On Union Day, Views on Aung San
By The Irrawaddy 12 February 2020
To mark the 73rd Union Day on Feb. 12, The Irrawaddy revisits this story in which some of the country’s leading politicians, activists and religious figures speak about the late independence leader General Aung San, who brought ethnic leaders together to sign the Panglong Agreement on Feb 12, 1947 to restore independence from Britain. The story was published in The Irrawaddy Magazine in February 2015.
‘He Had Moral Courage’
U Tin Oo, Deputy Leader of the National League for Democracy
“General Aung San was a good citizen and a good leader. He was one in a million.
When I joined the army in 1944, he was already the war minister and commander-in-chief of the Burma Defense Army (later renamed the Burma National Army).
To paraphrase, he said that: There are no bad soldiers in my army, only bad captains. He meant that if leaders are bad, their followers will also be bad. If leaders are good and competent, their followers will also be good and competent.
In the past, [military men] were very unwilling to take from people. In the early days, they were told to make a request to home owners if they wished to enter a house. So people loved them and gave them food. The military then thought only about the country. Now, they seek self-interest.
The general’s death brought dark days to the country. If he had survived, our country would not have ended up as it has. He could have negotiated an agreement with his comrades.
His speeches are still relevant in the current age. When I think of General Aung San, I see clearly in my mind an honest, blunt, selfless person with moral courage.
For example, the general was not hesitant in making friends with bitter enemies.
He also said that armed organizations should not be involved in politics. He himself resigned from the military to chair the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League.
In the army, he offered senior positions to ethnic soldiers such as Kachin, Karen and Chin.
He set up Kachin, Karen, and Chin battalions.
Later on, battalions were formed of different ethnicities, yet most of them were comprised of Burmans. Ethnic soldiers felt their proportion of representation was very small. This undermined trust. These kinds of things should be considered again today. But if I said this in front of army leaders now I would be accused of breaking up the military.”
28, communications director, MyLann online restaurant directory
General Aung San had qualities of a good leader; he was humble, considerate and sympathetic. On this 100th centenary, our youth should be aware that we are writing our own history and we should try to write it like the General would, or better.
‘A Man of Principle’
Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, General Secretary of the Karen National Union
“General Aung San said that [Burmans] would claim back independence together with ethnic people. And he promised that we would not be enslaved by the Burmans. But later leaders did not fulfill his promises.
It is more than 60 years now since independence and we still do not have equality and self-determination. That’s why we ethnic people are fighting for a federal Union, democratic rights, equality and self-determination.
Successive governments did not give us a chance to solve the country’s fundamental political problems. We had no option but to resort to taking up arms as the [government] used guns to suppress our demands, rights and voices.
General Aung San’s words suggested that he had goodwill. He laid down basic political principles, but they were not applied.
Successive governments after him did not talk about solving political problems. But President U Thein Sein’s government seems willing to solve fundamental political problems, through political dialogue. This government says it intends to hold a Union-level conference like Panglong, but this has still not happened.
Internal peace is essential. Though there is a willingness to solve political problems, if fighting emerges from one side, doubts will continue to grow. It is difficult to reach a nationwide ceasefire accord as both sides’ past experiences make them doubt one another.“
‘We Will Never See His Like Again’
Daw Khin Ohmar, Rights Activist
“One of General Aung San’s attributes that I most respect is his long-term vision. I wish he had not been assassinated and could have provided leadership for the country.
He knew that none of the ethnic groups could be left out in rebuilding the country. He honestly thought that equality was a must. That is why he gained the support of the ethnicities and why he could reclaim independence.
His long-term vision was associated with honesty and moral courage. In our country, which is a very diverse one, honesty is a must to ensure peaceful co-existence.
We will never again see a leader like him.
He said: “You need to change your bad habits.” His words are still perfectly correct now. He knew the real situation of the country’s citizens. He foresaw what the challenges would be. He wanted to build a society in which people march in unity toward the same goal. The unity that those in power are now creating is a forced unity, which comes from the barrel of a gun and [would be] totally against the General’s desire. Therefore, we have a long way to go.”
Ko Win Tun Oo
His history was eradicated for about 40 years and most young people don’t know his exact story. There is no one who has his exemplary morals, the morals that are very important to rebuilding our country. If he had not died early, the number of amoral people would not be as abundant as now.
