Modern Heroism Defined

“Every thought, every word, and every action that adds to the positive and the wholesome is a contribution to peace. Each and every one of us is capable of making such a contribution. Let us join hands to try to create a peaceful world where we can sleep in security and wake in happiness” (Aung San Suu Kyi 2012)


On my way back to the United States before the beginning of this semester, I was seated on the plane, making a tediously long 23 hours ride from Singapore to New York. One thing that really caught my eye was the KrisAir entertainment magazine; the bright color front pages features a wall photo of “The Avengers”, clothed in their splendid battle suits. The blockbuster movie broke all records since its opening week and its main characters made an instant hit with their heroic against an overwhelming evil force that threatens the very existence of mankind. (watch trailer here please, before proceeding)

On the next page of the Kris Air magazine was a complete surprise to me. The famous Chinese actress, Michelle Yeoh, dressed in a neat Burmese traditional outfit in a warm radiant morning sun, and that really caught my eye. The title of the movie said “The Lady” and I quickly read the synopsis. It turned out to be the biography of the noble peace prizewinner and our national hero, pro-democratic leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, adopted into a film. (Again please watch trailer here before proceeding)

The two movies stroke me really hard. They were of the same genre_ at least they tell two similar stories about heroes who fought off an overwhelming evil for the good of people but the very way in which the Avengers and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi went into their respective battles was completely a different matter altogether. The Avengers have impenetrable armors, magic weapons, power suits, and superhuman strengths that they used to full effect against Loki and his Chitauri troops. But the Avengers are totally fictional. In reality, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not wield any weapon, nor did she have any superhuman strength. The only weapon she had was moral virtues and penchant for non-violence that greatly increased her circle of influence and eventually bringing the military dictatorship to its knee.

To be perfectly honest, I was never a believer of non-violent resistance stance towards the Burmese authoritarian regime. And so did many of my fellow countrymen. We all believed, albeit wrongfully in the stereotypical view of heroism that the Captain America and co. showed on the theatre screen _ fight to the bitter end, never give up, and subdue evil by force. But in reality, the heroism is not paramount to overpowering evil with brute force. The brute force is not even required in Burma case in which Daw Suu and her NLD (National League of Democracy) members made a lot of personal sacrifices to bring international allies of democracy to awareness of the situations in Burma. Daw Suu was detained under house arrest for a staggering 20 years, she refused to leave the country to receive her Nobel Prize, and even refused to see her late husband for one last time while he was in deathbed, realizing that the military government would not allow her to come back to Burma to continue her fight for democracy if she left the country. Her moral virtues and metal strength really changed my personal view about heroism.

Peaceful resistance can vanquish violence

Fortunately, I got a chance to personally attend to her talk at the Queen’s college in New York City last Saturday. The talk was scheduled at 10:30 am on Saturday, September 22nd. But to make sure I could get a good seat, I, along with a good Burmese friend of mine, left for Queens College at 6:00 am. But when we got there, the first thing that identified the huge Queens college campus was not its majestic academic buildings, nor its flags, signs and logos around the area. It was a crowd_ already in excess of 2000 people lining up in front of one of the gates. I always know Daw Suu draws huge crowds wherever she goes but to actually observe some overzealous people spent overnight in the Queens college parking lot to attend her talk the next morning was quite amazing.

The gate opened around 10am in the morning and the huge crowd, finally in excess of 3000 people slowly moved in to one of the large amphitheaters of Queens College. People were waiting rather nervously and excitedly to see their national icon, most of them for the first time, being quite aware that this might be the only time in their life that they get a chance to personally see their national hero. Eventually, Daw Suu made her long awaited appearance on the stage and greeted the audience warmly.

As expected, her speech was mostly about ending armed conflicts among various Burmese ethnic groups and achieving unity. Burma has quite a lot of minority groups and people of many different religions sharing the same country and inevitably conflicts broke out every once in a while. Mostly, the minority groups are fighting against the government troops to get more freedom and rights in their respective regions. But Daw Suu clearly realized that the diversity and various different cultures among the minority groups are what really enrich the country and that the strength and the democratic future of the “Union of Myanmar” (this is what the country is written officially) largely depends on the unity of those minority groups living side by side in harmony with each other. And she refused to blame any party/group/organization for recent minority conflicts but she reaffirmed the crowd that she is always against the kind of actions that violate human rights or against justice, which drew loud cheers from the crowd.

In addition to it, she also talked about moral virtues of how to be a good citizen. According to her, people living in the United States can enjoy a lot more opportunity than those living in Myanmar; therefore, people here should make a good use of those opportunities to make their lives better, and give back to the community, and if possible come back and rebuild Myanmar. But on the other hand, she also encourages people who have already settled in at the United States to be magnanimous and involve in the community events here, indicating that helping the community that one lives in, regardless of the national/cultural identity of the community, is a great pride for Burma and the fellow countryman as well.

Despite spending more than 20 years of her life under house arrest, and her NLD party (National League of Democracy) being denied to form the government despite winning the 1990 election, and subsequently many of the crucial members arrested and tortured, there was no hint of hatred on her face when talking about her experience during those turbulent times.

She said, “I am sure the majority of my party members do not think about retaliating the former government members. This is because all the sacrifices that we made are for a mission, for a hope. The priority is our destiny, our ambition. When we suffered, we took the sufferings as building blocks for our destiny. We don’t think like the military government did this and that to us. We are not against any person/organization in particular”.

It was clear from her speech that the purpose of her talk was to encourage unity among all the Burmese people by forgetting about the bitter memories of the past, and strive for a common goal of rebuilding trust and respect among each other.

She was also keenly aware of some people blaming her and her party for using a non-violent approach that took so long to make any sensible progress. But Daw Suu was totally against violence of any sort. She said, “We did not resort to violence; so, making progress has taken more than 20 years. But if we resorted to violence in the fight for democracy, the progress may be much faster. But the wounds from the violence will take even longer to heal”. These words reflected the recent situations in Iraq and Afghan wars. Both countries achieve democracy rather quickly but up to this day, the fighting still continue and the central governments of respective countries can not still ensure the safety of its civilians. The people are still living in fear. After listening to her talk, I was crystal clear that wining by violence can hardly be considered winning at all because the consequences ensue both sides still have a lot of casualties_ a definite lose-lose scenario in the long term.

To conclude my experience, being a national icon of courage and mental strength, the main points that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi conveyed to a Burmese community living at a foreign land are the values of moral virtues and encourage us to be magnanimous and unify for a greater cause _ to continue fighting for democracy and human rights, and most important help somehow to rebuild the country. Today, Burma is not democratic yet; many of the former generals take off their uniforms and change into ties and suits, and hold important seats in the parliament, and the civilians still cannot directly elect the president, according to the unfair constitution rectified by the late military leaders.

But at least we can now envision our destiny. We now have a clear idea of where we stand_ the country is certainly not at the beginning of a high way. Between where we stand now and our final destiny, the road will be long and arduous. Thus, we, the Burmese people, have to build the road ourselves and at the same time, write history as we go. And this is exactly the reason why Daw Suu has been urging about unity among Burmese people to strive for a common democratic goal. Together we stand, we will overcome all the difficulties and achieve our mission. Divided, we will fall victim to the schemes of neighboring nations, many of which have long been eyeing for Burma’s rich natural resources and oil.

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One thought on “Modern Heroism Defined

  1. Pingback: First Annual BGS Blog Olympics | Business, Society, and Government 4

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