The 70th Anniversary of Karen Martyr's Day Essay
Meh Sod Paw
Our first Karen president, Saw Ba U Gyi, has been valued for envisioning Kawthoolei, a country where Karen people would be free from repressive Burmese Tatmadaw (Armed Forces). Today, his hope of Karen people living on their own land and being free from the cruelty of the enemy has become a common thread among the Karen people regardless of where we have been scattered or the different lifestyles we live. His dream is a heritage we receive for simply being Karen. We are living on Saw Ba U Gyi's dream, a connection that Karen people share despite our differences. We have been waiting to live on our promised land, Kawthoolei, where our own choices create our future rather than fate. We have been desiring for space where we can celebrate our Karen Martyr's Day without consequences. Saw Ba U Gyi fought to make his outlook come into existence until 1950, the year he was executed. He is one of the most prominent leaders that we remember on Karen Martyr's Day celebration because just like our Karen old saying, he is "dead yet still speaks." He lived a humble life where his beliefs in freedom from persecution were widely known. Therefore, this paper will analyze Saw Ba U Gyi's three ways of making his vision come into existence: 1) armed struggle, 2) political dialogue and negotiated with the Burmese government; and 3) international intervention and arrangement on the Karen people's behalf.
On his travel for the cause of revolution, Saw Ba U Gyi and his men made a stop somewhere on a farmhouse for the night. Waking up on the morning of August 12, 1950, he and his men were being surrounded by the enemy. Although he knew the enemy had outnumbered them, he refused when being asked to surrender the weapons. His action emphasized his belief in freeing oneself from atrocities through armed struggle. The desire of Karen people to have space to just practice our core cultural values such as living peace, showing hospitality, and maintaining purity led to the emergence of different Karen organizations into Karen National Union (KNU). In 1956, the KNU Department of Defense was formed which is made out of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO).
In our usage of the armed struggle process to defeat the Burmese Tatmadaw, there is the tendency to forget that the enemy has other ways of fulfilling their plan which was mentioned by the Burmese general Maung La, "In the future, if you want to see Karen people, you must go to a museum." Focusing solely on armed forces will not prepare us to be ready for the tricks that the Burmese government would play. We would fall into the psychological operations that are being played by the Burmese government as our general Ner Dah Bo Mya mentioned in one of the videos. We have seen that our Karen people have been divided into different military groups with different perspectives working with the Burmese government. Armed struggle alleviates the conflict between the Karen and Burmese government temporarily, but it does not cure the problem of hunger and homicides that the Karen people endure. Furthermore, the outside world knows nothing about the various wars fought between the Karen resistance and the Burmese army. The cruelty of the Burmese government faded among the villages they lit on fire and no one knows because of their scheme. Outsiders understood very little about the rules and the life behind this veil. The world does not know about Karen lives in the refugee camps where only a few of them illegally experienced life beyond the boundary.
However, this aspect of having KNU Department of Defense is a strength that the Karen ethnic could be known for because, despite the high possibility of losing their lives, these Karen soldiers came forward to stop the enemy's fire flames that ate away the roof of their mothers’ house. Karen nation's usage of armed forces has shown good components because they encouraged teamwork that creates togetherness. Even if rice and salt were what the soldier's meal was made of, countless wars like Manerplaw was fought by these brave lives for justice. Growing up in a refugee camp, their great commitment could be heard through songs being played on a cassette player. The enemy's constant attacks at villages have severely damaged us but these brave lives choosing not to give up is what has shaken the hands of the enemies. Living such in a militarized society, our armed forces are what made it difficult for the enemies to destroy us because there are some courageous hearts to fight back. Through being armed the Karen people may have suffered damages, but we are not completely wiped out despite what the Burmese government has planned.
"Political dialogue and negotiated with the Burmese government" is another way to reach independence. This peaceful method of gaining our country back was even practiced by our first president Saw Ba U Gyi and some of the Karen leaders back in 1946 when they went to London to ask the British to fulfill their promise of giving us our land back. Sitting at the same table with our enemy is risky. It is giving them the chance to influence our thinking. It is easy for them to persuade us to get involved in other things so that we would forget about this dream we plan to achieve. Burmese people have influenced our leaders to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2012. Although this document was signed, we have seen on the news that lives continue to disappear by the evil hands of the Burmese government. This compromise has been beneficial for the Burmese government in many ways. They are only half complying with their agreement. They are now able to import weapons and materials on the road without Karen people's interference. Our leaders sat among people who do not mind breaking their promises. Our eyes have witnessed the opposite of the words that are sitting on the agreement paper.
In this revolution, many of our Karen leaders went through this soft experiment of gaining our country back. However, this way of communication involves treating another human with humility. It is a time when the Burmese government can talk without showing ruthlessness. Our effort for table talks expresses how much we value peace. We no longer yearn for wars. This method represents that we are a nation that thirsts for the phrase "no war left to fight." It also shows that we have the patience to sit among the Burmese government who only wishes evil things upon us.
Another final path to obtain freedom is receiving international support. This way of action could be difficult. It is challenging to gain a country's complete attention. Often, a country has to solve their own conflicts that exist within the nation. The country already has its own struggle. We could ask help from an advanced country like America, but its country also suffers from racism since 1619, a problem that they have not unfolded. Furthermore, some progressive countries might not see the worth of our heritage and culture to have the willingness to help us seek a place where we could carry what we have and pass them down to our children. A country like Britain continues without seeing our involvement during World War Two. When we asked for their help during the period of them colonizing Burma, they desired something in return which was helping them fight the Japanese. However, that promise has not been fulfilled although we fought for them and the Karen lives that were sacrificed.
Despite the challenging experiment of seeking support internationally, there is a possibility of succeeding with determination. What is efficient about this method is that it involves a high percentage of the participation of Karen people. The succeeding rate also depends on how much love we have for being Karen. Since Karen people have been scattered all over the world, our children would be more educated about the operations of how the system of where they live works to petition for our independence. The privilege to resettle in another has opened the opportunity to build relationships within the country we live in and gain a deeper understanding of how the systemic rules work. The biggest responsibility is to hand down our Karen heritage to the next generation. Living in a foreign country, we need to make it our priority to teach our children about Karen culture despite not enough time due to making money to pay bills. When we teach our children to love who we are, they will fight for space where they can express who they are. Going to the White House is one of the responsibilities we have taken which is a good example for our children.
In my perspective, this third method is most effective because it requires us to prioritize teaching our children to love who we are. It is more about taking the responsibility we have sincerely. Being split into different parts of the word makes it hard to be who we are because we are in the process of trying to adapt to new cultures. Our society values the strength in being able to adapt to new conditions. Therefore, we have to be careful when letting our children adjust because they acclimate easily to the point where they might not remember what they are if we have not fully given them their identity. However, this is a period where our children are given the chance to be in the salad bowl of many cultures. We must teach our children to remember who we are, so they would not want to become other things. We have to give them the joy of being explorers who would have the willingness to collect our Karen history and take on the quest to travel to the mountains where our ancestors climbed.
Since the crimes committed against us are being hidden by the Burmese government. It is in our hands to tell our own stories to our children and the world. This method is teaching us to love what is there first, so that there will be is a special place in our heart for our beautiful Kawthoolei, although we may not yet have that physical land. The civil war in Burma alters the route of our lives in a different direction, therefore the life we live involves not being able to bring everything that belongs to us to new places. Knowing who we are will destroy our sense of feeling loss, and not knowing which path to follow. We must know our identity. Knowing our ancient roots will help us feel the presence of our ethnic homeland and give us the strength to fight through obstacles that may stop us from thinking about our promised land Kawthoolei.