Christopher J. Walker notes the terror and the uncertainty, the bravery and the heroism, that coëxist under the oppressive military rule in Myanmar.
Editor’s Note: This post is the thirty-first installment in an ongoing series, Chronicle of a Coup, comprised of reports written from within Myanmar by Christopher J. Walker (a pseudonym), a longtime resident, which together sketch one person’s first-hand account of the weeks and months following the February 1, 2021, military coup. A selection of his reports will be posted weekly, every Friday. A chronological archive is also available here.
Tea Circle is grateful to Christopher for sharing his personal account of life under military rule in Myanmar. Recognizing that his voice is one of many, we encourage other authors to submit their own accounts.
The baying hounds | August 27, 2021
Last night I had a dream that a friend and I were leaving a market when jet bombers filled the sky. Alarmed, we ran for cover. Then everyone started clapping when they realized that they were not the targets. I awoke feeling entirely confused. I wish that I could look up and know that today’s threats and dangers are also going to dissolve.
I don’t think that I had ever known true terror until the past seven months. Fear, yes—and sometimes intense fear—but terror is something new and quite different. Yesterday we were asked to help a woman who is a high-value target in the eyes of the junta. For seven months she has successfully evaded capture, but now the walls are closing in on her. I know that this woman is feeling that terror now, and I can’t untangle my anger and hatred toward her pursuers. When I think of desperate people being stalked, I am reminded of slave chasers tracking through the swamps of the American South with their baying hounds before them. Then my outrage grows, and added to my list of those responsible is much of the rest of the world for its casual impotence.
I also spoke yesterday with another woman whom we’ve been helping. I’ve mentioned her before. She was treated for cancer about 18 months ago but her condition is again worsening. She needs a colonoscopy but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been difficult to arrange in Thailand. Today I’ll reach out to a couple of embassies and some international nongovernmental organizations to see what they can do.
Setting in motion | August 29, 2021
We were informed yesterday by a friend in the National Unity Government (NUG) that its members had held an emergency meeting that morning to discuss “D-Day,” the NUG’s declaration of a defensive war against the military junta, concluding that it would launch as soon as possible. I initially took the news to be nothing more than a subterfuge to confuse the junta, but not 30 minutes later we received a message that the NUG’s phone connections had started to be interrupted and were eventually severed. This, on the heels of the earlier meeting, made me think it was time to check further.
A close connection who knows everything about such matters assured me that it was nothing but talk at this point, that the NUG’s only goal is to see that it happened before the end of the rainy season, at which time the Tatmadaw would once again be able to make use of its jets and other aircraft. He ended by warning that the greater concern for the near future is that the Tatmadaw will act preëmptively.
This morning we received a video taken last night of a long convoy of military vehicles entering the city, mostly carrying tanks. What exactly is in the minds of the generals one can only guess. I originally thought that such heavy weaponry would be of greater use in the more remote ethnic areas, but quickly realized that, with the heavy monsoon rains and consequent flooding, tanks would be of little use in the sodden fields and jungles. Also, last night at least five bombs exploded in our area and a very loud explosion was heard in the neighbouring township.
Accordingly, we’ve packed, and our car is at the ready in case we have to leave earlier than intended. Our plan remains to get out of the city as soon as possible, but first we have to set certain things in motion. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being cavalier, but for some reason I actually feel safer now than I have on numerous occasions in the past.
Meeting with the Captain | September 19, 2021Embed from Getty Images
Dear Captain Nyi Thuta,
Since the February coup, our crew has worked with numerous other groups, including the Civil Disobedience Movement, the National Unity Government, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and the People’s Defence Force. Over the past few months I have heard numerous people speak of you, and always in a most complimentary manner. But this morning was my first opportunity to listen to you during the Sunday Zoom meeting of the People’s Soldiers group, which I found to be the most worthwhile hour that I have spent in a long time. The entire meeting was professional, well organised, carefully scripted and informative.
More than 50 million Myanmar people greatly appreciate and applaud your sacrifice, as well as that of your family. As one of the first soldiers to speak out publicly against the coup, you have undoubtedly risked a great deal in explaining how, by various means, the military controls its soldiers and why many of them would rather defect than fight against their fellow citizens.
