This page contains a sampling of articles written by Michael Jaquish. Michael continues to write and blog on a wide variety of contemporary subjects as time and opportunity permits. Contact Michael if you have any comments or suggestions for future articles or wish to reprint any of the material.
Why The World Needs Superman
(Written after the release of “Superman Returns” in July-2006 to counter the Lois Lane article titled, “Why the World Does Not Need Superman”)
One doesn’t have to travel very far now days to witness or experience man’s inhumanity to man first hand. The nightly news is full of gruesome images and stories of tragedy and horror that often seem to challenge even the most forthright and experienced news anchor to maintain some semblance of calm detachment while reading the text. Watchers are numb to the horror as well, or so it seems. Many are simply sinking further into the cesspool of delayed stress syndrome that appears to have engulfed much of the civilized world since the fall of the twin towers.
In the midst of all this, Americans prepare to set off Fourth of July fireworks that may be unsettling reminders of another horror to those of us who have just escaped the grip of a vicious conflict half way around the world. Enter, Superman, red cape flapping in the wind and his dark curl falling onto his forehead enticingly as he once again reaches out to rescue animals, children, adults, neighborhoods, cities and the world with little effort.
I grew up with Superman. Class bullies and years of uncertainty and insecurity plagued my youth and drove me to seek refuge in the arms of someone invincible and untouched by the mundane struggles of mere mortals. No matter how tough things got, in fact. the tougher things got, a piece of my young soul was somehow strengthened by imagining that somewhere out there in the vast universe there could actually be a Superman. a man totally devoid of fear and uncorrupted by vice or greed. a man completely dedicated to fighting for the preservation of truth and consumed with the concept of justice for all.
In my youth, Superman fought for truth, justice and the American way. This latest movie, Superman Returns, makes it very clear that Superman is fighting for truth and justice all over the world though. That may seem like an insignificant departure from the original script, but it is, in view of today’s global unrest, extremely important. For it is indeed the world that needs Superman now, not just America.
The world needs Superman (and Supermen) because the world needs hope. Hope that good can conquer evil. Hope that it does indeed pay off to be truthful, even when everyone around you is lying, hope that things will indeed get better, and hope that there will be another tomorrow. Superman does all of this without irritating anyone with religious or political beliefs.
Superman is a concept, not just a figure in tights swinging from wires. Superman embodies the inner goodness that is an expression of the true nature of human beings. We lose track of that in times like this. We tend to get swept away by all the anger and horror. Superman has returned to remind us of some very important things.
Excuse me while I drag my old Superman suit out of the trunk and brush the wrinkles away one more time.
(Retired Peace Officer)
This article was printed in Soldier of Fortune magazine in July-1997
In October of 1989 I traded my stateside law enforcement job for a career in international security. My first assignment was in Liberia, West Africa. My mission, according to the company, was to “deal with internal discipline problems” within the 700 man US Embassy security force. But it wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Liberia was under the grip of Samuel K. Doe, a vicious dictator commonly called “Sergeant Doe”, and a member of the cannibalistic Krahn tribe. Doe had become Africa’s most bloodthirsty ruler since he and two Liberian Army Sergeants mounted a coup d’etat in 1980 and topped it off by literally eating the previous ruler.
Doe’s death squads conducted regular nightly search and destroy missions throughout the capital city of Monrovia, eliminating opponents and potential trouble makers. And two months after my arrival Liberia was invaded by a group of Libyan trained rebels headed by Charles Taylor, a deposed Liberian government official.
Despite Doe’s best efforts to quell the invasion, reports continued to filter in verifying that the rebellion was swelling with former victims of Doe’s oppressive regime and his own Liberian Army soldiers eager to switch sides. With each passing day, the rebel force fought its way closer to Monrovia and the tension within the city grew.
This was clearly not a “police matter”. It was becoming obvious that my law enforcement career had done little to prepare me for the growing anarchy I was witnessing. My life appeared to have dissolved into a nightmarish version of the Five o’clock International News roundup. Only this was no dream. I had been catapulted into the insane arena of African revolutions. And each day seemed to be worse than the one before.
The wake-up call that signaled the degree of deteriorating political instability for me was the shooting death of my American roommate by the Liberian Army at a roadblock in the middle of the night. The Embassy filed an official protest over the incident, but it had no noticeable impact. The following week two armed men in military fatigues shot their way into the General Manager’s bungalow next to mine in the middle of the night. Before any of us could react, they had robbed the GM and his wife of several hundred US dollars and escaped into the jungle. The GM happened to be a retired US Marine Lt Colonel who undoubtedly would have handled it better were it not for the fact that the Liberian Government restricted the ownership of weapons by any but their own military and police.
The following Sunday we were swapping lies over a bottle of Johnny Walker around the pool in our compound when a sudden burst of automatic rifle fire from the next compound shattered the calm and we dove for the pavement. The firing continued while we huddled there beneath the wicker table awaiting the spray of bullets that would turn us all into another bloody news item. We laid there listening to screams and shouted threats punctuated by the unmistakable “thud” of a rifle but impacting human flesh. We didn’t know the language, but it didn’t take a linguist to figure out some terrified soul was pleading for his life.
Suddenly, three shots from a forty-five pistol rang out, and the screaming stopped. The GM grabbed his wife and made a bee-line for the house while I darted over to the beach gate to see if I could determine where the shooters were headed next.
Flies buzzed in the hundred degree heat as I peered cautiously through a slit in the heavy wooden gate. The popular beach was totally deserted. Suddenly, two Liberians in army fatigues emerged from the clutter of shacks up the beach. Each had an AK-47 in one hand and the thin wrists of a young dead man in the other. The victim was about sixteen and dressed in a single tattered tennis shoe, blue jogging trunks and a white T-shirt with “New York City” printed on the front. They dragged him to the water line and dropped him face down in the shallow surf like a sack of potatoes. One guy lit a cigarette, took a drag and handed it to his partner. Then, after chuckling a few minutes and applying a few brisk kicks to the corpse with their boots, they shouldered their weapons, turned and sauntered up the beach without a single glance back, leaving the waves rocking the head and shoulders of the victim gently back and forth.
I crouched there transfixed by that bloody spectacle for some time, vaguely entranced by the way the blood dribbled slowly into the white sand from a gaping hole where his left ear had been a few moments before. Each gentle caress of the waves rinsed the growing pool of blood away, allowing a new one to form in its place. I was struck by how the clear, green water seemed to be struggling to purify the beach of the corruption of death.
A few days later I was passing the Hospital when I noticed a crowd milling about the entrance and caught a glimpse of six disembodied heads lined up on the steps in a perverted display of indescribable brutality. My stomach lurched as I realized Doe’s nightly death squads had been working overtime again last night.
That grizzly image still clung to my mind as I sat numbly at my desk a few minutes later listening to the first of a long line of security officers lined up to kick off the daily ritual of requests for time off, loans or favors of some kind. This guy looked a bit more distracted than most. His eyes were dry, but I could tell he’d been crying. He was obviously struggling to project a brave exterior.
