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70th Karen Martyr’s Day Essay


Hso Wah

The Karen Martyr Day is one the most important day in Karen history. It is celebrated, due to the death of Saw Ba U Gyi.  Saw Ba U Gyi is one of the most important figures in Karen history. Before I analyze the three strategies that were laid out by Saw Ba U Gyi, it is important that I give a brief history on who he was. Saw Ba U Gyi was born in 1905, to a wealthy Karen family in Burma. He studied at Rangoon University, and then went to London to study at Cambridge University, which at the time was one of the most prestigious universities in England. He later passed his English Bar, which was an exam you needed to pass to become a lawyer. In 1937 he returned to Burma to serve as the Minister of Revenue. While he was working in Burma, he got involved with working to help the Karen people gain independence from the British. At the time, the British controlled Burma. Saw Ba U Gyi went to Great Britain in an effort to regain control of the land for his people. The British however, refused to give back the land to the Karen, but instead gave it to the Burmese. The British made an agreement with Aung San-Attlee, who was the Burmese president at the time, and gave him and the Anti- Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) to rule over Burma. Saw Ba U Gyi, at the time was part of the AFPFL but later left because he disagreed with AFPFL views and resigned to lead the Karen National Union (KNU). Saw Ba U Gyi spent the later of his life fighting for the freedom of the Karen people. Unfortunately, on August 12th 1950, he was gunned down by the Burmese military, becoming a martyr to his people. Martyr Day not only pays tribute to him but to all the Karen fallen soldiers. 
    While Saw Ba U Gyi served as the leader for the Karen National Union, he went by four principles which were, surrender is out of the question, the recognition of the Karen State must be completed, we shall retain our arms, and we shall decide out own political destiny. One of the strategies laid out by Mr. U Gyi was the armed struggle. When I hear armed struggle, I think of Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as his country’s first black president. He is a symbol of justice, equality, and dignity. When he realized the peaceful protests were not working, he was willing to use violence in order to gain freedom. Also, Vietnam is another good example of a successful armed struggle. With them fighting off the American military.  But the con to an armed struggle is that when militant groups begin with a theoretical analysis that change can only come through violence. Even if the military campaign is successful, a process for an orderly handover of power is preferable and this requires some capacity to negotiate the end of the war. Armed struggle can cause militant mindset to emerge, often in justification from actions of their opponents. It can incorporate a belief that the state and the establishment have no interest in sharing power and will continue to maintain intel using this power and capacity to oppress. 
The second strategy Saw Ba U Gyi laid out was “political dialogue and a negotiated settlement with the Burmese Army”. This strategy is out of the question because the Burmese government is still very much corrupt and is still ran by the military despite electing Aung San Suu Kyi as leader. While political dialogue does not seem out of the question, since it has worked in the past. When you look at Ghandi and Martin Luther King, they decided to help change the political law, and give more freedom for their people. The con in that is when there is corruption in the government then there will be barely any change in power. If we look back during the Civil War, when the civil war ended there was a political dialogue and the decision to abolish slavery. But, the abolishment of slavery was only followed up with more political laws to keep a group of people in gaining freedom. 
For international intervention it would be hard during this time and age, because many countries do business with other countries. For example, many countries are indebted to China, so even if China was to do something that didn’t many leaders from other countries didn’t agree with, they couldn’t do much due to their business relationship. If there were to go against China, then their country might economically suffer. One of the pros about international intervention would be the story with Hong Kong, the conflict in Hong Kong has spurred a lot of response from countries all over the world. Even though many countries did business with China, many countries were not afraid to call China out. The con to international intervention would be when allies no longer become an ally after political parties’ change. Look at Palestine, after Donald Trump was elected President, the country was taken away from the Palestine’s and given to the Israelis, so they can establish their Jewish state. International intervention is very hard, because many countries also choose sides where that country can either help or benefit them, if a group of people can not benefit them, then most of the time there is no use in intervening.
Theoretically, for the Karen State to gain freedom without international intervention, there would need to be a strong unified source of leadership. Knowing that Myanmar’s closest ally is China, even though international intervention is necessary, it is a very difficult thing to navigate through this time, all other nations are in the middle in their relationship with China. That can be a difficult part in international intervention. All three of those alone will not be possible. Maybe, we don’t need to look at our past but rather come up with a new hybrid model. 
Realistically, all three part in gaining freedom and all three have an importance. Currently, what we really need to do is take the conflict into a new playing field. It must be a hybrid model; it can’t be word for word what was done in the 30s. If you look back at Hong Kong, just because the Burmese government might be backed up by China does not mean it other countries might not go against China. We saw the United States taking Hong Kong side. It can’t just be international intervention, there must be a movement and a revolution, and that must be politically engaged with the Myanmar Government. There also must be an armed component, which is the simple basic need of protecting the villages and human life. We might not have an army that is able to overthrow a government, but we do need a sense of protection. What the Karen state need to do is show the atrocity and get people to see what is going on for people to care. These three things in it of themselves isn’t relevant in this time and age to get the Karen story out there. How did the Rohingya, get the notoriety that they got despite the long ongoing civil war that has been going on inside Myanmar. Many of my friends in college have no clue who the Karen people are, or how it’s one of the longest ongoing civil war in Myanmar. We need to use the form of technology as a form of weapon, you can change a lot of opinions through the weaponizing of technology.