Thursday, August 8, 2013

8-8-88 (Four-Shit) Uprising: Anarchy and Head-Choppings

Nowadays there are so many just-over-20-year-olds at my work and I began to realize the 8-8-88 Uprising exactly 25 years ago is now just a history for them. But for me who was     barely 18 in August 1988 the failed Uprising is still recent in my mind.

Back then I was a tenth-grade student at State High School No-3 (SHS-3) in Thin-gan-gyung township in Rangoon. Our school was on the laneway from BOC Bend near former Irrawaddy cinema to Thin-gan-gyun train-station. The local people there were mostly Kalars (Muslims and Hindus).

On 8-8-88 there were mass protests in the city. But we didn’t hear anything about soldiers’ shooting to disperse the crowd then. The whole thing started from a fight between a small group of RIT students and the local youths from the Kyo-gone ward at a teashop where the violent argument broke out on which songs the shop should play.

Later two RIT students Phone Maw and Soe Naing were shot dead in the RIT campus by the security-police trying to quell the students’ protest demanding the arrest of the culprits who had attacked the RIT students in the teashop brawl earlier.

And that was the trigger for the general strike labelled as 8-8-88 Uprising. A lousy teashop brawl and two dead students from RIT – Rangoon Institute of Technology!

Before going ahead with this memoir I would like to remind my young readers that I would not exaggerate or sensationalize the true stories and I would not omit any facts knowingly or intentionally. I would write the factual stories exactly as I had witnessed. Because writing about politics is confusingly complex and brutally manipulative and most writers have their own agendas.

August 8, 1988

Well before that day so many provocative letters from the agitators (various strike committees) reached our high school. Mainly about how the brutal Socialist government was arresting and torturing and killing the students. Just to provoke us with anger and hatred towards the government and the army.

But our old headmistress was in tears and begging us not to involve in any protest whether violent or non-violent. So we young students were pulled between her and the agitators. We were confused and didn’t know what to decide. But the final letter from the agitators or the 8-8-88 strikers made us really angry.

The letter said, “Your school is so quiet just because your school has so many Muslim Kalars. Are you guys little rabbits or dangerous snakes? If you guys are rabbits just stay still in the bush and don’t come out.”

It hurt our pride and we angrily decided to join the general strike on 8-8-1988.

Student protesters from Myoma High school.
We started out from our school at about 7:30 in the morning of 8-8-88. The point people were carrying the large photos of Bogyoke Aung San and the fighting-peacock flags. Some teachers were leading us and they made us feel strong and powerful. But we still covered our faces with handkerchiefs.

By then Bogyoke Sein Lwin was the president after Ne Win resigned and he was ready to use brute force against the protesters.

We reached the BOC Bend near our school and then SHS-1 Thin-gan-gyun. Once we were there most students came out of their classrooms and joined us. By then our marching crowd were nearly 5,000 including the local civilians from Thin-gan-gyun.

Food was plenty as so many families came out of their houses and giving us water and milk and foodstuff they had. We were basically marching from SHS-1 to SHS-2 at the 16th Bend and we were expecting army blockage just before that high-school. So we started yelling our slogans.

“Getting Democracy ……. Our Affairs, Our Affairs!”
“People Soldiers ……. Our Soldiers!”
“Martial-education From Bogyoke Aung San ……… Not For Killing Your Own People!”

Once we passed 16th Bend we saw them soldiers on the road ahead. They had blocked the road with barbwire-barricades. Right in front of the barricades were about ten soldiers on kneeling position with their G3 automatic-assault-rifles and 12-gauge shot guns aimed and ready to fire at us. Right behind the barricades was a huge tank and behind the tank were at least five army trucks filled with armed-soldiers.

At the point of our column were mostly young girls and once we saw the soldiers we boys moved up and form a protective human-wall around them. We were so close to the gun-toting soldiers by then. Only about 4-5 yards.

We didn’t really think soldiers would brutally shoot us young boys and girls and even if they did shoot we would take their bullets. How stupid and naïve we were then.

Shootings Starts

First an army officer with loudspeaker warned us repeatedly to disperse and go home. We refused and the big tank fired three times. “Bong, bong, bong”. But we knew the shells were blanks just to scare us youngsters with loud noises.