“Sir!” Good morning Sir!” He greeted, injecting as much vigor as he could muster.
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“Requesting a day off Sir!”
I glanced at the man’s file and noted he was scheduled for first shift at an Embassy residential compound for the next three days. “Reason?” I asked. The Guards had a real knack for concocting imaginative excuses for circumventing the policy of two days notice on leave requests. These last minute absences really put a strain on our limited support staff.
“Sir! My brother was killed last night Sir! The hospital requests I report to identify his uh.. remains,.” he replied, with a choke.
I instantly knew he was referring to one of those I had seen on display and without further comment I nodded he could go.
As gut-wrenchingly incredible as these incidents may have seemed at the time, things got a whole lot worse before we were evacuated by US Marine helicopters in August of 1990 with our names on a presidential hit-list. As I watched the smoking ruin of Monrovia recede in the distance through the window of my departing helicopter that morning, I recalled what an old African had said to me before the fighting moved into the city; “when elephants fight, the grass gets crushed”. As of this date Liberia remains at war with itself and it is estimated that as many as a half million of its citizens have been killed or died of starvation during this protracted “African election”.
Sierra Leone Travel Report
A military coup in Sierra Leone removed Captain Valentine Strasser from office and replaced him with his deputy, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio on January 16, 1996. Strasser was assaulted, handcuffed, and removed from the country by military helicopter. He seized power in April of 1992 and had been struggling to rule the country while fighting an internal civil war ever since.
Another African election.
Since I was in charge of US Embassy security for Sierra Leone as well as The Gambia, I tossed a few things in a bag and grabbed the next plane for the capital of Freetown to see if I could determine what kind of an impact such a change in leadership might hold for the future of this war ravaged country. The city is a gigantic termite mound of desperation and disappointment populated by about eight hundred thousand poverty stricken West African souls. Most are unemployed and desperate enough to try anything that may improve their situation. Many are refugees from the surrounding countryside driven into the city by the tide of rebel forces robbing and raping their way through the villages. The only international airport is twenty five miles north of Freetown, and access to the city is restricted by a wide bay which makes visitors reliant on a poorly operated ferry system.
My trip started off with the usual disappointment when my plane from Gambia was an hour late getting off the ground in Banjul, so I cooled my heels in the muggy, cockroach infested terminal for about 3 hours before we could lift off for Freetown. Upon arrival, I was met at Lungi Airport by Momodou, my local African contact. After bribing our way through customs, we made a bee line for dock in hopes of catching the 1700 ferry. We arrived 25 minutes early to see the vessel chugging painfully away from the dock beneath a plume of black smoke with a steady stream of water pouring from the side. I noticed that the craft was being guided by a tug boat that appeared to have been cabled firmly along side. Momodou informed me that the country’s only operating ferry had blown an engine and was taking on water so fast it needed a double set of bilge pumps to keep it afloat. The normal thirty to forty minute trip now took well over an hour and a half, and the number of daily trips had been reduced considerably.
I didn’t say anything for a few moments. I just stood there dripping sweat and staring bleakly at that departing ferry and the nondescript buildings on the distant shore. Of course I realized this was Africa, but it seemed astonishing that any country would allow its only link to the outside world to collapse like this. Studying the number of vehicles lined up ahead of us, I suddenly had serious doubts about whether or not we would be able to make it on the ferry even if it did return for another load.
After an hour and a half, and no sign of the ferry at all on the far horizon, I decided the time had come to make a command decision. If I wanted to spend the night in a hotel instead of swatting mosquitoes in the front seat of our pick-up, I was going to have to find another way across that bay.
As usual, the sea around the terminal dock was teeming with canoes. Most were crude dugouts of questionable seaworthiness capable of holding only a half dozen local fishermen. But a few were brightly painted fishing vessels thirty to forty feet long, designed to operate in open sea under fair to moderate conditions. The locals used those as a cheap way to cross the channel. During past visits I had studied such overcrowded vessels with amusement from the deck of the ferry. Stories of those leaky vessels vanishing abruptly below the waves with heavy losses of life were frequent and hair raising. Passengers who didn’t drown outright were forced to deal with the threat of sharks until another vessel happened by to rescue them. But despite the risks, they continued to pounding their way back and forth across the bay. They never seemed to lack for eager passengers willing to place their trust in Allah to protect them from the unpredictable nature of King Neptune’s fury.
But the lower the sun sank, the more appealing those canoes looked. I was determined I was to avoid sleeping on the dock if there was any way around it. Leaving our pickup in the care of our driver, I grabbed Momodou and hiked around the dock to the nearby sandy beach where the vessels were loading and off-loading Africans in front of a small village of thatched huts. My friend appeared amused and incredulous at first, but nonetheless willing to follow me wherever I might lead. As usual, my white face would raise the cost of passage considerably, but I couldn’t have cared less under the circumstances. After a brief inspection, we selected a vessel that had less water in the bottom than the others and grabbed a couple of locals to pack us out to the boat on their shoulders to avoid soaking our clothes. We were tossed aboard amidst a chorus of chuckles and murmurs and bounced through the crowd to an empty spot at bow of the vessel. I positioned myself strategically next to a young uniformed soldier. The man eyed me curiously at first, but as soon as he realized I was American, he delivered a salute. I smiled and returned his salute, and asked him how the war was going.
“Good,” he replied, rather unconvincingly.
“I hear you guys have those rebels on the run now,” I said.
The man grinned and nodded, puffing his chest out in pride and adjusting his gun belt. “Yes,” he said, “I think we do.”
“I also heard there was an American merc captured and killed by the rebels recently… is that true too?”
There was a pause while the guy studied my eyes. Then he slowly nodded. “Yes, I heard that as well,” he replied, “but I understand his South African friends made them pay for it.”
“Good,” I said, “I hope you’re right.”
Our boat resembled a huge banana. It was about forty feet long, five feet deep, and ten to twelve feet across at the widest point. There were no seats at all. Passengers just sort of huddled together and squatted on the sides, clinging to each other to keep from falling into the sea. We were powered by an aging, rusty 35 HP outboard motor that projected through an opening in the deck at the rear of the vessel. When we boarded, two men were pounding on the motor and mumbling in puzzlement to each other, causing me to pause a moment to ponder the wisdom of my decision. But people continued streaming into the boat, oblivious to any possibility that the vessel might not depart on schedule. After a few moments, the light of inspiration illuminated the face of one of the men and he reached down and monkeyed with something, causing the engine to erupt reluctantly to life in a haze of blue smoke. A cheer went up from the passengers, and several slapped the mechanic on the back in admiration until the motor suddenly sputtered, coughed twice and died. The cheering was instantly replaced by sighs of discouragement and the two men bent over the engine once again, muttering and cursing in some local dialect.