You have also shown that it is possible to have a respectable and honourable military, rather than a Tatmadaw controlled by greedy, power-hungry generals with little regard for the citizens they are charged to serve and protect, and who put their personal benefits before the country or even before the military institution itself.
Some people will say that by your actions you have done a disservice to your country, but the country of the People feels exactly the opposite. Your efforts, particularly over the past six months, exemplify the core principle of any soldier anywhere in the world: Service with Honour.
Many thanks to you, your family and your many brothers-in-service. We wish each of you peace, good health and continued safety.
The revolution must prevail!
Christopher J. Walker
The voice inside the breeze | October 14, 2021
To a Hero’s children and family,
You might find this letter rather unusual, given that it comes from someone whom you’ve never met, but I feel that it’s important to tell you some things about your father. My mother taught me that before you say anything bad about someone, you must first find something good to say. Even though I’m quite old now, I still try to follow my mother’s sage advice. So, I want to tell you some good things about your dad. Maybe in another letter I’ll tell you the bad things I know about him! Ha-ha! Of course I’m joking, because I only know good things.
I shall never forget the first time that I spoke with your father. Early one morning two young girls, ages 6 and 8, showed up on my doorstep along with their mother and auntie.
During the night soldiers had come to their street to try and arrest their mother and auntie, even though they had done nothing wrong. But before the soldiers could find them, they escaped and made it to my house because they had heard that I could locate secure places for people to hide. A friend had given me your father’s phone number, so I called to ask if he knew of anywhere these people would be able to find shelter. Sure enough, your dad did know of such a place, and so we could help the ladies and girls on the initial part of their journey to safety.
It has now been many months since that early morning, and while the two children still have to hide, they’re no longer living in fear and have even started to attend school classes on line. From time to time I talk to them by phone, and when I do I always remember your father who played such an important role in transforming their tears and fears into cheerful smiles.
When I was about your age, we had what was called a “Father’s Day” at school. We would bring our dads to class and they would tell the children about their jobs. But there were always some kids who felt sad because their fathers couldn’t be there to explain the kind of work they did. I understand their feelings because I too have experienced sadness and loneliness.
I’m sure there have been times when you missed your dad very much, maybe when you’ve had a recital, class play or baseball game. You might have looked around at the other children whose fathers were present and wondered why your dad wasn’t watching too. There is a reason. Your dad couldn’t always be with you at those important events because there is in him something notable and extraordinarily valuable, something that not every child is fortunate to have in a dad.
Your father is not a banker, a lawyer or the manager of a company. Your father is someone much more exceptional and rare. To many people he’s a Hero, with a capital H, a man who has devoted countless days and nights to helping others during their times of greatest need. You can tell your friends that your dad can’t always be with you because his important job is being a Hero. If you don’t believe me, ask those two young girls who came knocking on my door early one morning so many months ago, and the scores of others whom he has helped before and since.
I believe that if you sit very still and listen carefully to a gentle breeze, you will hear a whisper from deep inside that calls to certain, special individuals. That faint voice insists that the greatest job a person can do is to help those less fortunate. Most people seem unable to hear the voice, but your father hears it clearly. It is because your dad has the gift of hearing that voice that he cannot always be with you. The voice calls on him to be a Hero and he can’t turn away. He knows what he must do.
I spoke with your father last week when he was at the airport waiting for his flight. He seemed very happy—not to be leaving Myanmar, but happy to be going home in time to surprise his youngest child who was about to celebrate a seventh birthday. Through the phone I could almost see the broad smile on his face. You all mean a great deal to your dad, and I’m sure that he means a lot to you. He also means a lot to many, many people here. All of us thank you for sharing him when we needed him most.
So, in future, during those times when you’re missing your dad, remember this letter and how fortunate you are to have a father who has the most important job in the world—a Hero. Who knows, perhaps one day a sweet breeze will slip by you, and if you sit quite still, really quietly, maybe you’ll hear the same small voice that your father hears, and on that day you too might become a Hero, just like him.
With fondest regards and many, many thanks,
Christopher J. Walker
Christopher J Walker (pseudonym) has called Myanmar home for a number of years. He thanks his friend and editor Mathieu Lukas for his assistance in preparing these reports for safe and timely publication.