Zwe Man

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Zwe Man. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1. https://ijbs.online/?page_id=3484

I am Thura Zwe Man. I served in a battalion that was under Light Industry Division (LID) 66. However, when I joined up I wanted to join LID 77. I was traded to LID 66 against my will. Let me tell you about that. But first, a little more about me. I had an unusual upbringing. I lived abroad until I was twenty-three years old. I always loved war and guns, gunfights. I was dying to join the military and be a soldier that is respected and loved by the country’s people. It has been my dream since I was just a boy.

I was living abroad until 2016, when I was twenty-three years old, when I came back to Myanmar on a pilgrimage. During that trip I witnessed a military parade in Bago. The people were cheering and giving awards to the soldiers. It was great. As soon as I saw this, I decided to stay in Myanmar and enlist in the army. So, I went to LID 77 to enlist, with the help of an agent. I gave the agent my phone, motorcycle and necklace. He said he would return them after basic training. But then LID 77 sold me to LID 66 in Taungoo. I found out that I was trafficked for thirteen lakhs. They do this in the military. I never got my belongings back from the agent, who disappeared.

I finished basic training in 2017. A week after I finished training, I was sent to Laukkaing District in Northern Shan State. I was there for over two years. When I got back to base, I had been put on the list of “hard-working soldiers”. I made a name for myself. Two weeks later, I was promoted to corporal. I went to sniper training, which took four months, then I went through psychological warfare and legal training. After the trainings, and six months after being promoted, I was assigned to Pyin Oo Lwin to provide security for the Defense Services Academy graduation ceremonies. That took another two months. Now we’re up to 2019, early 2020.

I was sent to Rakhine State. I fought on the front for four months. This is where I really distinguished myself. While my unit was trying to capture an outpost, I saw one of our men get hit and fall. I ran to save him and pulled him out. He turned out to be the most high-ranking officer in our battalion. He had been hit in the legs; I was also injured while extracting him. I was given a medal by a commander of the Regional Operation Command, who informed central command. I was immediately promoted to sergeant.

I was then deployed to the battalion headquarters on the major’s security detail. From that point on, I worked security for him. It was my last post before the coup. When the first coup took place, I did nothing; in fact my whole unit did nothing. We just went about our normal work. I had no idea soldiers were doing anything bad at all. We lived in a bubble. The beatings and deaths were hidden from us.

I first found out about the horrors when talking to my girlfriend on the phone. She related to me many of the things that were happening on the streets. Peaceful protesters were being beaten. In one case later, the army ran down and killed them in a truck. I felt awful. I had experienced some terrible things in Laukkaing, in Rakhine State and even in Pyin Oo Lwin. There is oppression, discrimination and breaches of human rights within the military. But my worst experience has been coming to terms with the coup.

My girlfriend directly asked me to leave to the military. I started preparations. I started listening to the broadcasts from People’s Soldiers, who provided guidelines and instructions for travel arrangements, food and living expenses for people who escape military service. It’s not easy for the average soldier, who cannot leave their compound. It was even harder for me given my proximity to a high-ranking officer. I was not even allowed to go the shop just across the street from where I slept. But I got away finally, on September 21, 2021.

I kept telling my senior that I had a medical appointment due. It took a while, but finally he granted me a morning off—but only if I came straight back after the check-up. I seized the opportunity. I left with my motorcycle, leaving my gun, gloves, everything. I picked up my girlfriend and we were gone. I headed to my brother’s place, who was active in the revolution, and we stayed there lying low for a month. I connected with People’s Soldiers. They told us what to do. Because I had my own bike, we simply got on and rode for four days to reach the liberated area. I lied again and again at all the military checkpoints. Sometimes it rained from 7AM to 6PM. Sometimes the sun was baking down. We just kept going, we couldn’t hang around. When we finally got to our destination, it was an amazing feeling.

Apart from my motorcycle, I left everything behind. I had eighteen lakhs in the bank. I had another two motorcycles. Some jewelry. My life insurance from the military would be about five lakhs by now. All gone. But it does not matter. I joined the military because I wanted to work for and be loved by the people. I left the military for the same reasons. I can find money later. Now, I am free from serving dictatorship, and only serve the people.

Many people in the military support it blindly; they will never leave it, no matter its bad reputation. These are the ones doing businesses within the military, making money off the top. For many of them, when they joined the army, they had nothing, so money is everything. After years of corruption, for example, manning checkpoints and taking bribes from illegal logging trucks—it can be as much as 200,000 Myanmar Kyat per vehicle—they have enough cash to buy houses and farms, which they could never have dreamed of in a civilian life. Others are afraid for their families if they abandon their service. Some hope for change from within.

But the military simply will not reform. The dictator, Min Aung Hlaing, is only working for his own benefit, and does not care about the development of the country. Under his rule, the army neglects the people; they do not care who lives or dies. While generals’ families visit foreign countries and enjoy their lives peacefully, soldiers are dying and being maimed, and the people are suffering. The dictator will not give up. He has paid off his successors to retire so he can continue his rule.

OK, so, the dictator will not give up: civilians should not give up either. We must keep fighting. We have to be patient. Nothing is impossible.