Thuza Lwin

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Thuza Lwin. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1. https://ijbs.online/?page_id=3510

I’m Thuza Lwin, 38 years old. I was never a soldier myself, but my brother is and my father was, and I married a soldier too. I am from Mawlamyine Township and my husband is from Taikkyi, Ahpyauk. My father’s military career was under the Mawlamyine South-East Military Command, so I grew up in the barracks. My dad fought bravely for the army at Three Pagodas Pass, etc. He was badly injured, broken, and left the military when he was no longer useful to them. He became bitter and cynical about the army and did not want to even hear the word soldier anymore—it didn’t matter that his son, my brother, was a military officer.

After I grew up I moved around a little bit, including studying in Yangon, before meeting my husband, who was a military captain at the time. When we married in 2011, my father stopped talking to me. He died soon after without even meeting my husband—he had a saying late in his life, “If you want to become poor slowly, let your son become a soldier. If you want to become poor quickly, let your daughter marry a soldier”. Dad’s pathway through the military defined his life and his bitter death. I respected him but had to disregard his opinion of my future husband.

I created my own path and walked on it.

My husband is a good man. He was injured during combat in Rakhine State and had steel plates put inside his legs. They are not strong anymore. After the operation, when he realized he would be in pain for the rest of his life, he asked for permission to retire from the army, but he was denied. Instead, he grinned and bore it, rising to the rank of major. We have an infant daughter and nine-year-old son and most recently were living at the Kalaw battalion.

Living in the barracks can be tough, but since I grew up in military compounds I’m used to it. There is constant bullying within the military hierarchy. For example, if a soldier is genuinely sick and requires rest, their superiors will still physically force them to work. I saw this kind of thing all the time. My recent life up until the 1 February 2021 coup was better than most though, because of my husband’s high rank.

Now, living life outside the army at a time of revolution, my son has forgotten even how to use chopsticks. He asked me recently if we had become poor, because of our new difficult living conditions. I tried to explain how we are taking back the power and remedying injustice. I comforted my son and told him he is not poor because he can still attend school. Still, it’s not easy.

Since the 1 February 2021 coup, I have grown so mad. Everyone knew the National League for Democracy won the election, it was overwhelming, everywhere you looked you saw red, the party’s color. How could the generals do this? The army eats what the people provide. It is funded by the public to protect the public. The army cannot just insult the people, kill them, treat them as an enemy. It is unacceptable. I don’t understand how some in the military used the coup as an opportunity to steal from the people.

I will always remember the morning of the coup. My husband looked at me and said with gravity, “Something that should not happen has happened”. He was assigned to a security program the following day, managing street protests. We talked and decided that I should leave the barracks. So, on 3 February, I took the children and went to my home village to lay low. My husband continued his work and we kept texting on the phone. After a week he called me: “This week was OK, but next week I will be given the order from above to tell my troops to shoot and crack down with force. I cannot do that”.

My husband left the army on 10 February, came to us on 11 February, and then he disappeared on 12 February. I didn’t hear from him for over two months until 22 April when his escape was made public in the media. It was hard. He had been keeping quiet about where he was and what he was doing for our safety. But once his departure was confirmed within the army, he knew we were at risk and had to join him. It was so good to hear his voice. I really thought he was dead.

I found out that he was the very first soldier to leave the army and was the only major to do so for a long time; until now only three majors have joined the revolution. He was the 2021 pioneer who first reached the liberated areas that would later become home to many ex-soldiers. After saying goodbye to us on 12 February, he traveled far and directly walked up to soldiers at war with the Myanmar military and said, “I am from this battalion, I’m a major, and I seek asylum here because I cannot accept the military coup”. He wasn’t trusted at first. They watched him constantly.

After 22 April the State Administration Council (SAC) disseminated pictures of our family everywhere, with the caption “This is the major’s family who murder people”. We were in danger. I gathered my children and took the bus towards the liberated areas where my husband was waiting for us. People were suspicious of us and I had to lie constantly along the way. I told one military man that my husband drove trucks in the jungle because he could tell we were a military family.

Once we got far enough, we were met by people with guns that my husband had arranged to guide us to our final destination. At that time shelling started. I felt like it was never going to end. Our chaperones told me not to be afraid and I told my children the same. But to be truthful, I was really scared. In my previous life in the army, these men were considered rebels. I was being protected, but I felt like I had been arrested by ‘rebels’. We had to go five or six hours through the conflict zone. Whenever SAC soldiers were close, we had to run. At the end of all that, my husband was not even at the camp we were delivered to. He was on active operations in the jungle.

My kids and I still don’t see my husband much. He is always leading combat brigades against the SAC. They have a saying in the army that he often quotes to me when he visits: “In the army, you will be apart from your husband, whether he is alive or dead”. Now he is a people’s soldier, this truth remains the same. But it is much better now he does not wear the Myanmar military uniform. Now my soul is clean and we are loved by the people, even if we are apart. I never show him my tears.

Our life was not very secure in Kayin State throughout 2021. We had to run from fighting, in the Karen National Liberation Army’s (KNLA’s) Brigade One area, and again when the fighting broke out near our place in Lay Kay Kaw. Things got better for us once People’s Soldiers and People’s Embrace and other organizations started supporting the families of soldiers who left the army. But not better for my husband, he still lives like a guerilla fighter.

He actually hurt himself during combat recently. He fell into a ditch and did something to his legs again. They are not broken, but his mobility is bad. He has become thin and weak. The KNLA says they still need him, so he still fights and strategizes with the revolutionary forces. Our kids feel sad when they see other families with fathers who are at home and taking care of them, playing with them. I comfort myself by thinking, “He is fighting for all the people, and not for his own self-interest”. Recently, I asked my husband if he regretted giving up his status and leaving the army. He replied: “Why would I? The kids on the streets are giving up their lives”. I am very proud of him. He never seeks the spotlight. He only has integrity.

As for me, I try to live peacefully, look after my children and give handicraft and sewing training sessions to anyone who is interested. Everyone respects us because of my husband’s revolutionary activities, even people high in the Karen National Union. I help distribute aid from the people and plan for further arrivals of soldiers who leave the security forces.

I tell people still in the army to leave as it won’t be easy in the future. Many on the inside are depressed. Some tell me that the army has spread rumors that they planted mines outside the bases, to prevent escapes. They tell me my life is actually more secure than theirs; they feel like pariahs, like prisoners.

I have lost contact with my brother, who is an officer. I don’t know where he is. I don’t think he will join the people. He prefers the way of the generals: eating good food off a gold plate in an air-conditioned room, while all around low-ranking soldiers are hungry, hungry until they give their lives in combat and are left to rot in the dirt. Ground troops get nothing in the army; it is a scam. We all look forward to a better future after military rule is over.