There were about seventy five people in the vessel, and more lining up on the beach waiting to be carried out. The way the captain was cramming us together, it looked as though he intended to bring another twenty or so on board. I glanced nervously at the rapidly rising water line and experienced a stark realization that my final act on earth was likely to turn me into dessert for a shark. Turning to Momodou, I suggested he offer to pay the captain whatever he wanted to cast off immediately.
After a couple of minutes of haggling, during which time another half dozen or so people climbed aboard, the captain finally agreed to sell us the extra space for an outrageous sum amounting to about $7.00 USD. Once that was settled, he shouted an order to cast off and one of the men in the rear jumped up and grabbed a bamboo pole and began edging us away from shore while his partner pounding and yanked on the motor in a renewed effort to get it running again. Just as I was starting to think our engine had breathed it’s last gasp, there was a hesitant rumble, then a roar, followed by a cheer from the crowd, and our boat began to head slowly away from shore under the power of modern technology. The captain stood on the bow giving hand signals to the pilots as we maneuvered our way through a gently rolling sea peppered with dozens of small fishing canoes with sails resembling patchwork quilts.
The enormous orange African sun had dropped behind the craggy green hills by the time we reached the Freetown ferry terminal on the southern bank forty minutes later. The aging, wounded ferry was just limping away from the dock as we pulled in, causing Momodou and I to grin at each other in realization that we had made the right decision. Our boat pulled up next to a steeply sloping stone wharf and we jumped out with the rest of the passengers. Then we scrambled awkwardly up the slick incline, making our way carefully across a damp area that smelled strongly of human sewage. Suspicious, I glanced up and observed a dark liquid trickling out of a rusty pipe below the foundation of an old building above. As I topped the rise, I confirmed my suspicion that the structure was a public toilet.
When Momodou joined me, panting and dripping sweat from the tip of his nose, we began weaving our way through the crowd in search of the vehicle he had requested to meet us. My lone white face glowed like a beacon in the twilight amongst the shuffling mass of humanity. It was plain to see I was the center of attention. Someone offered us a taxi, but I turned him down, thinking that Momodou’s Land Rover would be around the corner. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a bad assumption. Our driver had come to the terminal thinking we were taking the ferry, and driven off when we hadn’t appeared. By the time we realized that, the taxi had taken off with a full load leaving us afoot. Miffed, and tired, we joined the parade of humanity trudging up the narrow road. We were surrounded by soldiers in jungle fatigues, old men, children, and women packing all manner of possessions on their heads. By now, it was pitch black. The only light seeped out of the small tin roofed shops along the road selling fruit, soap and cigarettes by candle light.
After about a mile of this, a little red taxi roared by and suddenly screeched to a halt. The driver had a full load of Africans, but kicked them all out immediately when he learned from Momdou we would make it worth his while to take us across town. At that particular moment, I was quite willing to pay any price he asked just to get off the street. He deposited me in the front seat and we sped off down the road dodging chuckholes and pedestrians. I gripped the dash, feeling like a monkey in the nose cone of a rocket, but grateful to be off my feet at last.
Suddenly, the headlights blinked and went out. The driver cursed in Mandinka and pulled over, narrowly missing family of sheep that had picked that particular moment to cross the highway. He jumped out and jerked up the hood, and began banging on the lights with his fists, shouting something about the will of Allah and cursing in Arabic for all he was worth. After a minute or so of this, I glanced at Momodou and motioned for us to split. We faded into the darkness with the driver still pounding furiously on his headlights, apparently oblivious to our departure.
Traffic was pretty thick now, so it took only a moment to grab the attention of another taxi. This guy wasn’t quite as accommodating as the first one had been though. His car too was fully loaded, but he didn’t ask anyone to get out. So we were forced to wedge ourselves between six other sweaty passengers.
After a few blocks he pulled into a gas station to get fuel. By then I’d already had my fill of the “Sardine Express”, so I grabbed Momodou and we hopped out and secured an empty taxi that had pulled in behind us. After negotiating a decent price, the driver agreed to transport us across town without taking on any more passengers.
I spent the next three days rubbing shoulders with soldiers, mercenaries, and citizenry trying to get a feel for the local situation. There were a couple of white south African “Executive Outcome” officers staying at my hotel. They informed me that a lot of the action had taken place up country in an area called Kono. They said that they were making progress, but still had their hands full with rebels who appeared to be getting resupplied with weapons and ammo from the Guineans. One indicated that if that didn’t stop soon, some action may have to be taken against the Guineans themselves. When I tried to press him for more details though, got quiet and he changed the subject.
Another merc, a Russian helicopter pilot assigned the task of ferrying personnel to the battle areas, advised me that there are still about two hundred South African foreign mercenaries in the country. He said most were black Africans, but all had seen action in places like Angola.
I had visited the country in October, and recalled thinking that things were on the verge of exploding then. The rebels were threatening to attack the airport, and the city’s only power plant was out of commission, causing extensive shortages of power and water throughout Freetown. But on the surface at least, the situation seemed to have improved now. Lights were on in some part of the city most of the time now, and my hotel had water the entire time I was there. And despite the recent coup, the feeling among the local populace was more upbeat and optimistic. Freetown was still not the kind of place you would want to bring your girlfriend for a vacation, but the degree of desperation appeared to have diminished somewhat. The rebels were still attacking villages on a sporadic basis, but my contacts advised me that they were poorly armed and lacked ammunition much of the time. A few had even been captured recently carrying inoperative, rusty weapons or home made mock-ups of AK-47s and RPGs. The overall impression was that the loosely organized, rag-tag group was starting to come apart at the seams. If that were the case, it might explain the recent RUF peace talk overtures such as the January 26th statement by Rebel representative Fayia Musa. In a BBC interview, Musa urged the government to postpone February elections “so both parties (RUF and NPRC) will have time to negotiate peace”.
The RUF may have a tough time convincing the civilian population they are serious about peace after all that has taken place however. One battle hardened contact described in graphic detail the horror he experienced while visiting an amputee ward during a recent visit up country. The ward was overflowing with dozens of patients. Most were victims of savage attacks by RUF rebels who had hacked off the arms, legs, feet and hands of any uncooperative villagers they encountered. Such tactics do little to elicit support and trust.
So despite some local optimism, the battle and savagery rages on. Representatives of world food relief programs were in town tackling the challenge of how to get supplies to the isolated pockets of starving citizens in the bush. The situation may have improved somewhat, but armed patrols are still required to accompany all convoys leaving Freetown. While I was there, the government announced that all internal overflights of combat areas would be discontinued for safety reasons. Such conditions do little to reassure the masses that the light of peace is at the end of the tunnel.
After three days, I figured I’d learned about all I needed to know about Sierra Leone for the time being. I was determined to leave the country with a little more dignity than I had entered, so I enlisted the aid of a Russian mercenary pilot to transport me to the airport in his ancient soviet helicopter. As I boarded the aircraft I couldn’t help but recall what I had heard about two similar craft having crashed recently. But “Allah” was with me, as they say so frequently in this part of the world, so I made it back to the simmering cauldron of political turmoil in The Gambia without further incident.
