Friday, May 27, 2011

Colonel Thet Oo - Chapter 3-1

(This is a concise translation of Col Thet Oo (a) Thaung Wai Oo’s Autobiography.)

Karen State To Mon State (From IB-19 To IB-61)

My first mother unit was IB-19 in Pharpun. That infantry battalion was originally formed in Mhaw-bee Town near Rangoon and in 1960 the battalion was moved to Pharpun Town. Its earlier COs like Colonel Than Nyunt were singers songwriters and the battalion once had its own big band.

The battalion band was so good their Socialist songs were regularly broadcasted on BBS (Burma Broadcasting Service) during the BSPP (Burma Socialist Program Party) era. But when I was posted there the band was no more as the battalion’s remote location and frequent KNU attacks and the particularly nasty strand of malaria had driven all the soldier-musicians and soldier-singers to quit.

Pharpun strain of malaria was the worst kind of malaria in Burma. Even Mary caught it after we met very first time in Pharpun and it took more than two months to rid of it. If her mother wasn’t an experienced nurse probably I would still be a lonely bachelor without a wife and kids.

No officers or other ranks really wanted to serve in Pharpun. So the Command regularly transferred out the people who had already served in Pahrpun for some years to other favorable battalions. That was also what happened to me on one day in early May 1972.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Phoo Kee Do's Battles - Episode 1

(Concise translation of KNLA Mahn Robert Ba Zan’s “Me and Kanyindon Battle”.)

Battles of Tagaw and Kanyindon (1980-84)

Phoo Kee Do (a) Mahn Robert Ba Zan.
In December 1980 our 23rd Battalion of KNU Seventh Brigade sent five candidates including me to the very first batch of Officer Training School established by the NDF (National Democratic Front) at KNU HQ in Manerplaw. Other four from our Battalion were Gon Shwe Man (resettled in West as refugee), Maung Aye, Than Phu, and Anthony (resettled).

We were issued necessary uniforms, books, stationary, and funds by the Brigade Supply office. There at the Brigade HQ we met other candidates from the Battalion-19, 20, 21, KNDO Fifth Battalion, and the female candidates from the Seventh Brigade HQ.

When we reached Manerplaw we also met other candidates from First Brigade, Second Brigade, Third Brigade, Tenth Battalion (future Fourth Brigade), Sixth Brigade, KNDO HQ, Arakan Liberation Army, Kareni Army, and Shan State Army. All together 120 including the female candidates.

School principal was Major N. Zaw Tan (Kachin), the deputy principal Majore Saw Thein (Karen, deceased), and the Chief instructor Major Ki Yaw Mu (surrendered) and Major Htun Tin (deceased). Other instructors were Bo Rocket, Bo Thay Gay, Ricky, and Man Ngwe Aung (captured). I don’t remember the rest now.

My classmates then were Ka Neh Mee (resettled), Hla Wai (resettled), Htun Htun (resettled), Phaw Do, Bo Kyar, Mu Thwee Gaw, Lwan Htoo Myat, Mu Kal, Lawrence (resettled), Han Sein (resettled), and Kayaw Kaya (surrendered).

For six long months we studied both military and political subjects. Military subjects were drill, small arms, heavy weapons, battle strategies, and guerilla warfare etc., and the political subjects were Karen revolution, administration, agricultural policy, armed coalition, human rights, and communications.

Battle of Tagaw (Hlaing Bwe Township)

During our training we participated in the Battle of Tagaw in Hlaing-bwe Township as a practical battle-exercise. All together 60 cadets joined the exercise as two field platoons of 30 each. The First Platoon was commanded by me and the Second by Ka Neh Mee (resettled in Australia as a refugee).

We took two long-tail boats to Mae Thawaw and then reached to New Shan-ywa village by trucks. Then we marched on foot to the battle field. We could hear the heavy weapons once we hit Tayay-pho-kwee Village. There we received the order to advance. We had a 60mm heavy mortar and 50 mortar shells carried by three porters.

On our way we met the heavy weapon group led by Colonel Yaw Mu. From there we were positioned beside Bo Aung Lin’s Third Company of KNLA Battalion-19. We dug single foxholes for every two men and waited for the enemy. We had no food but water in the canteens. Later the packed lunches arrived. Once opened the smell of rotten rice hit us. But we still ate just to fill our empty stomachs.

Swiss PC-6 airplane.
Then we heard an airplane and soon the Burmese airforce plane was right on top of us. The plane obviously had been locating our positions and I was told the plane was Swiss-made PC-6. Soon, the enemy was shelling us with their 75mm recoilless guns and 120mm mortars. Even in the foxholes we had no overhead protection from shelling and an officer cadet from Ka Ne Mee’s platoon was killed there.

Battle had begun and our turn to attack the enemy troops coming to reinforce the enemy camp in Tagaw was not that far now.

The night arrived and it was a full moon night. We could see clearly up to 50 yards away under the moonlight. “Htwwe-he-lee (enemy is coming), quar-may-htee (watch carefully),” were the orders from Captain Aung Lin. I set up our 60mm mortar and called out to the porters to bring up their cane-basket loads of mortar shells. I then sent them back into their foxholes behind us.

75mm Recoilless Gun.
Very soon we heard the gunshots on our right. Also at our front the enemy troops were seen approaching. I fired 60mm shells one after another into the enemy at our front eventually forcing them to withdraw. Our troops from Battalion-19 charged ahead and cleared the area. They found four enemy bodies and collected one .30 semi-automatic carbine and three G3 automatic rifles.

After the enemy’s withdrawal I walked along our line of foxholes and inspected the men. Only one Karenni cadet from my platoon was wounded, not seriously as he could still walk. Soon after the battle we received our retreat orders and we systematically withdrew back to the assembly point.