We yelled to each other, “Don’t run, don’t run, they aren’t really shooting, don’t run”. And so we stood our ground and didn’t run. Suddnely the soldiers at the barricades started shooting at us as they were given the firing order by their officer.

Most were hit but the bullets killed only one young boy right at the front. The soldiers were not using real lethal bullets but rubber pallets from their shotguns. There were so many pallet holes like meshes in peoples’ shirts but they could pick out the match-head size rubber pallets from their bruised and bloodied flesh.

Once the real shooting started the huge crowd collapsed and ran back for their lives. I immediately dived onto the ground first and once the stampede began I crawled behind a rubbish mound so that I wouldn’t get trampled over by the madly-fleeing crowd.

But I still knew I wasn’t safe. So I got up and ran into the laneway nearby. Before I ran I looked back and saw a soldier with a smirk on his face stared at me and then aimed his rifle at me. But he didn’t shoot. Anyway I ran as fast as I could as if my life depended on getting away as far as I could from them shooting soldiers.

When I was really exhausted and had to stop running I found myself in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. I was still in my school uniform of white short-sleeve shirt and green sarong and I had no slippers as I’d lost them in running for my life.

People seeing me from their houses were so concerned of my safety they called me up to change cloths and get new slipper from them. They knew the soldiers were searching the young students to arrest or shoot. But I still refused and kept walking away aimlessly. Finally I rediscovered my bearings as I saw familiar places like our private-tution-halls.

Once I regained my bearings I tried to walk through a cemetery which was a shortcut to my house. The cemetery was near the Kyaik-ka-san Pagoda. Nowadays it is the Thin-gan-gyun’s Model Hospital since the government demolished that old cemetery and built the hospital on the cemetery ground.

Running Into the Soldiers Again

Once in the cemetery I met two of my classmates there and we three came back home together. Out of the cemetery we crossed the Thin-gan-gyun Road and then walked into the government bank’s housing estate for the employees of government banks. It was our regular shortcut.

Inside the estate I sort of lost my tow friends as I was a slow-walker behind them. Suddenly I saw them running back to me and then went up into the nearest apartment block and disappeared. I was really surprised and still staring at their backs when three soldiers chasing them confronted me standing alone on the narrow laneway.

“Phyoung, phyoung, phyoung,” they cocked their G3s and pointed at me as if they were gonna shoot me right there. Then I heard people from the apartment blocks yelling at the soldiers, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, we won’t let you live if you men shoot the boy!” I also heard the sounds of a few people coming down from their flats.

Somehow I didn’t try to run as I became almost fearless. I knew if I ran they would surely cut me down. I just stood there staring back at three soldiers with their big guns. Then I saw their officer with pistol ready in his hand appeared behind them.

The bank-estate had a high brick wall around it and he might have been left behind at outside by his soldiers. He didn’t like what he saw and yelled out at his men. “What the hell you guys doing here? Fucking idiots, I told you guys only to shoot up when you confront a group!” At least he was there before people from upstairs arrived.

Anyway to make the story short they went on their way and I also came home my way. But my troubles were not over yet. I was almost at my house when the army truck filled with armed-soldiers and fitted with loudspeakers warning people not to protest came into our street.

They drove past me and when I tried to look up at their faces they all avoided my stares as if they felt bad doing what they were doing that day. I understood their feelings as not all soldiers were ruthless killers and they must also be torn by to follow the orders and shoot the kids their brothers and sisters age.

Complete Anarchy and Brutal Mob Killings all over Rangoon

The mass protests grew bigger and more violent everyday as the army had stopped shooting and the soldiers had disappeared back into their compounds. And the government changed the president. Sein Lwin the Butcher of Rangoon was replaced by soft-spoken Dr. Maung Maung. But he still couldn’t bend the people’s rebellious will.

The government was completely shut down and ruthless mobs violently ruled every city and town and village. Every police station in Rangoon except the Thu-wa-na Station was raided by the students-led mob and the policemen brutally tortured and killed.

In North-Oakkalapa the police-station not far from our place was taken and the chief-of-police there was burned alive in a huge bonfire. Later some students cut his roasted flesh and consumed with home-made liquor.