An American In The Crossfire
“Never hate your enemy, it affects your judgement…”
David Eubank is a warrior. Trained by the US Special Forces for ten years in jungle warfare, he now practices his trade in the service of another master. His pay, although low by most American standards, includes benefits that are enormous but perhaps intangible to some. On November 5, 2001 I had the rare privilege of meeting and getting to know this very special man on an intimate basis in the jungles of Northern Thailand. The first thing I noticed about him was the intensity of his eyes; the color of which eludes me to this day. But I do recall a sense of silver water splashing across stones that seemed both unsettling and uplifting. What was clear though was that the energy emanating from those eyes revealed itself in the form of enthusiasm and compassion. Enthusiasm for his work and compassion for all those around him. It seemed in some respects, a bit incongruent in terms of the kind of man I had been expecting. The description that had been provided had led me to expect some sort of mercenary. But it quickly became apparent that despite his military expertise and background, David was much more than that. That background allowed him to accomplish what he was struggling to accomplish, but there was a much bigger dimension to him than the training he had received in the past. This was indeed man on a mission with a clearly defined goal and purpose. And that purpose was vitally important and significant to an entire country.
Without realizing it, I found myself being swept up in this mission of his from the moment we met. David’s energy was infectious and it took considerable determination to maintain my own objective and focus. I was there to gather information and to return to the United States and write a story, not to write a new mission statement for my own life. So it was with considerable effort that I maintained that objective.
Our meeting took place at a discreet location in the hills surrounding the sprawling city of Chang Mai in Northern Thailand. The spot had been retained by David for a few days of specialized communication training for some of his fellow soldiers. Because of David, I was welcomed into the camp with open arms and freely provided all the information I needed despite some concern about how the information would be used. I attempted to assure them all that anything I wrote would be used only to benefit or support their activities, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but share their concern. This was a story that needed and deserved to be told but I understood how the very nature of the story could stir up problems for them. So with their concerns in mind, I proceeded with a degree of caution.
After spending half the day listening to lectures and interviewing various members of David’s team and his wife Karen, I managed to get him to put aside a few minutes to provide me with a taped interview in a remote corner of the training camp. The discussion took place with monkeys and jungle birds chirping away in the background. What follows is a transcript of that interview:
“First of all David, take a few minutes and tell me about your background and what led you to this point in your life.”
“Okay well, I was born in Texas and raised here in Thailand by Christian missionary parents who had been here since 1960. Following my graduation from High School in Thailand I received a US Army ROTC scholarship and attended Texas A&M University. Following my graduation there I was sent to Panama in 1983 by the Army as an infantry platoon leader and a scout platoon leader. From there I joined the second Ranger Battalion with the First Special Forces Group. I initially worked in Central and South America but later was sent to Thailand with the First Special Forces Group. I left the Army in 1992 with the rank of Captain but I remained in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) and was promoted to Major right after I got out. I guess I was just up for it. I am still in IRR, but I don’t drill or anything. I’m just a name and a number in the Army data base and they will call me if they need me.”
“How are they going to get hold of you way over here?”
“They have their ways. I know they got me because I’m up for promotion to Lt. Col., so they would contact me right away if they need me. I haven’t done anything that you need to do to be a Lt. Col., so if they give it to me, it would just be a big gift or someone made an administrative error, because I haven’t served any time in the reserves or gone through any of the schools.”
“How old are you now?”
“So, in 1992 I got out of the Army and entered the seminary and while I was in seminary, I was contacted by a leader of the Wa, who are an ethnic group in Northern Burma who were head-hunters until 1980 and part of the Burma Communist Party that had signed a cease fire with Burma. This Wa foreign minister had already asked the United States, Thai government and the United Nations for help by traveling to Thailand with his body-guard group of about two hundred men. He said the Wa wanted to stop opium production, which they were big into, but they needed international help. Not just for food and a substitute crop, but also to keep the dictators: the Burma army dictators off their backs.
“He, this Wa leader, contacted you while you were at the seminary?”
“Right. But I wasn’t contacted for those first reasons. They had already contacted the US Government here and they had not received a positive response. They contacted me, because another part of the request had nothing to do with political to do with political, military or agricultural needs, and that was that this Foreign Minister was a Christian and the Wa are mostly Animists. They worship spirits. That’s where the headhunting came from. He said, “”our people have lived in the dark a long time and you can’t force anyone to believe anything, but you can at least give people a chance.”” And he said, “”God has acted in my life, and helped me in my own life and helped me to see the light and to not be afraid, and to not have to follow spirits and these sorts of things. So I want at least that chance for people, so please come into our country.””
“That, was the message I got. And so, because my parents are long-term missionaries and everybody knew and trusted them, I was the first person they asked to see. And so, after that I had been dating my wife, and we got married and a week later we came to Thailand and we tried to walk up to the Wa State through Burma, but the Burma army knew we were coming so there big ambushes waiting for us so we couldn’t make it. So we went to China and came down into the Wa State. That was in 1993. I was still in the middle of seminary.”
“The Wa State is in the North of Burma?”
“Right. Wa State is a Northern State of Burma. But it’s not going to show up on a map. It will appear as the Northern Shan States. But it’s a de-facto political entity now. So we came in through China during 1993, 1994 & 1995. I would do double credits at school during most of the year, then I would take off one quarter and do this in Burma.”
“So what exactly was it you were doing there?”
“Talking to pastors, encouraging the people, sharing my own testimony of walking with God, or more like trying to walk with God, witnessing, helping to start a medical program. We brought in a doctor and began teaching basic first aid and basic community village health, midwifery, things like this. And also helped them start a medicine bank, where they could buy medicine and sell it and sustain their own medicine bank with each village, so they wouldn’t have to be dependant upon outsiders. And we talked about some general agriculture techniques, erosion control, things like that. And that was basically what I did. What my wife and I did. And we brought in some foreigners. My Dad and a few other people and a US Doctor came in. We did that until 1995. I finished seminary the end of 1995 and I then came to Thailand in 1996 as a missionary working on development and also evangelism. But at that time, I only really knew the Wa, and the Thai. I also knew the Karen people in the mountains because I grew up hunting with them. Back then, Thailand was really different. I mean it was like the real jungle. There were tigers, elephants, bear, deer. Where we’re sitting now? Bear, deer, monkey. I never saw tigers, here, but plenty of bear, deer and monkey. This was real wilderness. And that was only in the seventies. I grew up with these people and I knew them. But I didn’t really know Burma. As I got involved in 1996, I began to see the effect the civil war was having as the dictators crushed the opposition, as well as the ethnic minorities. And the result of this was, you know, at that time. about a million internally displaced people (IDP’s) and about an equal number of (Burmese) refugees in Thailand, India and Bangladesh. And there was a huge narcotics problem and prostitution; women and children being sent over the border into Thailand to be sold as prostitutes, all kinds of things. So, I saw that, and I became interested, so I went to Rangoon (the capital of Burma). At that time, Aung San Suu Kyi (the duly elected president of Burma) had been under house arrest there from 1990 to 1995. But the end of 1995, she was released from house arrest, and she was allowed to speak to the public for about five or six months. She can’t any more. But in 1996, Saturday and Sunday she could go to her front gates and speak and thousands of people came to listen to her. So I went and listened to her, and I was very impressed with her. And then I had a chance to meet her and speak to her one on one. And while I was meeting with her, I gave her my Bible and my US Army Special Forces Crest. I said, I don’t want to shoot Bible bullets at you, I just want to give you a book that has meant a lot to me and I think has truth in it. And she said, “”oh, the Bible. I read it every day. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”” (My favorite verse.) So, Suu Kyi is not a Christian, but she is open to all truth, and very much a woman of love and courage. And so, later on I asked her, “”can I pray with you? Can I pray for you”” And she said, “”yes, we need prayer. Remind the pastors in Burma and everywhere to pray for us. Don’t be afraid. Remind them, perfect love casts out guilt.”” This is from scripture. It was then that I gave her my Special Forces crest with the motto Free the oppressed . And I said, “”this is something I believe in and many Americans believe in this. And even if we cannot help you one bit, just know you are not alone.””