We got back to the school next day. There we did the detail study of the whole battle again. We were not the main attacking force but an assisting force to the main troops. The battle strategy was also a strategy drawing and demolishing the enemy troops coming to reinforce their fortified base at Tagaw under a feint attack by our auxiliary troops.

The study continued on and one lesson was how to build formidable bunkers. As an exercise we dug and built a large bunker on the hilltop at Law-quar-lu Signal HQ hill. After six months the school was over and graduation ceremony came. Aung Naing, Ka Neh Mee, and Hla Wai got the First, Second, and Third prizes respectively.

After the school I was sent back to the Seventh Brigade and the Brigade HQ assigned me to the Battalion-19 again. The Brigade Commander then was Colonel Saw Htein Maung who later split from the KNU and joined the enemy as KNU/KNLA Peace Council.


I was granted a short leave and I stayed with my wife and children then living at New Wankha (a) Kormura Base Camp. A week after my daughter Mu Mu Ba Zan was born I prepared to travel back to the front line. One night my wife started bleeding suddenly. Midwife Ma Aye Shin couldn’t do a thing and we had to call Colonel Dr. Sing (now deceased).

While he was taking care of her I told him that I had to go to the frontline and I worried about my wife. He just simply told me that I wasn’t a doctor and even if I was there I couldn’t do a thing for her, so I should just go wherever I was needed. He was right and next day I reported to the Battalion-19 Deputy CO Lt. Colonel Saw Maung Htun (now deceased) at Naw-teh-khee Village. With me were my bodyguards privates E Sut (Muslim), Izac (Captured), and Moses.

The District of Phar-an comprises four townships namely Paing-kyone, Htee-lone, Na-boo, and Don-yin Townships. Our KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) had a few mobile columns and the First Column from Battalion-19 was then in Paing-kyone Township.

There were quite a few Indian-muslim villages in that township and the major villages were Htee-pho-ta-yay, Lar-da-weh, Paing-kyone-moe-neh, and Tha-yet-taw villages. Our Column had many Muslim soldiers but they could speak only Karen.  If you hear them speaking Karen you will think they are Karens till you see them and realize they are Muslim Indians. But if we called them Indians they were really angry. So we called them Ka-nyaw-thu (Black Karens).

While I was at Naw-ta-khee the First Column came back in through Na-boo. Only then I was introduced to the Column Commander and the Deputy CO of Battalion-19 Major Jor Nee (Johnny). He was a fair-skinned handsome man. His Company Commanders were Captain Loo See (Second Company), Captain  Aung Lin (Third Company and I already met him at Ta-gaw Battle), Captain Jor Phyu (Major Jaw Nee’s younger brother), and Captain Day War (HQ Company).

Captain Tar Pee the Commander of Fourth Company was killed in a battle just before I arrived and so I took over his company from the acting-Commander CSM Maw Ko. Most of the officers in the battalion were just primary school educated while some were middle school dropouts and few were high school graduates.

But they could all be professors in military education as most had already fought hundred of battles against Burmese army, one of the toughest armies in the world. If one doesn’t believe me just ask the high ranking Burmese army officers like Colonel Mya Thin, Colonel Aye Thaung, Colonel Myint Aung, or Colonel Khin Nyunt (MIS Chief General Khin Nyunt). (In my humble opinion there is no military academy better than the battlefields.)

MG42 Medium Machinegun.
Every company had a Burmese Army-issued MG42 medium machine gun captured from the enemy. The battalion also had a 57mm recoilless gun, a .50 Browning machine gun, a 3.5 in Bazooka, a 60 mm mortar, and two 81 mm mortars. We all carried AK47 and M16 automatic rifles purchased from the weapon black markets in Thailand.

Equipped with modern small arms and heavy weaponry and also the high Karen patriotic moral our Battalion was a very strong fighting force.


When I was serving as a political commissar of the KPLA (Karen People Liberation Army) Battalion-2 in the Irrawaddy Delta we had the battalion slogan “Serve the People”, and we always behaved accordingly. Basically we couldn’t survive without the supports in the forms of food, soldiers, money, and information from the people.  Because of the Karen people our Karen revolution has lasted more than 60 years so far and this incident of our Fourth Company would be the fine example of us KNLA forces serving the people.

One day in early 1980s our Column marched into the Kyet-too-yway Village to attack the enemy column from LIB-6 (Light Infantry Battalion – 6) of LID-44 (Light Infantry Division – 44). Captain Al Htoo’s column from Battalion-101 had waited at the new Htee-phoe-tray Village to circle the enemy from rear if we engage the enemy column.

PRC-77 Wireless Radio set.
Our radio was a PRC (Portable radio communication) manpack set needing a fulltime-porter to carry. Normally we turned on the set once in every hour. Only during the battles the set was kept on continuously.

While our Column was at Kyet-too-yway Village the enemy column was at Kau-myat-kyee Village and they were still at a distance from us. So I walked through the village to inspect the positions of my company. Because of the impending enemy attack the whole village was deserted and I found a huge paddy field already ploughed and the piles of rice saplings ready to be planted left there by the fleeing farmers.

A serious thought came into my mind that these rice saplings could be seriously damaged if they were not planted  very soon. Thus I made a decision to plant them as a service to the people of this village. I immediately issued the orders asking 3 men each from every section and all the porters from the heavy weapon group to follow me into the vacant paddy field.

Rice transplanting in Burma.
My Company had three platoons and all together nine sections since each platoon had three sections. So our company’s total strength is 85 fighting men and 84 porters and I now had more than 50 men in the field starting the transplanting of rice saplings.

