Ethnic Issues

Marking Karen Martyrs Day, A Soldier Speaks of Armed Struggle

By Brigadier General Saw Ralph 8 August 2015

Wednesday will mark the 65th Karen Martyrs’ Day, the day that Saw Ba U Gyi, first president of the Karen National Union (KNU), was killed in a Burma Army ambush. Eight of his comrades were also killed during the operation, carried out in a remote village of Hto Kaw Koe in Kawkareik Township, Karen State.

The carefully planned assassination was a key moment in the Karen’s more than 60-year-long struggle for political autonomy, hence Karen Martyrs Day is held to remember all Karen fighters who have fallen in resistance to Burmese rule.

What follows is a speech by Brigadier General Saw Ralph, a retired member of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), delivered on Saturday during a commemoration ceremony at the Australian Karen Organization, Perth, Australia.

Through the decades the soldier’s profession has remained one of duty and sacrifice. War is never pleasant, yet many soldiers have served bravely, facing the horrors of the battlefield with courage and resilience. The reality of combat is that the soldier is constantly dealing with death—whether causing or avoiding it.

For someone to deal continually with death is a difficult thing, to say the least. Fear, uncertainty and danger are constant facts of combat. Living in the valley of the shadow of death marks people in ways that are not always visible—and often, never fully escaped.

Those who have never experienced the horror of combat can never fully understand the toll it takes on the soldier. Nonetheless it is worthwhile to remember their sacrifices. Every Heroes’ Day [Karen Martyrs’ day] on the 12th of August the people of Kawthoolei [Karen State], or wherever they are, pause to remember those who have served and to consider the cost of freedom.

On Heroes’ Day hymns are sung, prayers are offered, readings are given and the “Reveille” is sounded. People stand in silence to honor the sacrifices of men and women who have served Kawthoolei in conflicts around Burma, since the historic Karen Revolution. People ponder the cost of war and the efforts of those fought on their behalf.

Heroes’ Day is extremely important for Kawthoolei because it is a reminder of the fragile nature of life in a broken country. It is a reminder of the finality of death and the value of life. It is a statement that life and freedom are worth the cost.

Freedom is never won without cost. Right is might. God is with us. On to victory.

Retired Brig-Gen Saw Ralph joined the Karen Revolution during the Battle of Insein in 1949. He rose through the ranks of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) to become General Staff Officer. After five decades fighting for the Karen cause he retired from the KNLA in 1999.