devastating there. Laukkaing Town was like a ruined city. I did not enjoy my work and felt like I was only participating in evil. I decided to change my path so I would not be working in a section of the army that actively killed people.

I took a two-year training course in Ba Htoo and became a computer clerk in an army office in Myitkyina Township. This was a better job. I took home about 220,000 Myanmar Kyat per month. I managed logistics and kept lists of food, fuel, utilities, as well as compiling agricultural statistics. I went outside sometimes to photograph army tree-planting ceremonies and stuff like that, sending the documentary evidence to my army superiors. I was doing this, at the rank of second-class sergeant, when the coup happened.

As soon as my colleagues and I learned of the coup, we gossiped. There are some like-minded people in my division. We agreed the country would become worse off, even possible worse than before 1988. I had a bad feeling. I saw the video of the first protester to die on the streets, Mya Thwe Thwe Khine, who was shot in the head by a policeman with an Uzi. I registered for CDM immediately in March, though I was still employed by the army. I had to be strategic as I was in Myitkyina but had to get down to Kayin State. I could be caught and in trouble. Luckily in April I had an army flight planned to take me to Pyin Oo Lwin via Meiktila. I simply got off the plane in Meiktila and left the airport. I was free.

While planning my escape I had made a lot of fake documents, travel documents etc. I worked in an office so this was no problem. I could sit tight in Meiktila because of these documents. I had to wait for two weeks before I could get contact with an organization to agree to help me and take me in. I got the contact through another clerk I knew who left the military before me. I cut fake tickets that said I was going to Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin towns, but I actually traveled overland to Mawlamyine Town. My documents and excuses worked at the checkpoints.

I also had help from a friendly guesthouse in Mawlamyine. I saw that the owners kept a photo of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on their wall behind the counter. I have admired Daw Suu ever since I was a student. I told the guesthouse owners the truth about my mission. They kept me safe in their house when the administrators came to the guesthouse to check the guests. They helped me sneak out of the town and get to Kayin State. I was careful and didn’t even use my phone until I made it there.

When I finally made contact with my family again, they were so happy, but very concerned. My sister still calls me on the phone and cries every time the military carries out atrocities. She is a teacher and would like to perform civil disobedience, but someone must look after our parents and the whole family. She said that because I am a soldier, it is more effective for me to join the CDM than her, and she should keep working to support them. She has always been so kind to me. I’m worried my family will be targeted and harmed by the military. I left a note for the army when I left. I threatened that if they touched my family, I would do the same to their own family members who live outside the barracks. But this was an empty threat.

Now I have had more time to reflect away from the army, I see that at the top, the military is simply power crazy. The civilian government of the National League for Democracy was doing well. I voted for real civilian parties in the elections. Under civilian administration, Myanmar’s transportation system had started to improve, living standards were getting better and jobs were more available and with better conditions. People like me initially joined the army back before civilian politics because our country had not yet benefited from these improvements. There were few opportunities in those days.

The people I worked with in the military until recently do know right from wrong. In the air force in particular, life is comfortable and they earn a lot of money. They can’t give up their incomes. From Min Aung Hlaing down to the lowest ranks, there is a mentality stopping soldiers from joining the people. They are crazy about power. Some even told me directly that the coup was good because the military would now prosper. They would gain more income and power and status once again; the coup would be good for their lives and careers.

In order to enact the coup, the army has treated the people as the enemy and shot them in the head. There are laws in this country but soldiers act as if there is no law. They spread disinformation in order to separate the soldiers from the people. For example, generals told their subordinates to tell all personnel that the water being offered to dehydrated soldiers at protests was poisoned. This manufactured distrust makes it hard for soldiers to leave the army.

The military has too much control over its soldiers. I still try to argue with some of my former air force colleagues about politics. They worry about their families; it is hard work to convince them to flee. They only understand fear, so I tell them the window for joining the CDM is closing. After my experiences, I have come to believe it would be better to destroy the military completely, permanently, rather than try to reform it. When the resistance movement finally attacks the military on the ground, I want to have done good psychological warfare beforehand, and capitalized on soldiers’ low morale and their fear. If we fight them in the open without first destroying their spirit, we will only fail.