My Dad, Eddy (2nd from right) and his childhood friend Smitty (far right) were inseparable Korea War Era Rakkasan’s
By Daniel Opacki
During my life in Burma I’ve known hundreds of ex-political prisoners (XPP’s) and I’ve met hundreds more. I never ran across a single XPP who took pride in their sacrifice or claimed that their sacrifice meant significantly more than that of another. Most XPP’s consider sacrifice ordinary, a ritual part of Myanmar’s long and troubled struggle for independence. They honor the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of others but never their own. The unfortunate remark made by XPP Minister U Phyo Min Thein, a government official from the National League for Democracy no less, who said his sacrifice brought freedom to Myanmar and that journalists haven’t earned the right to question authority, is absurd. Does he believe he now he gets to decide who can have some of that half-empty bucket of not enough to go around freedom?
It sounds eerily similar to chickenhawks and superhawks in the United States who claim military service or elite status makes them more Patriotic than those who did not serve. Criticize the invasion of Iraq, will you? Shut up! Have you served in the military? No? Then keep your opinions to yourself! Even worse, mainstream media entertainers push this piddly propaganda narrative over MSM airwaves. Perhaps chickenhawks, superhawks, social justice warriors and the politically correct language assassins are cut from the same cloth. Someone in Myanmar should say, “Thank you for your Sacrifice” to the Minister to help him comb his messy ego. I wonder what my dad would have thought of the Minister’s comment.
My Dad spent 18 months in Korea, made two combat jumps and he spent his final five months there as a forward observer. He was in the 101st Airborn 187th Infantry Regiment, truly a loyal Rakkasan to his last breath. A day before he passed, while ambulance medics strapped him into a gurney to take him from hospital to home where he wanted to be when he died, Dad could barely move though he was awake and alert. I said, “Dad, they’re strapping your chute for your last combat jump.” He lifted his head high and looked at me with a big smile, his eyes watered. Dad nodded in agreement and gave me a thumbs up.
Over the years Dad never spoke to me much about his war. Except, on occasion, without a prompt from me he’d talk about something that happened. He told me about his combat jumps a long time ago. But during his final months in life, Dad shared with my brothers and me a great deal of his wartime experience. He told each of us different stories. We found that peculiar and reasoned that he did so based our relationships with him.
Dad was the kind of guy who never wanted parades or recognition. He never marched with his American Legion brothers even though was loyal. He supported the dissenting views of anyone who questioned the government, he supported free speech, racial equality, and hated bullshit politicians. He respected anyone who disagreed with him. My Dad believed one needn’t have served in the military to be Patriotic.
One day when at a breakfast diner a counter clerk asked Dad if he was a veteran. I thought to myself, oh no, here it comes. I smiled at the sweet lady. Dad replied with a gruff voice, “Yes, why?” His tone told me what I knew was coming. The clerk said, “Thank you for your service. You get ten percent off your bill today.” Dad replied, “I don’t want ten percent off for my service. Uncle Sam paid me already. Cut the bullshit and just give me my change.” Then he chuckled and said to the surprised lady, because he was an honest to goodness good guy and never meant her any harm, I don’t go for that stuff.
The damn clerk insisted in saying it again, though much more pleasantly than the methodical first, “Well my husband’s a Vietnam veteran, and I’m proud of him, so I’m gonna tell you anyway. Thank you for your service.” My Dad said, “Oh so he got shafted too.” They laughed and started yapping away, talked a while and made personal connections by learning from each other who was who.
I knew my Dad well, he was my best friend. Dad was a proud guy, but private and he held in check his conflicted feelings about that whole “Thank you for your service” campaign. He knew it was propaganda but also he knew that some veterans needed to hear it to sort of ease their minds, welcome them to believe that people supported them for their duty to God and Country. Everyone’s different and he respected his fellow vets who accepted the campaign. That was my Dad, a true old time veteran who never talked about his service to civilians and he never used it as a discursive tool on others who disagreed with his politics. Dad’s objectivity and willingness to let others speak their mind taught me to appreciate Democracy.