Since most of us were the children of peasant farmers we knew exactly what we had to do and within three hours the planting of the whole field was finished. We were happy for our good work and not even tired. We then came back to our positions just outside the village. Then the owner of that field showed up and asked me to give him four five men so that he could give them a large male pig to be slaughtered and cooked for our meal.

I was so pleased by our efforts and the return present I even called my platoon commanders Htoo Gay, Ne-kra-kho, and Shwe Nyein and gave them a lecture about the good deeds of serving the people.

“Look at this. Just because we serve the village people they come giving us a pig without us even asking.”
“People here know their revolutionary duty. They give us their youth to serve as our soldiers. They give us food whenever our columns come. They give us porters whenever we ask. They give us money as land taxes.”
“Unlike them we do not fulfill our revolutionary duties. We can’t even fight the enemy once a month. We eat one hundred buckets of their rice easily once our column comes into a village. We must serve the people while we are not engaging the enemy.”
“Without the people our army would be like a man without blood.”

That day the enemy LIB-6 also didn’t show up there and we were ordered back to the Noe-law-pa-leh Village. At least I was happy doing something good that day not just wasting time   travelling around carrying a rifle.


KNLA General Htein Maung.
In our Karen society about 80 percents of our people are Buddhists and the rest Christians. Naturally our enemy (the majority Buddhist Burmese) has some sympathetic Karen Buddhist monks on their side by forming a Karen Buddhist Monk Association. According to our information the head monk of Ywa-thit village monastery was the secretary of the local Karen Sanga Association sponsored by the Burmese Army.

In guerilla warfare one has to practice two-face policy as one needs to deal also with the enemy and their sympathizers. Whenever two sides are fighting the side with better recruiting ability will eventually win. And one cannot recruit people to become our allies just by saying big words. One has to show with real hard work.

So that day I was basically looking for an opportunity to change Ywa-thit Monk’s mind about us as we marched into his area. I even ordered my men to take off their boots and flip-flops whenever they had to walk on a monastery ground as a show of deep respect like a Buddhist Burmese or a Buddhist Karen always does.

Our Column then was in the Paing-kyone Township and the companies were spread out in the villages of Paung, Pa-oh, Ywa-thit, Ye-bu, and Htee-pho-ta-yay. My company was in the Ye-bu Village. On the high pagoda hill was my Second Platoon with the 57mm recoilless gun. First Platoon was in the wood east of the village, Third Platoon was in the wood west of the village and the Company HQ with the 81mm Mortar was on the Monastery ground in the village.

I then called the platoon commanders and instructed them, “Okay, just watch. We have to do some work for the monk to get something back from him. Look, the novices are digging a toilet-hole there. First Platoon will help them. And Second Platoon will cut the grass on the pagoda hill and Third Platoon will clean the area around the Village School. Company HQ staff will fetch the water and fill the big pots in the monastery. All the porters will sweep the monastery ground and cut the firewood.”

Then I sat down in the shade of a big mango tree and turned on the PRC set to listen to the instructions coming from the Column Commander while my men were working hard for the monastery as I had ordered them. It didn’t take long at all to realize a favorable response from the head-monk of the Ye-bu Monastery.

The Monk promptly sent a man to ask me if we have anyone who could climb the tall coconut tree on the monastery land. I said yes and he let us pick a few coconuts. He then gave us a large basket full of sticky rice, enough for whole company. So we all had tasty steamed sticky rice and coconut for our lunch that day.

Later the villagers brought four chickens for me, but I cooked and ate only one and gave the monastery-man three chickens to cook for the monks and novices. That evening the village chief visited me with a bottle of local moonshine liquor. He then reported the village situations to me. He particularly wanted to tell me about their low crop yield that year because of a mild drought and severe insect damages.

I understood his point as under any circumstance they will be forced to pay the full amount of land taxes by the KNU Township Committee. With drought and insect damages they won’t be able to pay their full land taxes that year to our KNU. I thought the KNU Township Committees should understand the real hardship on the people by the high land taxes. Land taxes or the hearts and minds of people, which one is the priority?
Battle of Kanyindon

Karen State Map.
The order from the Column to prepare all the companies for a long march was received. Phaw-may, Bo-may (eat and cook). So we ate and also cooked rice to take along with the Column for the long trip. We marched on foot for two whole days. We then crossed the Salween River to the East Bank and marched over the range and camped somewhere in the jungle after the range. There we met other KNLA Columns.

Special Column 101, the Second KNLA Column, the Fourth KNLA Column, the Fifth KNLA Column, and the Brigade HQ with its Heavy Weapon Group, all together a mighty strength of more than 1,500. The porter numbers also might be not less than 500.

The Brigade Commander Colonel Htein Maung called and met the officers including the Company Commanders and above. “Major Jor Nee’s First Column will attack the Kanyindon Police Station as a feint. Other columns will ambush the army reinforcements coming from both Ka-ma-maung on south and Ka-taing-ti on north of Kanyindon. Our objective is the major ambushes on the army reinforcements from Ka-ma-maung and Ka-taing-ti and a feint attack on the police station at Kanyindon,” he also told us the D-day and exact time for the planned attacks.

Column 101 and the Second Column took the positions between Kanyindon and Ka-ma-maung while the Fourth and Fifth Columns took the positions between Kanyindon and Ka-taing-ti. Since the whole of First Column wasn’t needed for the feint assault on Kanyidon police station my Fourth Company was temporarily attached to the Brigade HQ as the reserve unit.

We all dug foxholes at our position. Soil was hard and it took whole day and we were ready only after midnight. Once all the columns were ready at their respective positions the First Column began to assault the Kanyindon Police. The whole day we could hear the MG42 and small arms fires from Kanyindon.