In South-Oakkalapa a long-haired thug called “Yaung-gyee-bway” was most notorious. He and his group of thugs accused the people they didn’t like of being MI (Military Intelligent) agents and chopped their heads off in public and huge crowds went and watched all these public-beheadings. Anarchy and lawlessness is absolutely horrifying.

Failed Attempts On Thu-wa-na Police Station

A students-led mob with guns captured from the police.
My place then was not that far from the Thu-wa-na Police-Station the only station that didn’t fall into mob’s hands. So the local students-led mob tried several times to take the station down at nights.

But that police-station was in the middle of empty paddy-fields and the police there positioned a sniper with rifle on the tall Koke-ko tree. The sniper was so good he could kill one attacker with one single shot. I still remember one morning I saw seven deaths with their heads blown off by .303 bullets from the night before.

One night a young policeman who was an alcoholic from that joint sneaked out and crossed the Nga-moe-yeik Creek to Thar-kay-ta to drink home-made hard-liquor there. Unfortunately when he came back drunk he was caught by a students-patrol on the creek bank.

The students stabbed him with bamboo shafts and bashed him with rocks and bricks. And they tied his legs with barbed-wires and dragged him like a dead dog on the streets all over our ward. Poor policeman wouldn’t die and screaming and weeping the whole night till next morning.

I saw him dying horribly on the intersection near our house. One student even cut his dick and balls together and stuffed them in his mouth. Only a couple of days later they took the genitals out of his dead mouth after so many complaints from the locals. But they still left the rotting corpse at the same spot he finally expired.

During those times we couldn’t sleep well at all at nights. The students were telling us all sort of lies like that Thar-kay-ta thug Yaung-gyee-bway and hundreds of his men were now in Thu-wa-na, and once they finished with Thu-wa-na that mob would come to our Thin-gan-gyun.

So every man and boy had to arm and defend their wards. So I even armed myself with a huge machete and joined the mob on the streets. Then they told us that to separate the Thar-kay-ta mob from us we were to be topless and any man with his shirt on was to be killed on the spot. I ended up pacing in front of our house topless and carrying a huge machete shaking with fear.

Heads from the Thingangyun Beheading.
Head-choppings in public were also happening too frequently. One day we heard that they were chopping the heads of seven men being accused of MI agents. So we went to see the public beheadings. But we were too late as the beheadings were over when we got there.

We didn’t see the actual beheadings but we saw the headless bodies and their chopped-heads on the ground at the scene. Some people who did witness the beheading told me later that the beheadings were done one by one. After the first head was chopped-off the students showed the chopped-head to the rest of the seven and not a one them made a sound.

And the students took it as the sign of being guilty and chopped their heads off one after another. But I now believe those six poor victims were so overwhelmed by fear and didn’t dare to make a sound. Those times were utterly horrible. I just pray that something like 8-8-88 will never happen again in our country.

Rumours of Our Saviour (Min-laung)

ASSK's failed attempt to form unified government.
Then one day everybody was talking about the sudden appearance of our saviour. Who was that, who was that? Everybody asking everybody and it turned out our saviour was Aung San Oo. The only son of our national hero Bogyoke Aung San was coming back to lead us to democracy and heaven. We were all happy.

Then about two days later the surprise correction came out. It wasn’t Aung San Oo the son of our Bogyoke Aung San. It was the Bogyoke’s daughter Aung San Suu Kyi. And she became the leader of democracy instantly.

Within few days after Aung San Su Kyi was raised onto the political stage the army staged a bloody coup and martial law was declared and the soldiers started shootings at the students-led mobs again. And the horrible 8-8-88 Uprising was over. 

Captured thug Young-gyee-bway of Thar-kay-ta.
Mob's beheading in Hlaing Township.
Mobs' attacks on police-stations all over Rangoon.
Mob attack on Myinthar veterans' quarters.
Every ward in Rangoon had self-barricaded during the months-long lawless anarchy in late 1988.
Aung San Suu Kyi's criticism of U Nu forming a parallel government on 9 September 1988.
Burmese politicians' failed attempt to form a unified-caretaker-government on 13 September 1988.
Half-insane U Nu declaring to resume his long-lost prime-minister-ship of Burma.