Because of my Dad, I support my country in all its beautiful, far from perfect, and ugly forms rather than risk the rule of despotism, communism, or dictatorship. I know what it’s like to live in a countries where there is no Democracy. Yet, here in the United States, the struggle to keep and define Democracy is never ending. Many believe independent and honest journalism is the keeper of the faith in Democracy. Without such journalism Democracy is just a word.
Journalism in Myanmar and in my own country is under attack by those who would be demagogues. On the other hand, much of what passes for journalism today in my country is, well, not journalism. In the new world order the honest, objective journalists are the forward observers in the war against Democracy. This is especially true in America where Democracy as it was when I first voted is much different now. Not only Democracy, but freedom of speech, thought, and ideas – our individual liberty, are under attack. Americans once espoused the virtue of, “Live and Let Live.” To say that today at an Antifa riot would invite a kick in the face by the language police. Now, we say, “See something, say something.” Or, “Your a racist!” and of course, we are all Nazi’s.
In an other-world away the same dangerous conditions exist for journalists in Myanmar as before in Burma. The government arrests journalists. Elitists use their power to stifle dissent and criticism. The National League for Democracy is the government but does it really promote Democracy? Or, is the NLD a wolf disguised as a peacock? It’s hard to tell lately. A former ex-political prisoner should welcome journalists, not shut them down and abuse them with authority and a disciplinarian attitude. That’s what dictatorships do.
My Dad’s service to his country was, he understood clearly, not just for himself to have an opinion. I hope all those who serve in the military feel the same way. Americans should have a right to free speech and a right to agree and disagree without fighting and shutting down the speech of those they don’t agree with. You fight opposing ideas with better ideas, not fists, bats, or firearms.
Obviously, Myanmar is a very different place than the United States. Many people from outside Myanmar, I believe, have the wrong idea about the National League for Democracy just as many Americans have the wrong idea about the modern Democrat Party in the United States. Politics is a struggle for power. The NLD, while generally considered by many to be a fervent upholder of Democratic principle in the same way many American’s think of the Democrat Party in the United States, has as much potential to be an oppressive institution as any other that’s existed in Myanmar’s history. So too do the Democrats lean toward disaster.
For the first time in my lifetime I believe the modern Democrat Party leans close to Fascism under the established elites and Stalinist Socialism under the new wave socialists. In Myanmar, time will tell. I think there will not be an election in 2020 in Myanmar. On the other side of the world in 2020 the United States will have an election. But the way the Democrats corrupted their primary election process in 2016 will prevent them from running a real true-to-the-bone Democrat if Tulsi Gabbard is not the candidate for the Democrat Party.
Freedom in Myanmar is new, and to some in the NLD, it’s unusual to be challenged or criticized, especially now that they have power. If ever there will be Democracy in Myanmar, it will arrive following many years of struggle yet to come. The young Myanmar people today may never know about the thousands of XPP’s and what life was like for them and their families when under a severe Dictatorship when there was only oppression. But in a free society that’s the way it is. History is lost because there’s not much use for it if everyone has a taste of freedom. Some XPP’s who have sacrificed many years of a life may feel resentment for being largely unknown and forgotten. There will be no mention of them in the history that’s not taught in Myanmar schools. There will be no memorials.
Myself, Aung, and my Dad in Albany
If the Democrat Party doesn’t heal itself, dispense with elitist corruption, stop the conjured narrative that the Russians were behind the failures of Hillary Clinton as a way to stage a coup, and come to terms with what the party should do, should stand for, should strive to achieve, all for the better of the nation and not for the better of Wall Street or to appease social justice warriors, then we all may face the same fate as Myanmar.
Dad’s message today for those journalists on the front lines who sacrifice for Democracy in Myanmar (and America) would be to never be quiet and never be complacent. Ask tough questions. For the American corporate media he’d say only, be careful for what you wish for.