“And during our conversation we talked about many things, but two main topics. One was the need for prayer for Burma, and prayer as the foundation for action. And the other was the need for unity. Unity between the ethnic groups and between the ethnic groups and the Burmans.
The pro-democracy Burmans, who comprise most of the Burman people.”
“So I left that meeting quite inspired by her as a woman of faith and courage. Very articulate and very humble, but an iron woman. And so I thought to myself, this is something I can do. Because I didn’t see myself as a typical missionary. I’m not a big church guy. It’s just not my gift. It’s an important gift, but it’s not mine. I like being out in the woods and hump’n a ruck-sack and all that action. All the adventure stuff. And I’m also interested in political things. And it really bugs me when the little guy gets beat up. Bullies really bug me and I know them well, because I was a bully. I was always the smallest kid in my class, and I beat up just about everybody. I could take’m all, man. But I was just a bully. And what helped me when I was a bully, was people like my Dad who would just pick me up and slam me against the wall and say,”you think you’re a tough guy, huh?” So I learned something about bullies. They need love and respect. But they know what their limits are, and they need to be taught them quickly, not only before they do others in, but before they do themselves in. And so, seeing the ability of myself as a kid to perpetuate an injustice, I didn’t like that in myself and I am certainly ashamed of it, and it really bugs me when I see it happening to other people. That was why meeting Aung San Suu Kyi made such an impact on me. Listening to her made me realize this was something I could do. And with God’s help, because I don’t want to do anything that is not of God, I can have my little part.”
“I think we all want to be involved in life and in something bigger than us. Making money doesn’t really interest me. But to be part of a big cause, if it is really of God, that’s a truly wonderful thing. And I think, the causes of justice, righteousness and freedom, these are God’s causes. That doesn’t mean I always do it God’s way. Sometimes we can be in God’s causes and be totally evil and horrible. I know I could be and maybe I have been. But I don’t want to be.”
“So, I came back to Thailand and we started The Day of Prayer for Burma which was in March. It’s every year in March. This coming year it is going to be March 10, 2002. The day calls believers, whatever they want to be, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, whatever they want to be, to come together to pray for the oppressed people of Burma. I’m a Christian but the idea is to get all people to pray and ask God, how can they act, what can they do. That’s advocacy. Advocacy to God and advocacy to human beings. God help, people help.”
“And then the second part of our work is Unity. Unity and reconciliation. This was in response to Suu Kyi’s request to me. That, and my own experiences here. And to that end, we try to facilitate, encourage and support at least one major meeting a year between ethnic leaders. And we have done that.”
“Does she, The Lady, know you are doing it?”
“Yes. In fact the very first one we did was in 1997 and it was called Methra-Ta. All the major ethnic group, including cease-fire groups like the Wa and the Kachin sent their representatives and developed a thirteen-point agreement, which was really good in that they didn’t just call for democracy and ethnic rights and all that stuff, which are good but expected. But they also said, we ethnic people recognize Aung San Suu Kyi (who is a Burman), as the leader of the legitimate democracy movement in Burma and the leader of the government in Burma and we recognize that democratic process and we support it.”
“This is not something that should be taken lightly. Many of the ethnic groups feel totally disenfranchised by the Burmans. They say, whatever you Burmans do, you do. You don’t care about us. So for the ethnic groups to make that statement, and furthermore to compromise and form a federal union of Burma, rather than splitting off into independent countries, which some actually have the historical, legal and legitimate right to do. When the British first came into the region, there wasn’t just Burma, there was the Kerenni States, The Shan States, and so on. So that statement was quite a significant compromise, mentioning Suu Kyi and the democracy movement and agreeing to a federal state for the future of Burma. And we sent the results of that meeting to her. And she responded in a video tape in full Karen dress, which is one of the ethnic groups, reading the Methra-Ta agreement and saying that she agreed with all these things.”
“Suu Kyi is not Karen tribe?”
“No, she’s Burman. By dressing in Karen traditional dress, she reinforced, acknowledged and authenticated them.”
“What happened to the video tape she made?”
“It was played on television and copies were sent to all the ethnic leaders.”
“So, that was important not only as a point of agreement and show of solidarity between the pro-democracy Burmans and ethnics, but it also clearly showed the ethnics that she too was clearly for federalism. Right now, Burma is a unitary system. There are States and divisions (they call them), but they don’t really have any autonomous powers. But when Suu Kyi endorsed the future of the Federal State of Burma, it was considered treason by the dictators. But it was something that she agreed upon as a compromise position, and it was the only workable solution.
The ethnics see their model of a Federal State of Burma as similar to that of the United States early on, back when the States in America had a few more rights than they do today. Or perhaps the Swiss Canton system, where they still belonged to Switzerland, but they had different languages and different ways of local government. This is something that the ethnics could live with and she endorsed that. So that was probably one of the most positive results of the meeting.
“What year was this?”
“1997, in a place called Methro-Ta. It was called the Methro-Ta meeting, because it took place in a Karen village called Methro-Ta. And we continue to have meetings each year. The latest result from our most recent meeting was a committee that was formed that was called the Ethnic National Solidarity and Cooperation Committee. This committee is trying to bridge the gap between those ethnic groups that are still fighting the Burma Government and those that have cease fire agreements and some other groups who never really agreed to the federal idea to start with. The intent is to try to pull some of these outgroups in. The ultimate ideal (or goal) is that the ethnics will be able to have a common platform to create the future constitution of Burma.
So that if there ever is tri-partied dialogue between (1) the dictators, (2) Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic forces and (3) the ethnics, the ethnics will speak with a common voice. This committee is trying to form that common voice.”
“So this committee that is attempting to form this coalition represents what percentage of the population of Burma?”