Burmese para-military Policemen.
The enemy reinforcements didn’t come out as expected in first day. The assault on Kanyindon continued on next day and still the army units from Ka-ma-maung and Ka-taing-ti bases didn’t come to Kanyindon. After two days Major Jaw Nee the commander of our First Column decided to take the Police Station at Kanyindon and called my company to join them.

We used all our heavy weapons on the police camp and very soon the buildings in the camp were burning one after another. We shouted at the police still inside their fortified camp to surrender, “Hey, there is only army reinforcement. No police reinforcement. Hands up and surrender. We won’t kill you!”

Very soon a police officer came out raising hands up in the air from their end of the bridge crossing the creek. Major Jaw Nee walked down from the other end and met him at the middle of the bridge. The battle of Kanyindon was over.

The police officer was Deputy Police Inspector Aye Maung the Chief of the Kanyindon Police Station. Our men collected their guns and equipments. We gathered the captured prisoners carrying their meager possessions. Two soldiers from Pharpun IB-19, seventeen policemen, three young police wives, and two young children, all together twenty-four prisoners began on the long journey across the mountains and through the jungles back to our strongholds by the Thai Border.

On the way back I tried to eat rice out of a pack. Just rice not even salt were in the pack and the rice already smelled. Anyway I was hungry and still tried to eat rice out off the pack while walking. Then I saw the little daughter of one policeman struggling to catch up with the rest.

.30 M1 US Carbine.
She was the 4 or 5 years old daughter of surrendered Burmese policeman Ba Cho who had to carry their bags while his young wife was carrying their baby son. Other policemen wouldn’t carry the girl and her father kept on angrily yelling at her to walk faster. On a bushy jungle track no way she could walk as fast as us. So I decided to carry her.

I threw away the rice pack, drink some water from my canteen, and gave my M1 carbine and equipment to one private. Then I made a child carrying sling with my big towel and lifted her onto my back.

“What is your name, big girl?” I asked her and she replied, “Thida, Uncle.”

She was a lovely girl and she immediately reminded me of my little daughter. That instance I also remembered what my late father (Late KNU President Man Ba Zan) often told me.

“My son, a war basically is the armed resistance in a conflict that couldn’t be solved politically. In war properties got destroyed and people got killed or wounded or captured. These things shouldn’t happen but still happen. Among us the brothers of this Union, can we not solve our political problems with a brotherly love? Or can we ever kill each other to the last of us and exterminate one another by armed oppression? As the war is dragged longer there will be more casualties and more sufferings in our little country.

And in the battlefields, if you capture the enemy alive or wounded (they could even be females), under any circumstance you practice a decent POW policy. Treat them the way you yourself would want to be treated.  Once they are your prisoners they are no longer your enemies. As Jesus Christ had so often said you are to ‘Love Your Enemy’ and be kind to the innocent dependants.”

Late KNU President Mahn Ba Zan.
Little Burmese girl Thida had already fallen sleep on my back. In my thoughts, I was reminding myself that this little girl and the wives of Burmese policemen were innocent as they were just dependants. Even the captured soldiers and policemen were no longer our enemies as they had already surrendered their guns. And they were our Union brothers.

But also in my thoughts back then were the six months long arrest of my mother and my kid brothers and sisters in 1958. Why were they arrested by the Burmese Government? Were they not dependants and children? Then again in 1966, my mother and my year 10 student sister Poh Po Zan and my 78 years old grandfather were arrested. My grandpa was tortured in the prison and he died after 7 long years in a prison. Why were they imprisoned? Were they not innocent dependants?

Why is our enemy Burmese Army invading the Karan Nation and committing the atrocities   like killing, jailing, raping, burning, and force laboring at their whim. Aren’t we Karens their Union brethrens?  Aren’t we their brothers and sisters?  Aren’t we Karens human beings?

“Uncle, I’m thirsty,” Little Thida’s voice suddenly cut off the strings of thoughts from my mind. I said, “Aye, aye,” to her and gave her some water from my canteen. Ups and downs the mountains for a very long distance had made me sweat even from my forehead. But I didn’t feel exhausted and I was even happy as to exactly follow what my father and Lord Jesus Christ had asked me.

Finally we reached our assembly point in the liberated area. We gave the prisoners a rest. That night we provided them with tea and snacks and explained our Karen revolution policies to them. “Do we need to guard them?” my men asked me and I told them, “No need to guard them now as they don’t have any weapons.”

KNU General Saw Bo Mya.
Next day we even had a Volleyball match between the prisoners and our team led by the Column Commander Major Jaw Nee himself. Of course our side won. And we were no longer enemies. Next day we sent all the prisoners to the Yin-baing Village and into the hands of Commandos from KNU HQ. Our leader General Bo Mya wanted to see the prisoners, we were told.

I didn’t know what happened to them after that but these are my wishes for them now.

If that little girl Thida is still alive I wish she could be able to serve the Union for the peace, equality, democracy, rule of law, and human rights.

If that Deputy Police Inspector Aye Maung is still alive I wish he could become a people police serving the people.

If those policemen prisoners from the Kanyindon Police Station are still alive I wish they could become the protectors of the people.

(Translator's Notes: The writer seemed to be telling the readers that the 24 Burmese prisoners were most probably killed by their Kayin captors. There was a very real possibility that all those prisoners including the women and children were executed later by Bo Mya as his long-running brutal policy then was not to release any Burmese POW. 

So why did the 1500 strong KNLA Seventh Brigade take those 24 useless Burmese prisoners including 3 women and two very young children all the way back to the Thai Border just to hand them into murderer Bo Mya’s merciless hands? One obvious answer is that Colonel Htain Maung was not willing to kill them and at the same time he was dead scared of Bo Mya to let them go.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

American Practical Joke on Poor Burma?


