Myanmar and the World Will Be Better Because of Her.

Months prior to traveling to Myanmar (Burma), I spent a great deal of time making contacts that could help in obtaining interviews with the two most influential leaders of that emerging nation: Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing. I was fortunate in getting an interview with Min Ko Naing a couple of days after arriving in Yangon (Rangoon).

Min Ko Naing and Al speaking
In fact, Min Ko Naing invited me to the 65th anniversary celebration of Myanmar's Independence Day at the end of my trip to Myanmar. Therefore, I was able to talk with him twice and spoke with many of the leadership of the 88 Generation Students, which is the liberal group that protests and attempts to change the military regime that controls Myanmar.

The uprising in 8.8.88

The uprising in 8.8.88

Aung San Suu Kyi was not in Yangon while I was in the city. I had hoped for an interview with her and had clearly worked out a long list of questions about her father, General Aung San, her efforts over the years to carry on his legacy, her years of house arrest, her leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD), and her plans for Myanmar and herself in the future. Having failed initially, I have no doubt that within the next couple of years I will be again in Myanmar and will be able to sit down with her for an interview.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Lady

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Lady

Aung San Suu Kyi, often called the Lady, is arguably the most influential, determined leader in human rights in the world today. While I have not gotten a chance yet to talk with her, I would like to share with my readers my perspective as a Westerner looking at her dedication to guide and direct Myanmar.

Observation 1: General Aung San told the British to leave in 1947 when Aung San Suu Kyi was about 2½ years old.

General Aung San and Clement Attlee in the center of photo, January 1947

General Aung San and Clement Attlee in the center of photo, January 1947

A local political leader assassinated Aung San leaving her without a father. At that very young age, it is doubtful if she has any real memories of her father. However, the rest of Burma knew him. Some served under him during WWII fighting the Japanese invasion of their country. Others knew him during his efforts to obtain independence for Burma from the British after WWII. Moreover, all of that country saw and knew of his work for his nation in papers, magazines, and the radio. The country knew him for years, and she does not have a memory of him.

I have no idea of the emotional disconnect between growing up without a father and knowing that an entire generation knew him. It would be like George Washington having a toddler, his being killed after the American Revolution resulting in his daughter not knowing her a father.

The people of Burma admired Aung San as Americans admired Washington. That entire generation knew and were emotionally tied to him. However, his own daughter grew up not knowing him. A situation, beyond her control, resulted in her having to face the first of many emotional sacrifices.

Observation 2: Aung San Suu Kyi grew up without a father and then falls in love with a British professor, Dr. Michael Aris. They married in 1972 and started their family of two children.

Dr. Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi

Dr. Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi

However, over the next couple of decades, problems occurred politically in Burma, which in 1989 changed its name to Myanmar. Dr. Aris was in London in the late 90s dealing with terminal prostate cancer, which was in its late stages. He wanted to travel back to Myanmar to see Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military junta would not allow him to return. The reason was that they did not have the facilities to take care of him. The truth is that London could not care for him; he was dying of prostate cancer. Dr. Aris merely wanted to see his wife one last time.

Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest by the military government. While they would not allow Dr. Aris back, she could leave to visit him in London. However, she would not be allowed to return either. Aung San Suu Kyi faced a dreadful choice. Either she went to London to be with her dying husband for a couple of weeks, or she remained in Myanmar to help in the resistance movement within her country.

The Lady made a choice that I applaud, but it again was a horrific choice and sacrifice. What allowed the Lady to process that decision and then handle it? I can only vaguely imagine her feelings of hurt and angst that she would have faced. How did she wrestled with this catch-22 situation would have been horrific experience both then and now.

Observation 3: The military dictatorships that ruled Myanmar was far worse than the British were. Therefore, Aung San Suu Kyi grew up without a father, bore the burden of her father's legacy, lost her husband's due to cancer, and suffered on behalf of her country. Sacrifice marks every part of her life. Yet, she carries on....

To bring this home to American readers, it would be like George Washington telling the English to leave, being assassinated, leaving a daughter to grow up without her father, and fall in love only to have her husband also die. To push the analogy even further, America is now in the hands of a military dictatorship run by some general.

In the case of Myanmar, all of the Lady's suffering, at least from an outsider viewpoint, was of very little real benefit. What was the impetus that helped her to persevere and continue while she and her country suffered under oppression of the various military generals?

Aung San Suu Kyi did endure great suffering without overt anger or hurt. The Lady continued to address the issues facing her and her people. The door of progress opened only occasionally and then was slammed in her face.

Within the last couple of years, Aung San Suu Kyi been able to make some limited progress. She was elected to parliament. However, the junta is still in control and runs the show in Myanmar. She and Myanmar are moving in the right direction but at a terribly slow pace always with the fear of the military cracking down.

Today, there are tourist in Myanmar. I spent three weeks and saw a handful of cities in what is called the Golden Triangle. I love the people and the land, but seemingly abject poverty abounds and people live without what we would define as freedom. While the Lady has begun the journey, how does she address the many miles that still lie ahead?

Nonetheless, the Lady does not get bitter and angry while she journeys into a very cloudy future for her and her country. She works all the time for the betterment of her people. Talk about the cost for small and incremental progress in a very long journey in her life and the life of her people. All of this effort has cost the Lady dearly...and with some very small advancements for her effort. Having said that, I will be the first to tell you that of all the countries in the world that I have visited over a half century, the people of Myanmar are the friendliest, hardest working, and the most outgoing that I have ever met. They have nothing materially by American standards, but they, like the Lady, are caring and concerned about their family, Myanmar, and also the visitors to their nation.

Observation 4: The final observation is that what freedoms does Aung San Suu Kyi really have personally in present-day Myanmar? She is able to work in parliament and help lead all sorts of projects and programs. However, can she go shopping for groceries or things for her home Yangon? Can she go to soccer games or travel leisurely down the Irrawaddy River on a weekend? No.

Therefore, all the efforts that the Lady has made for her people and country have fenced her into a larger type of house arrest. She can journey outside her country to speak before legislatures or other groups but cannot really be at home in the country to which both her father and she have worked tirelessly to bring freedom. Any local, to whom I mentioned her name, spoke of her with great affection, admiration, and awe. You will see this picture all over Myanmar in the doorway of homes.

Typical entrance to a home in Burma

I saw this at a protest rally in Yangon where the killings occurred in August 8, 1988.


Therefore, the woman that lost her father while a toddler, who has been restricted from returning if she visited her dying husband, who has spent a decade and a half under house arrest, and is living in a new form of house arrest. She cannot really enjoy much of what her people can enjoy, which is very limited. Again, the word sacrifice is the only word that I know to describe her situation. She and her father have sacrificed their lives either figuratively and/or literally for a country that neither was able to enjoy fully during either of their lives.

Name a greater human being than Aung San Suu Kyi. She that has done more for her people at a great level of personal sacrifice. Both she and her father sacrificed much for the human rights of their people. She reminds me of another warrior fighting for the oppressed of his nation, Steve Biko.

In my office at home, I have on the wall a picture of Steve Biko and Aung San Suu Kyi. Biko said of his sacrifices in life, "It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die."

Al's office

I would suggest that all Americans would see film, The Lady. This is the trailer.

Burma flag

Burmese independence flag

Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.