Ye Yint Thwe

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Ye Yint Thwe. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1.

I’m Ye Yint Thwe, thirty years old, single. I actually left the military twice. The first time, they intercepted me and coaxed me back in. My second time leaving the army was successful and I am now in a liberated area, building houses, looking for a wife, comfortably surrounded by people who are united in how they live and oppose the military dictatorship. It was cold the other night and some people came and donated us all warm clothes. This kind of thing makes me very happy.

Let me tell you my story. How did I get to this point?

When I was young, I was pretty typical; I really admired soldiers and their greatness, especially when I saw them during army parades. I lived in Da Nyin Gone and would play football a lot. The barracks there had a good sports field, so sometimes I would play with the soldiers. They taught me how to carry a gun in between matches. Then back at home, when I would muck around with my sisters, I always pretended to be a soldier.

My only goal was to grow up and become a glorious soldier. I failed tenth grade twice. I joined the military finally when I was 17, so I was inside for thirteen years. The conditions were difficult. In the outside world, you earn money equal to the amount of work that you put in, but in the military, you only get 150,000 Myanmar Kyat, no matter how hard you work, with an annual increase of only 10,000 Myanmar Kyat. If there is a training workshop you need to attend, you must do so at your own expense. Your salary is deducted by at least 20,000 Myanmar Kyat each month to pay for mandatory “health insurance”. Then when you want to withdraw your own money, you can’t.

Most of my career was in Light Infantry Division 11. I had some good times with my friends from other battalions, going to the pagoda, etc. when we could. (We didn’t really get any holidays. Even at Thingyan, it is hard for soldiers to leave the barracks.) While there were challenges, I always thought the military was right in everything that they did.

This changed only when I joined the campaign in Laukkaing Township. While fighting there, we were told that we would get benefits for achieving certain goals. If you killed an enemy, and claimed one corpse, you were supposed to be rewarded. If you confiscated an enemy weapon, you were supposed to be rewarded. But nothing was ever given to us infantry soldiers who risked our lives. The senior officers were always full of excuses.

Inside the military we have sixty ethical rules for dealing with civilians. None of these were being followed in my division in Laukkaing. I realized that the soldier I was being, and the soldier I wanted to be, were completely different. What had I done? I had to stand on the side of the truth.

But even after this realization, I could not leave the military so easily before the coup. Instead, I changed battalions. I told the new battalion that I was incapable, so they did not give me any responsibilities and I could live in the army more simply. But I still had to go to the frontlines.

Then some time after the coup, in August 2021, I was given three days off from fighting at the front. I had been involved in active combat for over a year, so I should have deserved some formal leave. I requested it but was denied. So I went away without leave. When I got back to my family home to get some money, the army was waiting for me. They arrested me and took me back to my battalion. They tried to talk to me and persuade me not to leave again. But I was done with them. I played along for a month—then I left in the dead of night, while bunking in South Dagon.

I had no money; nothing. I walked from South Dagon to Insein township. It took all night and I had to keep hiding on the road whenever I saw lights or people. After a while, I called my mother on my phone, and she sent me some money and asked me to come home. When I finally got back to my family home, she gave me some more money, and told me I had to live somewhere else. I got in contact with an organization in one of the liberated areas and left for my freedom.

The army came to my family home and harassed my family, but my mother was clever. She told the soldiers that she had disowned me completely for joining the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).

“He never even told me when he joined the army! And now he hasn’t told me that he has left the army! I am disowning my son and disinheriting him. He will never get anything from me when I die,” she said.

Because I had never given the army any hints that I would join the CDM and my family is not political, they seemed to believe her, and have not caused problems for us since then.

Now I am on the outside and I look back at the army, I can see how the words of the army generals are manipulative and stoke violence. Soldiers live in a world completely different to the reality outside. They only see the moon through a bamboo stick (an idiom meaning their worlds/perspectives are limited). There’s a general lack of knowledge.

Sometimes we had our phone and social media use limited, but to be honest, even when they had the opportunity many soldiers didn’t dare to use social media, out of fear. The military officers told us that people on social media are trying to break up our families and cause conflict within the army. Soldiers just listen and don’t know any better.

Most soldiers are like this, just like I was: they think the officers are educated and knowledgeable. They follow them blindly, and this makes up for the fact that when you join the army, you lose your overall mental freedom. There’s no autonomy. There is only mental and physical exhaustion. And at the end of it, there is nothing to look forward to. Even the pensions are being thinned out. The people hate the soldiers now and will beat you up if you go home and are identified.

At least eighty percent of infantry soldiers do not want to be there anymore, in reality. They are sick of it. If they’re reading this, I want to say one simple thing. Think about whether the salary you get is worth the work that you do.