"Beginning May 1997, in accordance with the IEEPA and NEA, the successive US Presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama has issued the national emergency in May every year by stating that our little country, Burma, unusually threatens the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the US and continued imposing various trade and financial sanctions against us.

In this regard, I would like to report to the Parliament who really threatens whose national security, foreign policy, and economy. With common sense everybody knows the true fact that with only 50 million people and still at the bottom of the list of UN’s Least Developed Nations our little country cannot really threaten 300 million strong USA which, as the world’s only superpower, has the strongest economic strength and the biggest military might spending 50% of world total military expenditure."

U Hla Htun   
Minister for Finance & Revenue
Burmese Government
(March 25, 2011)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Aung Moe & Amy: Sanctions' Collateral Damage

(This is a shortened version of my four part series ‘Aung Moe & Amy’.)

When I first met Amy in 1995 she was a 14 years old pretty Anglo-Burmese girl working as a young seamstress in my friend’s garment factory in Thin-gann-gyun, a poor satellite township on the outskirt of Rangoon. 

Tall, slim, waist-length brown haired, and very fair with big blue eyes she stood out among the dark-skinned brown-faced Burmese girls and young women around her on the crowded concrete floor of the garment factory.

According to my friend’s wife who managed the factory Amy was an orphan. Amy’s father was an engineer-seafarer who was killed when the oil tanker he worked for caught fire on the high sea when Amy was only 2 or 3. She lost her mother to a hepatitis epidemic in the late 80s and when I met her she was living with her old Anglo grandma in their big old dilapidated colonial house on a small block of ancestral land not far from the garment factory.

Before she joined the garment factory two of them had to survive on a small income from their little makeshift grocery shop at the gate of their block. But now she had a relatively well-paying decent job and she seemed to be happy working hard at her industrial sewing machine 10 hours a day Monday to Saturday every week.

Colonel Thet Oo - Chapter 2-3

(This is a concise translation of Col Thet Oo (a) Thaung Wai Oo’s Autobiography.)

KNU: The Karen national Union

When the 24 brand-new second-lieutenants from OTS intake 36 including me reported for duty at the South-Eastern Military Command in January 1968 we were briefed by the GSO-3 Captain Khin Maung Htun.

“Okay, I’ll explain the enemy ORBAT (Order of Battle). Our target No-1 is KNU (Karen National Union), No-2 is NMSP (New Mon State Party), and No-3 is CPB’s Tanesserim Division. Most aggressive and strongest of them is KNU.

KNU leader is Bo Mya. He has six brigades under his command. Brigade-1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7. KNU Brigade-1 is in north of Thahton, 2 is in Nyaunglaybin, 3 is in south of Thandaung, 4 is in Myeik-Tavoy area, 6 is in Kawkareik area, and 7 is in the area covering Pharpun and Kamamaung and Hlaingbwe and the KNU HQ.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Colonel Thet Oo - Chapter 2-2

(This is a concise translation of Col Thet Oo (a) Thaung Wai Oo’s Autobiography.)

 Ka-ma-maung Town

I and Mary had stayed in the town of Ka-ma-maung for more than three years since we got married. Interesting thing about Ka-ma-maung was that the little town was full of strange customs and practices. The name Ka-ma-maung itself is a rather strange name. Once I asked some elders for its true meaning.

“What sort of name is Ka-ma-maung? Not Burmese, not Karen.”
“Oh, it really is a Burmese name. The original name Kar-ma-mhaung has gradually shifted with time to present name Ka-ma-maung.”
“Really, Kar-ma-mhaung, the darkness of carnal desires?
“Okay, the story of our town is something like this. Long, long time ago this town was established by a king. He had a son and a daughter. As they loved each other so much they didn’t get married when they became man and woman and eventually they committed incest. When their father found out they committed suicides. The sister killed herself at the west of the town and the brother crossed the Salween River and killed himself on the east bank.”
“Are you sure about that? Are there any historical evidence? If historians hear about that they will say it is just a bullshit story.”
“Of course, there is no historical evidence. It is just a mouth-to-mouth history. But if you look carefully at the Pan-daw-mhee Range on the Salween’s east bank it is like a big man lying on his back. And also look at the Mee-zai rang on the west of Ka-ma-maung. It is like a young woman lying on her back. The hair, the breasts, like a real woman. It is the evidence of the name Kar-ma-mhaung.”

And I just had to nod and smile as what they said was visibly true. Another strange thing about Ka-ma-maung was if coming upstream on the Salween River from Moulmein in down south it was the last port town. After Ka-ma-maung the Salween was totally un-navigable for the motorized boats because of the large rocks in the river. Ka-ma-maung was basically the end of waterway from Moulmein.

Karen State of Burma.
On land, Ka-ma-maung was conveniently connected to Pharpun at the 53 miles north by Aung-theik-di Highway. Ka-ma-maung then was the only land gateway to the Pharpun region which is protecting the waist of our Burma. Both geographically and militarily it is a strategically crucial town.

(Nowadays there is a vehicular road on the west bank of Salween and one can drive from Ka-ma-maung to Thahton through Du-yin-seik. There also is a vehicular road on the east bank of Salween from Phar-an through Shwe-goon to Myaing-gyi-ngoo across the Salween from Ka-ma-maung.)

Ka-ma-maung had Buddhists, Animists, and Christians all living together in peace. Even among the Christians there were Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Seventh Day Adventists. But superstitious practices were well rooted there and here are some examples.