“They represent about forty percent of the population.”
“What about the sixty percent that are not represented?”
“Well, the sixty percent that is not represented are Burmans”
“And most of those are on the side of Suu Kyi.”
“She’s supporting them, too?”
“But none of these agreements or unity efforts add up to enough force to move the dictators out, or change their minds, or even make them want to negotiate.”
“So that’s the second part of our negotiations.”
“Following that, the advocacy groups and the day of prayer, we began to get more and more involved in the lives of the people here and seeing the needs of the people. And one of the biggest needs are the needs of internally displaced (IDP’s). The present number of IDP’s is now grown to about two million.”
“Are you referring to the people who have fled Burma for other countries?”
“Oh, no those are refugees. IDP’s are people who are internally displaced within the country of Burma itself. By international standards, anyone who crosses an international border to flee fighting or persecution is a refugee.”
“Anyone who is forced to flee their home, but remains within their country is an IDP, or Internally Displaced Person. There are about two million of those in Burma now (in addition to all the refugees). About one million IDP’s are Burmans forced out of their homes not due to war, but due to government programs to resettle parts of the country or create a new agricultural or economic system with little or no compensation. The other group are IDP’s who are ethnics who are forced from their homes and villages due to war because the Burma Army has started what they call their Four Cuts Program to cut all support to the resistance (the democratic resistance), to cut all food, to cut all communications and all recruiting. It’s kind of a scorched-earth policy. They go into an area and look for anyone who helps the resistance (or simply tolerates the presence of the resistance). They burn your village down, kill anybody who disagrees, relocate you to larger villages or towns or force you to go into the country. But whatever happens, you are not allowed to stay in your village. Then they land mine the place after the burn the village and terrorize people to discourage them from coming back.
As a result of these activities by the Burma Army, we began to see that something had to be done and we simply did not have the power to stop the Burma Army. But we felt that no one could stop us from loving someone and love is a great thing to be involved in. So we thought, even if we are fools, it was going to be fun man, to just go into a place where they need help, and just give them help. Even if you only give them a bar of soap and a sack of rice. And to say that, we’re not the UN, we’re not the US government, we’re not any world power, but we’re your brother, we’re your sister, and we’re here to tell you that it IS wrong what has happened to you, and we’re standing with you, even if we can do almost nothing. And I believe that one day, justice will come. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord my God. We may not be alive to see it, but this isn’t the end of the story. And if nothing else, we remind them that they are not trash, and that the world has not forgotten them. And in my opinion, God hasn’t forgotten them either.”
“So, those first attempts grew into organized teams made up of people like those you met today, who would go in to Burma and take enough relief supplies for say, two thousand people in a certain area where a village has been burnt down. We go into the area and find where the people are hiding and spend a day or two with them and provide medical treatment, give community health training and if they have a medic with them, re-supply that medic. If there is no medic, we work in conjunction with the resistance groups in supporting their clinics that they are trying to increase inside of Burma and we re-supply those clinics, so that people can at least walk to a clinic in a jungle somewhere. We restock those clinics and then for those who are interested, we bring Bibles and books. And for everyone we bring used clothing, food, toys for kids, stuff like that. My wife organized a program in the states called The Good Life Club where kids in Sunday schools in the states put together packages with zip-lock bags containing toys, scripture and a little photo of them just saying we care about you. We take in bags of these packets and hand them out to the little kids we see.”
“And how do the kids respond?”
“Oh, man, they go nuts!”
“What do they think of the little photographs?”
“Fantastic! Actually, I think it is one of the most effective things we do. Every bit as effective or even more than the medicine. Because it goes on and on and on. You know we’re all going to die. We’re all going to get sick and well and all that. But it’s your heart that matters the most. And to watch these kids, who haven’t had a Christmas lately, or anything like it, who have been running through the jungles from the Burmese Army, receive something from people who probably couldn’t even find Burma on the map, let alone know who they are. I just think it’s wonderful.”
“So, we are able to meet temporary medical, physical needs and educational needs, restock books and other supplies. And we bring in a lot of cash for people who have lost everything but they can walk into the nearest village and buy what they need. Maybe they can even buy what they need from the Burma Army. The Burma Army is not all the same. You have some outposts that haven’t moved in ten years and they are afraid or unmotivated. If you can pay them off or get them to trade with you. You can sometimes even get them to sell you knives and ammo if you have the money. The Army units that come in and burn villages are from the Tactical Command. But the regional command that lives there are there to make money if they can.”
“Have you ever had any luck trying to turn any of the regional soldiers to your side?”
“No, but some have defected. And when they defect, they come over to the Karen, Kerenni or Shan Armies and in some cases, they have been turned back and joined the resistance as soldiers. But usually they are not trusted, so they are sent to refugee camps, and from there they can either stay in the camp where there is a re-education system, or they can just melt into the Thai economy and become a laborer or something. Those are their options. Or. if they unfortunate, they can be killed. It all depends upon who they are.”
“You spend quite a bit of time on the Burma side of the border, don’t you?”
“The Day of Prayer activities are held wherever the people happen to be, and we send the information all around the world in many languages. And we spend quite a bit of time in the refugee camps supporting the churches and generally assisting the refugees right here in Thailand. For instance, my wife does a lot of projects assisting teachers and so forth. The unity effort meetings are usually held in Burma, in fact, all of them have been held in Burma in free areas wherever the resistance has a big enough pocket where you can hold a meeting like that, and there is always someplace like that. And the internally displaced activities are all conducted inside Burma. I just returned from a two and a half week trip that was maybe seventy kilometers straight in. We probably walked about two hundred and twenty kilometers.”
“So you just sort of made a big circle in and out of the country?”
“So when you go into Burma under those conditions, how many people do you take with you and what is the role of each person and what is your objective?”
“Our primary objective is to love the people. But overarching all of that, without sounding like a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist, our objective is to obey God. That being said, we all know that we often don’t obey God. But we have to say God, what do you want us to do? I never hear a booming voice, I never see the big vision, I never feel very holy, but I do believe God will guide each of us to do something good, if we listen. So, if I had to articulate all that, I would have to say we are there to show love. And ultimately, we would like them to see freedom in their land.”
“And when you say they, you are not talking about the Burmese army, you don’t come into contact with them do you?”
“We avoid them.”
“Otherwise, it’s simply a shooting match. What we do, is we go to the border and link up with the resistance. We take in a five person relief team we call the Free Burma Rangers. There are many, many teams. Classically you have the team leader and then you have the senior medic, and then the assistant medic, and then you have the human rights recorder with video, who in many cases is the pastor or a counselor, or some kind of religions minded person who likes to listen to people and pray with them. So when he goes in he doesn’t just film the atrocities or burned villages. And if you are in an area that happens to be all Buddhist or animist, it makes no difference. They want help. They’re glad that you are there and that you love them. So when we ask them if they want us to pray with them, every time the answer is always yes, of course, please pray with us. So then our pastor puts his camera down and prays with them.
