Htin Shar

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Htin Shar. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1. https://ijbs.online/?page_id=3587

My name is Htin Shar. I am 26 years old and now that I am finally out of the military, my aim is to spend my life peacefully with my family and run a small business. In eleventh grade I took an economics major at school and really enjoyed it. I admired my economics teacher. In those days, I dreamed of applying to the University of Economics and becoming a businessperson. But I ended up stuck in the army instead, through an unfortunate sequence of events eight years ago.

Back when I finished school, I volunteered as a teacher with local students at my hometown in Ayeyarwady Region. I was just passing time until I turned 18 years old. I am Kayin and a Christian, but I am not a strong believer. I don’t mind going to monasteries and pagodas. Anyway, back then, a friend of my father visited our town and learned what I was doing and that I had finished the matriculation exam. He said he could give me a job maintaining airplanes. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t really understand the ramifications of accepting. I just went along with him, and at one point I asked him about the details of the job. He clicked his fingers. I didn’t get it. Then he told me I would be shooting a gun. I would be a soldier. I was struck dumb in disbelief.

But I was already on the way to the recruiting unit. He was my father’s friend.

At the recruiting unit there were four or five other new recruits. All we did for a while was eat, sleep and repeat. The other guys said their families had been given reward money for joining the military, and that we were going to do military training and learn how to shoot. I wasn’t sure about that— my father did not get any money from his friend, and I still thought I wouldn’t have to become a real soldier. I thought maybe I would have to do the training only “on paper”, to convince the Pathein Basic Military Unit I had done it, so I could then fix the airplanes. But I was wrong.

Even so, after basic training and everything, I did eventually get a higher non-combat position, being in charge of the Coordination and Regulatory Committee at an air force base headquarters. I ran a lot of campaigns for soldiers and their families, as well as for civilians. My committee did things like selling affordable meals at events, for example at hospitals during the elections. Most of my work was trying to improve the public’s perception of the military; we had to try and increase the people’s devotion to the military. Sometimes it was good but sometimes I felt extremely guilty.

Once, our superiors commanded us to go to a monastery to offer meals to the monks. We were instructed to go there and film the process, with the video to be submitted for the higher-ups to use. It went OK, but one of the monks did not look comfortable with my filming him, he just stared at me in this uneasy way as I filmed him. He stopped eating his meal. I kept filming him, for like 15 minutes. I felt so sad deep down. He obviously did not want me to film him, but I had been ordered to.

Even before the coup I began to feel like my life was meaningless, giving all my energy to creating propaganda for the Tatmadaw. Even offering these meals to the monks was just a part of their scheme. During COVID-19, when we distributed many affordable meals to the needy, all the military really wanted were photographs. Sometimes I got told off for taking poor photos of our desperate meal recipients. Worse than this is that I had to prepare PowerPoint presentations and other propaganda, writing about how good the military is. I started feeling less disappointed with my life and more furious at what I was doing, and at the military.

Then the coup happened.

I was effectively a clerk, so I had no idea what had happened on the actual day of the coup. We knew something was going on only by the actions of other soldiers. At that time the phone lines were cut off. We learned about the coup officially only a few hours later at around 8AM. It was devastating. I felt like the army were colonizers, and we the people, the colonized. Of course, there were rumors since the 2020 elections (when many soldiers did not even get to choose their votes) that the military was going to take power no matter what, but I thought that was impossible. After the coup the army has run the line that the power grab was in fact a constitutional transfer of power. It’s obviously nonsense, but I know that given enough time, falsehoods can become truth.

I realized my side. My desire to leave the army and join the people took form.

It was not easy to leave. One friend and I finally took the chance on 3 July 2021. At that time COVID-19 mitigation regulations meant that no one was allowed to leave the air force base. I literally searched the perimeter for holes in the fence to get out—so carefully, because my bunkmates and other friends could easily notice what I was doing. I had to watch my mouth too. The rains were heavy, so I prepared well for the trip. One time when we were off-duty and allowed to visit the market I bought raincoats, shoes and a really good, big bag, then I had to sequester it all away so my bunkmates didn’t suspect anything. It was really difficult in such a small barracks.

The best day to leave would obviously be Saturday or Sunday, as the rollcall is on Monday, giving us a couple of days’ head start. We got up early on Saturday morning and went through a hole in the fence we identified earlier. The huge backpack was fit to burst with all of our belongings. Once we were out, it didn’t take long for us to be apprehended. A guard soldier saw us walking and called out, “Where are you going?”. We didn’t answer, but we stuck our chins out and looked him up and down. He kept staring at us but we went on our way.

Soon after, we came across motorcycle taxis who took us to the highway. We went past an army checkpoint; they looked at us intently, but they also didn’t stop us. We managed to get to the bus station and caught a bus into Kayin State. The bus trip itself was unexpected. We were taken in by an older woman. Her heart was close to ours and she took care of us. She did not ask us what we had done or where we were going. She told the army soldiers at every single checkpoint that we were her family and traveling with her. She was amazing. When we finally parted ways, she looked at us as the bus departed with such a worried look.

When we left the bus, we slept one night in the forest and met a Karen National Union soldier and a clerk participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement. They took care of us and we finally reached a liberated area, out of control of the army, and full of people like us. Once we were there, we discovered that one of our former soldier colleagues at the air force base had also left and arrived earlier. It turned out that we were not the first to abandon the army and choose the people from our base, but we had no idea at the time.

Now I live simply and help the resistance by encouraging soldiers to join with the people. It is very difficult, as many soldiers have a very basic education; even if they know their superiors in the army are bad, even if they sympathize with the wider public, they cannot imagine what kind of job they would do outside the military with no education. They also think they are indebted to the military institution for taking them in and paying their salary.

And then, many in the air force have scams going. They underreport the use of petrol and then sell it on. This is just one of many scams that makes them a lot of money; not higher staff, but regular staff at the air force. Some earn four to twenty lakh per week just from cooking the books and stealing petrol. Some of these people are illiterate. They will never leave as they could never make such money outside the military. But if there was a real fight, these craven opportunists would never actually hold a gun for the army. They would just run. I want the army and air force soldiers to follow in my footsteps. I want them to enjoy the love of the public, just as I do now, rather than deserve and receive their hatred.