“Do not climb the stairs backward. It will bring misfortune to the household.”
“Do not point at a rainbow. It will bring drought.”
“Do not kill and eat hornbill birds. It will bring misfortune to one’s children.”
“Do not carry a corpse across a paddy field. It will reduce the crop yield.”
“Do not kill peacocks and python snakes. It will bring bloody injuries to one.”

These superstitious believe were mainly among the Animist Karens but the Buddhists seemed to follow them too as the Buddhists and the Pagans were living together mostly. They celebrate Karen New Year every year with traditional dances and prayers to the gods.

One strange Animist practice was after a funeral. If someone dies they always have what they called the Bone Collection and Soul-Calling ceremonies. The Soul-Calling ceremony was to prevent the souls of the alive from following the soul of the recently deceased.

Exactly seven days after the death the Soul-Calling ceremony was a must for all the Karens there. I personally had a strange and interesting experience with that practice which I could nerve be able to forget.

A Ghost or a Soul-in-Limbo?

While I was on a garrison duty with a company at the Ka-taing-ti village on the Yunsalin River, one private Mya Han was my batman and he cooked for me and took care of me. I as a lieutenant was just a platoon commander but the company CO was sick and I was the acting CO.

Mya Han was about 25 years old, thin and dark, and a very good cook. But he had a bad blood when drunk and sometimes he got into fights with young men from the village. So he was known to have some enemies. I even had to punish him once when he got into a serious trouble with the youths from the village.

One day I’d got some bad news from our informers on the eastern ranges across the Yunsalin River. KNU was amassing their guerillas to attack our camp at Ka-taing-ti. Instead of waiting for them I decided to take the fight to them. So I took two platoons and crossed the River and marched out towards the enemy position.

The camp was left in the hands of our Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Saw Ba Htun and a platoon. CSM was a Buddhist Karen from Phar-an region and an old soldier and he knew the local Karen practices very well.

We left the camp early and on the way we entered and cleared the villages along the way one by one. We finally reached on the eastern ranges by noon. But we got the news that a large enemy force had already left towards west. Having worried about the camp we doubled back towards the Ka-taing-ti Camp.

As we were approaching the eastern bank of Yunsalin River  at about 4 in the afternoon we heard the automatic fire of small arms from our camp on the west bank. We crossed the river quick and entered the camp. There at the camp gate by the village we found a group of our men and also fatally wounded Mya Han with two exit wounds in his chest on the ground.

Bubbly froths were dripping from his mouth. CSM Saw Ba Htun reported to me that Mya Han on his way to the guard house for the sentry duty was shot at point blank by a KNU insurgent in civilian cloths.

Mya Han then opened his eyes and saw me and looked at me as if he wanted to apologize for his carelessness about danger. He couldn’t say anything though.

“Mya Han, listen, you have to take revenge on your killers. You have to protect this camp too. Do you understand?” CSM said in a very serious tone while staring at his face.

Dying Mya Han seemed to hear CSM’s words. His lips moved, but not a sound came out.

“Mya Han, do you understand? Do you still hear me?” CSM yelled at him again.

Mya Han’s lips continued to move as if he heard and understood. Then his lips stopped moving and his eyes were closed. He’s gone forever.


That evening we buried him. And I felt sad as he was quite close to me and very loyal to me. But I knew the enemies were already in the camp’s vicinity and so I put the whole camp in heightened alert by letting only half of the men sleep and keeping other half on a stand to.

That night was a half moon night and the moon came out only at 9. When the time was 10 in the night I still couldn’t sleep even though I was extremely tired from the long trip the whole day and the tragic drama back at the camp. The whole camp was under a blanket of soft moonlight and the night was so quiet one could probably hear a pin drop. Then suddenly I heard the loud commotions from the Northern end of the camp.

“Freeze, who goes there? Stop, hey stop! Stop, I said stop, stop,” the sentry was agressively challenging and once the shouting ended the gunshots came out.
“Bang, bang. Bang-bang-bang-bang,” the single shots followed by a burst of automatic shots could be heard and I immediately reached there in no time.
“Hey, what happened?” I asked the sentry.
“A man just came through the fence, Captain. I challenged him to stop, but he wouldn’t stop. He got so close I had to shoot him.”
“Are you sure? The fence has three sealed layers and the mine field before that. How could one come through them? It is impossible!”
“It was a man, Captain. He came so close rushing through the fences I was so afraid and I shot him.”
“So where is he? The one you just shot. Was he an enemy? Who was he?”

The sentry was a new private and having not much experience I believed he was scared.

“I was firing at him but he still approached me and I had a good look at him. He wasn’t enemy, Captain.”
“Hey, if he wasn’t enemy who was he?”
“Private Mya Han, Captain. Still in same uniform from evening. The blood stains on his chest. He reached almost 10 yards from me and then vanished.”
“Are you so sure? Or are you seeing things because you’re scared?”

At the finish of my sentence, CSM Saw Ba Htun who was at my side interrupted us.

“That’s right, Captain. Mya Han can not abandon this camp. I know for sure,” He confidently said.

Then suddenly we heard the suspicious sounds of cattle bells, human voices, and bush trampling from the northern and southern vicinities of our fortified camp.

“Hey, Burmese soldiers, you are surrounded! Surrender! We are Kaw-thu-lays (KNU)!”

The enemies were shouting and at the same time firing their small arms and heavy launchers at us. We could hear the explosion of one mine from our minefield just outside the first fence. They appeared to have taken positions just outside of our camp under the darkness and started their assault once the moon had come out.

Luckily we were alert and alarmed and waiting for them because of that sentry incident. They repeatedly assaulted our camp till midnight but they couldn’t even penetrate the first fence and finally just before dawn they withdrew towards west while swearing and shouting obscenities at us.