“The fifth guy is a human rights guy who takes notes, interviews people and takes photos. And of course, everybody can do a little bit of everyone else’s job. For instance, the human rights recorder on my team also happens to be our dentist. He can not only pull teeth; he can also drill and fill. We carry a little battery-operated drill and filling mix and all that sort of stuff. That allows us to perform basic dentistry, not just extraction. Everyone is cross-trained to be able to do a little medicine and run the video cameras. And most are ex-soldiers, so they all know how to walk in the woods and how to run fast when people shoot at you and all that.”
“So this five person team is the core. Then in addition, we employ or retain twenty to thirty porters. Actually, traditionally they never were paid. But we, especially me, as a foreigner involved, I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding. So as part of our helping them, we pay the porters, which are from these areas that have been affected. So lets say we are going to go to village A, villagers from village A will come to the border, pick up all the supplies, and carry them to village A. Then we do our work at village A. Then village B will get the word we are there and they send people to village A to pick up the supplies and we go to village B. And it just keeps leap-frogging like that. Now we have a continual supply of people and it’s in their interest to do this. So they (the porters) don’t really want the money, but we know they need it, so we give it to them. ”
“Surly the Burmese soldiers know this is going on, because they must encounter these supplies being transported.”
“Well of course their intelligence encounters it. If the army themselves encounter the operation, they fire upon us, mortar us or machine-gun us. So of course we try not to encounter them up close.”
“So do you carry weapons to protect yourselves then?”
“Well, we have thirty guys carrying supplies and we have our five man core-team, which sometimes carry weapons, sometimes don’t, depending upon the situation. If the situation is really bad, then at least some, if not all on our Free Burma Ranger team will carry something, 9mm pistol, AK47, whatever they can get. That’s just for self defense until we can break contact.”
“Then, we usually travel with four or five junior medics from the area we are working with. We call them in and they go with us because they know the area, and to get more training, because our senior medic is one of the best medics in Burma. The guy I was telling you about, Elia. He’s absolutely phenomenal. He can do just about anything a doctor can do. He’s a good doctor and a good teacher. That’s important when you are treating maybe three hundred people in a single day. So we need the help of the local area junior medics and it is excellent training for them at the same time.”
“So let’s back up a bit, why do these people need medical treatment so badly?”
“Well, two reasons; one is just normal every day life. In any given population you have people who become sick or injured. But in their situation, there aren’t many hospitals because the Burma army has instituted this Four Cuts program with burning villages and wiping out the infrastructure in many of the border areas. So the populations that are in the areas that are effected have lost their schools, churches and hospitals and clinics, so they are forced to flee to the jungle with very few supplies. So they simply have no hospital or clinic they can go to unless the resistance runs one.”
“Have you had any contact with Medicines Sans Frontiers or Doctors Without Borders?”
“Yeah, they’re involved here in the refugee camps.”
“Only in the camps?”
“Yes. They don’t work across the border in the resistance areas any more because they just signed an MOU (Memorandum Of Agreement) with the Burma dictators to work inside Burma that precludes them from working inside the resistance areas.”
“Oh, I see. So they’re leaving that part up to you then?”
“It’s not just me. There are other foreigners and NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) that send money into Burma and help train ethnic medics to send into Burma. And there are probably three or four NGO operations in Thailand that give quiet aid or assistance (they wouldn’t want anyone to know about it, because it could endanger their arrangements with the Thai government) across the border. It’s only small assistance though, nothing like NSF could do if they really wanted.”
“So one reason these people have no medicine is because they have no hospital to go to. Another reason is because when you are forced to flee your burning village into the jungle and keep moving, you don’t have good nutrition and you’re afraid and moving at night. You step on stuff, fall down embankments, step on land mines and get bit by mosquitoes and contract malaria. It’s one thing to have malaria in the house where you have access to medical care, but quite another to have to fight it in the middle of the jungle with no access to medication or IV’s or anything. So the population on a run suffers a much higher illness and mortality rate.”
“And what about land mines?”
“There’s lots of land mines. The Burma Army lays them to terrorize the population and shut down traffic on trails. The resistance also utilizes land mines to protect themselves. But sometimes the land mines are not marked even on the resistance side and their own people step on them. Still, in general, most land mine casualties and injuries are caused by Burmese Army land mines. Sometimes the Burma Army gives orders to lay say, a hundred mines per day in certain areas to totally stop all movement within the area.”
“What percentage of the medical treatment you provide do you think is due to injuries received from land mines or military action?”
“Oh, actually only a very small percentage. The Burma Army are not the Khmer Rouge. They’re not out to slaughter everybody. Usually, their mode of operation is like this. They go into an area and they suspect this village is feeding (or supporting) the resistance, or is just friendly to the resistance, or doesn’t freely give information immediately to the Burma army. If they suspect anything like that, they take a hundred to two hundred man column and as they get about five hundred yards away from the village, they mortar it with sixty-millimeter mortars. Then they hammer the village with 7.62 caliber light machine guns. Of course in most cases, the villagers were already aware the army was approaching because some village hunter or someone saw them and warned the villagers. So usually, everyone is already gone and there are very few casualties except for a few stragglers or people who are too ill to move. Every now and then though, the operation takes place before the people receive any forewarning and maybe ten to twenty people die while the rest of the village flees. After the people have fled, the army moves into the village and loots it and burns it. Then they land mine the village to keep people from returning. After that, they move on to the next village and do the same thing.”
“So typically, you may have one or two people with mortar or RPG fragments and another three or four with land mine injuries incurred when some of the people tried to re-enter the village after the army had left. Very few survive the land mines. They could in America with our superior treatment facilities, but in the jungle, blood loss and shock takes quite a toll. Within twenty-four hours you’re usually dead. So very few land mine victims are still alive when we arrive. If they are, we can usually save them though. Most of the ill people we encounter though are suffering from malaria, acute respiratory infection, dysentery, typhoid and some dengue fever; those are the main conditions we usually treat. So at the bottom of the list of things we treat for would be mortar fragments, land mine and rifle round injuries.”
“So when you go out into the field you are carrying drugs and supplies to treat the top six most likely conditions that you expect to encounter?”
“Right. What we have is big trauma packs containing gauze bandages and antibiotics, IV solutions, sutures, forceps, needles and so forth for major trauma injuries. Then for all the other conditions we have many different vitamins, broad-spectrum antibiotics, blood pressure medication for older people, all kinds of female medication, dysentery medication and antimalarial medication. It takes about ten to twenty people just to carry the medical supplies along because we usually carry enough supplies to treat about two thousand people. And that is assuming we will not encounter high amounts of war injuries, which would deplete our supplies quickly.”
“How many of these missions do you generally conduct per year?”
“Missions like this. maybe five or six a year.”
“And the rest of the time you spend. well, preparing for the missions?”
“Yeah, training the men and getting ready.”
“How about generating stateside funds for the mission? How do you go about that?”
