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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

AUNG SAN

By Aung San Suu Kyi


Curriculum Vitae

MY FATHER WAS A CHILD of his times who grew into a man for all time. He combined a traditional upbringing with a British colonial education. Influenced by socialist ideas, he was a student revolutionary who plunged into the anti-imperialist movement which galvanized Asia before World War II. In all this he was no different from thousands of his contemporaries who dreamt of wresting independence for their nations from the mighty British Empire.

By the end of his life he had matured into an astute, thoughtful statesman with a strong abhorrence of fascism and a deeply rooted belief in democratic values. His vision encompassed an "internationalism of creative mutuality" which would bring "abiding peace, universal freedom and progress." He foresaw that time and space would be conquered and that we would become a world of "immediate, not distant neighbors." He envisaged a "new Asian order" to build Asian unity and co-operation, and win freedom, security, peace and progress for the world.

Born in 1915 to a solidly respectable family in a small town in central Burma, my father was a simple person with a simple aim: to fight for independence. But that single-minded drive took him along a complex path. Though he was an outstanding schoolboy, after joining Rangoon University he began to neglect his studies for politics. He was a moody young man, taciturn and garrulous by turns, indifferent to social niceties. His close friends, however, spoke of his warmth; only his shyness made him appear stern and aloof to those with whom he was not at ease.

After becoming President of the All Burma Students' Union, my father graduated to the activism of the Dohbama Asiayone, an organization of young men more aggressively nationalist than earlier generations of Burmese politicians. However, its members, the thakins, worked closely with some older counterparts in established parties. Through these contacts, my father left Burma clandestinely in 1940 to seek help. The original plan had been to approach the Chinese, but it was with the Japanese that my father negotiated a military training program for 30 young Burmese men. This was the birth of Burma's armed forces.

My father made it abundantly clear that the army was meant to serve the people, that it should abide by principles of justice and honor, and that unless it could win and keep the trust and respect of the people, its purpose would be vitiated. He never intended the army to meddle in government. A liberal and a democrat, he saw from the fascist Japanese army the dangers of military absolutism. When he decided to work for freedom after the war, the beloved, respected general transferred command to a capable Sandhurst-trained Karen officer.

He then plunged into intense political activity culminating in his appointment as deputy chairman of the Governor's Executive Council, the colony's ruling body, in September 1946. Four months later, he signed the Aung San-Attlee agreement with the British prime minister in London, paving the way to full independence. One of my father's best-known photographs shows him on Downing Street in a military greatcoat (pictured) provided by Jawaharlal Nehru during a stopover in Delhi. Appalled by his young friend's wardrobe, the elegant Indian leader mobilized a team of military tailors. Thus, my father had talks in London attired in warm flannel uniform suits, the smartest clothes he ever had.

In February 1947, my father signed the Panglong accord with the leaders of ethnic nationalities, who agreed to work with the Burmese for Independence. In April, his party, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, won a landslide election victory, setting the scene for the writing of Burma's Constitution. The nation felt a gentle euphoria: they had a leader they loved and trusted, and Independence was just around the corner.

But for my father the struggle remained unremitting. He had to grapple with the factionalism and envy in Burmese politics. On July 19, 1947, a jealous rival had him and six of his cabinet members gunned down. He was 32. During the last months of his life, he often spoke wistfully of the time he could leave his grinding duties and live quietly with his family. All good things were to come with Independence but it came six months too late for him.

My father's greatest strengths were the largeness of his spirit and an immense capacity to learn from his experiences. He recognized his faults and worked to remedy them. His life is a lesson in revolutionary politics, the hardness and the heartbreak of it. At the same time, it is an inspiration which proves the simple truth that a good leader who serves honestly will be loved and cherished throughout the history of his nation.

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Her National League for Democracy won Burma's 1990 polls.


AUNG SAN

•Born 1915 in Natmauk, Burma

•Formed Burma Independence Army in December 1941, with Japan's help

•Helped set up nationalist AFPFL party in 1944 and wins landslide victory in 1947

•Negotiated pact with London in January 1947, for self-rule within one year

•Killed with six ministers in July 1947

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