We cleared the camp’s vicinity next morning and found traces of at least 100 strong enemy taking positions in the forests both north and south of our camp. They had already cleared the minefield and started crossing the cleared minefield. We could see the dug-out mines, the traces of mine explosions, and the blood stains everywhere on the ground. (They had carried their casualties along with them to wherever they were heading after the failed raid.)

I could say we were really lucky as the camp could have been overrun if they did manage to breach the fences after clearing the minefield. But we were alerted in time and able to defend the camp. This was what CSM Saw Ba Htun said to me then.

“We were really lucky, Captain. Mya Han has saved us.”
“Why, how has Mya Han save us?”
“Oh, Mya Han’s ghost did warn us in time about enemy’s approach!”
“Are you so sure, CSM?”
“Yes, I am a local here. There are so many things you don’t know here yet. Later, you’ll know.”

I look at the fair and muscular old Karen soldier’s square face and couldn’t say back anything. It was truly unbelievable if Mya Han’s ghost or soul was in the camp that night. One sure thing was that there are so many things I still didn’t know in this strange country.

Recently I went back to that area second time. All the insurgents had been driven out and the area now was peaceful. At the old camp hill a small pagoda built by the army was still standing there and the soft chimes of pagoda bells now pleasantly serenaded the peaceful scenic hill.

There I prayed for Private Mya Han’s once wandering soul to rest in peace forever.

First Deadly Encounter with KNU First Brigade

I’d stationed in Ka-ma-maung more than three years from 1968 to 1971. Even though the town was in Karen State there were more Burmese than Karens living in that town. People said the town was populated originally by the old Burmese soldiers from King Alaungphaya’s army then marching into Thailand.

After a three year long garrison duty in Ka-ma-maung I was moved back to the battalion HQ in Pharpun. From there I was sent to fight the KNU First Brigade in the region north of Thahton. The KNU Brigade CO then was Kyaw Hoe and he was a very aggressive one in the battles against the army.

I had to say I was really lucky with my Karen connection. At the beginning my first posting was in Karen State. Then I met a Karen girl and married her later after abandoning all my Burmese girlfriends. And for over ten years I’d fought KNU in that region.

Then when I became a colonel and CO of a MOC (Military-Operation-Command) I was posted into LID (Light-Infantry-Division) 33 and ended up in Karen State fighting my old friends KNU again till 1995 when I was transferred into the Civil Service.

So I could say my soldier life began in Karen State and ended in the Karen State. Maybe it was my fate and this following story was my first deadly encounter with the First Brigade of KNU.


Karen Districts Map.
One day in October 1968. The place was our usual Ka-taing-ti army camp at the Ka-taing-ti village on the Pharpun-Kamamaung Road. Time was about one in the afternoon.

I was on the garrison duty with two platoons of HQ Company there. I was a brand new second Lieutenant and the acting Company CO since the CO Captain Htun Yee was on a trip to Ka-ma-maung.

That day, while I was resting and reading a book after lunch I heard the sound of small arm fires from about one and half miles south-west of the camp.

“Bang, bang, bang, trat, trat, trat, bang, bang,”
“CSM Saw Ba Htun, those are small arm fires! What the hell is going on? Let’s go there!”

Together with CSM and a platoon of men I rushed to where the gun fires were heard from. Then CSM told me that the police Chief and his men from the Ka-taing-ti police station were on a hunting trip in that direction. So we followed the jungle trail just outside the police station and traced the clearly visible prints of police jungle boots on the track which was still soft from recent rains.

We didn’t need to go too far. The trail had followed the meandering Kanyindon creek around and about 1,000 yards from the village we found the bodies of our policemen on the ground at the edge of a sugarcane field. All together five bodies naked as the enemy had even taken their uniforms after the devastating ambush.

“Sons of a bitch, even peeling off the uniforms, mother fuckers,” CSM Saw Ba Htun was really angry.

Enemy appeared to have taken positions in the shallow ditch just after the log bridge over the narrow creek. About 10 of them hiding in the ditch. And they fired point-blank at our policemen once they had just crossed over the creek.

The rest of them KNU, about 30 or 40 or even 50, were spreading in the Pyinkadoe forest at a short distance just beyond the creek. A perfect ambush taking advantage of the best possible terrain for a surprise attack against much weaker enemy. 

“CSM, come look! Chief Chit Tin has his intestines spilling outside?”

I had never seen a battle fatality before and that was my first time seeing the mutilated bodies with gunshot wounds. So when I saw the police chief’s gruesome corpse I had to yell out to the CSM.

“These aren’t intestines, Captain. These are pieces of brain out of his head.”
“I don’t know, I thought it was his offal,” I was embarrassed.

Enemy might be at least 70 strong according to their positions. All the spent bullet casings were from M1 carbines and G-3 automatic rifles, all small arms and not a heavy weapon was used there.

BA-63 or G-3 Rifle.
We brought the bodies back to the police station inside the Ka-taing-ti village. Once in the station the wives of the killed policemen wept like hell after seeing the naked and bloodied bodies of their husbands. Chief Chit Tin’s wife was worst affected. She was over 50 and not that well and she fainted several times while crying her lungs out beside her husband’s mutilated and naked corpse.

I didn’t really know what to do with the corpses, so I radioed to CO Captain Htun Yee and sent the corpses in a car to the Ka-ma-maung Hospital. It might have startled the townsfolk there and the Brigade Commander who was visiting Ka-ma-maung at that time was very angry with me. But I was at Ka-taing-ti. So he took it out on Captain Htun Yee and Captain Aye Kyaw, the Company Commanders in Ka-ma-maung.