U Pandavunsa, Buddhist monk and leading figure in the 2007 Saffron Revolution
“I always thank General Aung San for his efforts to make our nation independent. His name has become virtually synonymous with Myanmar independence. It’s very important for all Myanmar people to remember it. Given the speeches he made in the 1940s, I have to admit that he was a visionary leader. What he said back then, about not disguising politics as religion, is still relevant today. In 1946, the General told monks that using religion purely in your own interests was a dirty tactic, and he urged the Buddhist clergy to promote loving-kindness by preaching freedom of religion. If we Myanmar people took what he said seriously, we would not have had the kind of religious problems we experienced in the past few years.”
He is my hero and now we live in an independent country because of his sacrifices. We are very thankful, we are proud of him and admire him.
‘Found Common Ground’
Maj-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, Vice Chief of Staff of the Kachin Independence Organization
“General Aung San talked about the importance of values such as equality and mutual respect. We should think about how to realize these values today.
There was quite strong trust between General Aung San and other ethnic leaders.
They trusted him personally, and both sides had a great deal of common ground as regards the political landscape.
However, as time went by, views have grown further and further apart.
Therefore, it is important that the principles that General Aung San articulated be applied now. We need to negotiate to rebuild understanding and find common ground.
I believe General Aung San would have kept his promises. That’s why we repeatedly mention the Panglong Agreement. Otherwise, we wouldn’t talk about it.”
30, student activist
Even as the period of history involving General Aung San is fading, elders tell the younger people about him as a bedtime story. Our country possesses many heroes like him. If we can identify these heroes, I believe it will give strength to youth.
‘He Understood Reconciliation’
U Mya Aye, 88 Generation Activist
“It was only after I had engaged in politics for some time that I came to understand more deeply why General Aung San engaged in politics at a young age, why he made sacrifices and why he became the national leader.
The more I understand him, the more I respect him. He had only one aim—to claim back independence for his country. What I like about him most was when he joined hands with Japan to establish the Burmese army and then later he re-established relations with the British. It is not easy to rebuild relations with a country you’ve fought against. When the British asked whether he had joined them because they were gaining the upper hand, he bluntly replied “yes.”
It seems almost impossible that Myanmar will see a political leader like him again; one who is pragmatic, astute and has his eyes firmly fixed on his goal.
Politicians are meant to unify people and provide leadership. A politician has to show the right way when the public is wrong. If he joins the majority, though he knows that the majority is wrong, then, as the General said, he is an opportunist.
Our country is a multi-faith country. If we are to build national reconciliation, we have to unify all its elements out of love for the country. No element can be left out.
The General knew and understood this well. So not only Buddhists, but also Christians, Hindus and Muslims had a good impression of him. Whenever he spoke about different races and religions, he never spoke of good or bad. He only spoke about patriotism. That’s why all people pine for him. He never discriminated religiously. That’s what we want. That’s democracy. As a politician, I respect him, and as a Muslim, I hold him in esteem. He set an example.”
Whenever I see his photos and read his speeches, a feeling of adoration emerges. He gave us independence. Had he not died so early, the country would be more prosperous.
‘His Pledges Are Unfulfilled’
Dr. Aye Maung, Chairman of the Arakan National Party
“As an ethnic man, I respect General Aung San. Former Arakan leaders also respected him.
If he had not died, our country would have been built as he had promised. Ethnic peoples signed the Panglong Agreement because they trusted him. The 1947 Constitution emerged as a result of pledges in that agreement.
However, after he passed away, provisions in the Constitution were not realized. In the view of ethnic people, Burman [Myanmar] leaders oppressed them without honoring the promises made by General Aung San.
If he had survived, he would have fulfilled his promises and our country would not have ended up like this.
The army as established by General Aung San would be one that respects people, doesn’t discriminate and gives positions to ethnicities. There are now no ethnic persons in high positions in the army.
The most important thing is the military should not intervene in politics. The military is ideally meant for national security and national defense.
Rather than organizing ceremonies to mark the 100th birthday of General Aung San, current leaders should try to build a genuine federal Union. Only by ensuring equality for all ethnicities in politics, the economy, social status and so on, can the promises made by General Aung San to ethnic people be fulfilled.
On the anniversary of General Aung San’s birth, the army should pay due respect to what he said and focus its attention on serving the interests of the people. It should be a federal army inclusive of all ethnicities. It should transform itself into one that protects diverse ethnicities from one that oppresses and kills its own national brethren.”
Reporting by Kyaw Phyo Tha, Nobel Zaw, Nyein Nyein, Saw Yan Naing and Zarni Mann.
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