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An ex-soldier recounts war from the villains’ perspective.
Any wrongdoing in the jungle, however large or small in scope, was followed by great suffering.
During a 1984 operation, Myo Myint was ordered to clear a mine field so obliterated by shelling that it scarcely resembled the map in his hands. After wading into the field, a mortar shell explosion detonated one of his mines. The blast flung Myo Myint’s body into the air. He hit the dirt with his left leg and left arm either blown off or barely hanging on.
Myo Myint was discharged several years later. Crippled and living with his mother back in his hometown of Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, he read books compulsively and collected outlawed anti-government literature.
By the time protests erupted in 1988, Myo Myint was a full-fledged dissenter hobbling to rallies on crutches. The ex-soldier began recruiting troops to join the revolution with the blessing of protest icon Suu Kyi.
Myo Myint’s defiance did not go unpunished. He was arrested, interrogated, brutally tortured and, after a sham trial, imprisoned for 15 years.
Today, Myo Myint lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., one of America’s largest Burmese resettlement cities. “Burma Soldier” chronicles his post-prison escape from Burma, his stay at a Thai refugee camp and his eventual relocation to America.
In Indiana, his brother — who evaded capture during crackdowns on protesters — has built a good life in suburbia and climbed the ranks at an auto manufacturing plant. The cameras trail Myo Myint from his dirt-floor refugee hut to the Midwest’s strip-mall landscape.
Myo Myint is now engaged to his resettlement caseworker — they met on his first night in the United States — and teaching English to new arrivals. He gets by on pay from a gig with Radio Free Burma and about $675 per month in federal Supplemental Security Income benefits for the disabled.
Recounting Myo Myint’s story is meant to “inject a little more nuance into the Burma debate,” Dunlop said. The author and photographer, best-known for his coverage of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, said the filmmakers hope to convey that people, not monsters, commit atrocities.
Years ago, after photographing forward-deployed Burmese troops in the hills, Dunlop observed that this reviled army more closely resembled “poor peasants and farmers’ kids. It’s a trite thing to say, but I was struck by how ordinary they were.”
Though Myo Myint shares the directors’ need to expose this lesser-known side of Burma’s war, the film has also awakened memories he’d rather let die.
“After I accepted to be the subject of that film, I had to tell a lot of things,” Myo Myint said. “But actually, I don’t want to re-think them. If possible, I would wipe it from my memory eternally.”
“Burma Soldier” recently premiered on HBO2. Watch the YouTube trailer.