“You guys accepting whatever that idiot Second-Lieutenant does! What’s the point of sending the corpses down here? They could have been quietly buried there in Ka-taing-ti. Just frightening the townspeople for no valid reason at all.”

.30 M1 Carbine.
And I got seriously reprimanded later by Captain Htun Yee when he came back up to Ka-taing-ti. Luckily for me the matter had finished just there. But I was still unhappy about the ambush and started investigating.

I gathered the village elders from Ka-taing-ti and the neighboring villages and the remaining policemen and asked.

“So who did our Chief Chit Tin and his policemen? You all have to help me!”
“Oh Captain, we all knew. It was Kyaw Hoe’s group from KNU First Brigade. I warned   Chief no to go out to Pha-do. I told him Kyaw Hoe was there. I knew it from my wife’s relatives in Shwe-yay. But he wouldn’t listen. I only survived because I was at the last and I ran like hell,” said the Karen policeman Saw Chit Po the lone survivor only because he didn’t cross the log bridge across the creek that day.
“Our Chief was led there by Saw Ne Lin from Baw-kyo-lai and Saw Tha Gay from Lay-pho-hta. They told our Chief about the wild pigs in that sugarcane field. So many pigs to hunt. They lied to him. They tricked him,” Loyal Saw Chit Po opened up.
“I tried to stop our Chief. I said don’t believe them Karens. I told him I’d been there so many times. There were no pigs in the sugarcane field. But he wouldn’t listen.”
“Who is Kyaw Hoe? What rank?” I asked them.
“Chief of First Brigade. Htain Maung is Chief of Seventh Brigade.”

In that fight KNU took 5 rifles and one revolver from us. Since the total security of that area was under my command it was the defeat at the opening battle of my lifelong fight with KNU.

“Son of a bitch Kyaw Hoe, just wait and see, I’ll get you,” I promised myself and not that long after he got me again.


Ka-nyin-don police station on the vehicular road from Ka-taing-ti camp was at about two miles south from Ka-taing-ti village. There were 12 policemen and one Chief stationed there. Ka-taing-ti Police Station was 24 men strong.

Two weeks after their ambush killing 5 policemen from Ka-taing-ti Station, more than 50 insurgents from same KNU First Brigade raided the Ka-nyin-don Police Station. It was night and somehow they knew the password for that night. And they killed Chief Saw Lone and 5 of his policemen there. The rest ran to survive and KNU took a Bren gun and 7 rifles.

Kyaw Hoe had discovered our soft spot and killing our men at will. The Brigade Commander of our 11th Brigade was not happy at all.

“What the hell is going on? Whenever they attack we suffer like hell. Are you guys doing anything to revenge our losses?”

As usual his targets were the Company Commander Captain Htun Yee and me, the Platoon Commander. But we couldn’t do anything as we were stretched to our limit just to secure the towns and villages. We couldn’t spare any troops to chase them and thus they played us in whatever ways they liked.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Colonel Thet Oo - Chapter 2-1

(This is a concise translation of Col Thet Oo (a) Thaung Wai Oo’s Autobiography.)

Infantry Battalion IB-19 (Phar-pun)

Like my cadet days I always remember my first days of active field-duty as a brand new officer. My first posting was at the small town of Pharpun on the edge of Karen State. Pharpun then was the most remote town in the Karen State. Roads were difficult. Food was scarce and diseases like Malaria were rampant in that area.

Only I and Tet Htun from the First Barracks were posted together into the IB-19 (Kha-la-ya 19) in Pharpun Town.

We left OTS for Moulmein in the last week of January 1967. All 24 of us posted into the South Eastern Regional Command (Ya-ta-kha) took a train to Moulmein and stayed at the officers’ guest house.  During our stay the GSO-1 Lt. Col. Thi Hla and the staff officers explained us the enemy situation or Enemy Orbat (Order of Battle) in the Ya-ta-kha territory.

Our major enemy then were the KNU(Karen National Union) and the NMSP (New Mon Sate Party) insurgents. U Nu’s Exiles insurgency was not breaking out yet.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Scourge of Burma - Part 4 on TheAsiaMag

Sydney Cabs (Photo Credit: Kyota)
Recently Asia's premier online magazine TheAsiaMag has published Part (4) of my six part series The Scourge of Burma on their site. Their title is Sydney: Fantastic Tales of a Former Burmese Boy Soldier (Part 1) and Sydney: Fantastic Tales of a Former Burmese Boy Soldier (Part 2).

Since then hundreds and hundreds of people have been accessing my blog through TheAsiaMag to read the whole series. But most could not find the original series as the title has been changed. For their convenience I have listed the original series with respective links to the articles.

The Scourge of Burma - Part 1
The Scourge of Burma - Part 2
The Scourge of Burma - Part 3
The Scourge of Burma - Part 4
The Scourge of Burma - Part 5
The Scourge of Burma - Part 6 

The book "The Scourge of Burma and Four Short Stories" is also available for online purchase through LULU Publishers from the United States.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Shooting An Elephant by George Orwell

(George Orwell (a) Eric Blair was a colonial police officer in British Burma.)

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so.

When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically – and secretly, of course – I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. 

I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.

With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old 44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant's doings.

Moulemin of Mon State in Burma.
It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must." It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of "must" is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody's bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes.

Winchester .44 Rifle.
Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of "Go away, child! Go away this instant!" and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud.

He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant – I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary – and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you.

I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

A Burmese Elephant.
I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant – it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery – and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib.

For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller.

But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

Winchester Model 70 Elephant Rifle.
There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick – one never does when a shot goes home – but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time – it might have been five seconds, I dare say – he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old.

I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open – I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. 

The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dahs (Burmese swords) and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.