“We still have a lot of church work that we are obligated to take care of as well. That includes maintaining a boarding school for Wa children in Chang Mai and another one for Karen children on the border in the South. We’re sponsoring all kinds of people to go to Bible schools, we have a lot of ethnic churches we work with on the border: Karen Thai, Wa. And every one of those takes time and resources, but most importantly, time. ”
“You know, you have mentioned several people to me that you say have really stand out in their dedication and performance. One was a fellow named Elia”
“Oh yes, Elia.”
“Tell me how you met him, and what he is doing today.”
“Elia is our chief medic for our Free Burma Ranger team and as I told you, he is a young Karen and a real Renaissance Man.”
“By that, you mean he is what, multi-dimensional?”
“Right. This guy can literally do everything. He’s only about thirty, but he’s a great singer and guitar player as well as a champion Karen kick boxer. He’s also an excellent martial artist, knife thrower, good shot, good hunter, and very brave decorated (and wounded) soldier. He’s one of the top, if not THE top medic on the whole border, and a wonderful cook! He once came to our house and walked around outside and looked at plants I didn’t even know you could eat and picked them up and made a salad and cooked a huge meal out of stuff he found around our house in the jungle. He also has a very nice wife and two boys and a little girl, who was just born. He named her after me by giving her the name Eubank Sam. Eubank is my last name and Sam is his father’s name. That’s a weird name, but if I have a son, I’m going to name him Peter Elia. Peter’s my brother in law and my best friend and Elia is like my brother. We made a bond together. If I die out there and he lives, or visa versa, whoever survives will be responsible for the other person’s family.”
“How interesting. Where did he learn all this stuff?”
“He grew up in the jungle. And because he was so bright, he was picked out while he was fighting with the Karen army and brought back to an MSF (Medicines San Frontiers) clinic in Thailand where he was trained as a medic. He knows a few words of French and speaks good English, Thai, Burmese and Karen.”
“Did he ever work with the Burmese army?”
“Fought them only.”
“So he received all his military training with the Karen army.”
“So when and how did you meet him?”
“I met Elia in 1987 during a major offensive by the Burma army along the Southern border when many Burma refugees were fleeing into Thailand. I went to a spot on the border where there was no army presence, Thai or Burmese. The Karen army, which is the main resistance in that area, had also been pushed back. So what you had were a lot of IDP’s on the Burma side, and about eleven thousand Burmese refugees fleeing into Thailand down an old logging road. So I went there to see what I could do. I had enough medicine with me to treat maybe a thousand people but I was alone. I’m not a medic. I was in Special Forces so I had medical cross training, so I would not consider myself a decent practitioner, but I figured being there would be better than doing nothing. So as I parked my truck a short distance from the Burma border and began to walk North toward the border, this guy (Elia) steps out of the woods smiling, in full Karen army combat gear wearing a gold earring. He looked like a pirate. He was so good looking I immediately thought to myself, this is the guy that Americans are trying to look like when they put an earring in their ear. This guy was like Tarzan or something, and he says to me, “”hey, you need any help? My name’s Elia, I’m a Karen soldier and a medic.”” And I said that’s exactly what I need. He said, “”everyone else is gone, I was just caught behind the lines, but I am here to help.””
“Then two refugees came running by and he grabbed them and said, “”where you guys running to? Don’t you want to do some real work? You can always run away tomorrow or the next day, come and help us.”” And they said okay. Elia is a very charismatic guy. So we ended up with three guys and myself carrying medical supplies and we took off and did what we could and met all kinds of people and helped them in small ways however we could. And as we were returning to the truck after weaving our way in and out of Thailand and Burma along the border for a while, some people approached carrying a land mine victim who had stepped on a mine about three days before. His leg was already gangrenous but he was alive. So we put two IV’s in him and we loaded him in the back of my truck and I prepared to transport the victim to the nearest hospital, which was about a day’s drive away. At that point, Elia said to me, “”I have to go find my wife and son.”” When he told me where they were, I realized it was about thirty miles behind the lines in Burma Army territory.”
“I looked at Elia then and thought to myself, you’re a dead man. I mean, thirty miles behind the lines! His family was probably already dead and he would likely get killed trying to find that out. Then he turns to me and smiles, with his gold earring flashing in the setting sun and says, “”suthra, next week, maybe I am dead, ha-ha-ha-ha.”” And then as he started to turn away I said, “”hey man, I want to give you something.”” And I pulled my ever present Special Forces coin out of my pocket and placed it in his hand as the sun was setting. On the bottom of the coin are the words de oppress alibare. I said, “”I have nothing to give you man, but I want you to have this.”” Then I prayed with him and asked God to protect him and lead him to find his family put an end to all this suffering. And then off he went. When he was gone I took the land mine victim to the hospital where they were able to patch him up and give him back his life.”
“I didn’t see Elia again for another year and a half, but he did find his wife and kids and get them out safely. He is now running two clinics in the jungle in the southern area of the Karen State when he is not working with me as our chief medic on our relief missions.”
“So you have contact with him by phone or something?”
“Well, the way we make contact is I contact a liaison with the Karen army who then contacts a field commander, who then sends a runner who usually takes about four days to get to Elia. It can take two weeks to a month for the turnaround of information to take place between us. So about a month in advance I tell him to meet me at a specific spot and I make sure I am there on the specified day. Using this method he is able to join us on all of our trips.”
“I see, so how many relief trips a year do you usually make then?”
“Oh, probably five or six on my own, but we have other teams. I don’t go on all the missions. We try to send as many as we can. It depends on funding. When we have funding, we send a team. And people like Pastor Edmond; he runs his own team of Free Burma Rangers. He’s the leader and he’s the Pastor. He’s just a great man. He collects a bunch of medics from the local resistance and Bible school students from refugee camps and says, hey let’s go!”
“But I didn’t quite finish describing the teams.” Aside from the core team of five guys and the chief medic and the twenty to thirty porters, you also have the resistance, which on a very small mission where the Burma army is no where near, is maybe only six guys. One radio, a contact, a listening post.”
“And those are the heavily armed guys.”
“Right. But on most missions we have twenty to fifty resistance fighters with us. If it is a really bad position where you are moving within sight of a Burmese army post we have to be very careful. Because if they detect us, they try to cut us off and lay land mines and set up an ambush and if they do that, you’re in big trouble. So if we are in areas like that, we will have a big group of forty to fifty resistance fighters with RPGs and M-16’s with us.”
“And if the shooting starts?”
“If the shooting starts the security element sets up a blocking position and then we pull back while they institute delaying action. But in all the missions that I personally have been on, maybe twenty to thirty missions, I have only been directly shot at once, shelled twice and chased about four or five times. But some of my people, like Paw Say (“Monkey”) have seen more action. He was in a village that was shelled and machine gunned while he was in it. They were totally surprised, but they got out. I think he has been shot at during about half the missions he has been on. But all the times I was chased, they could never even see me. We saw them coming and took off running through the jungle before ever making any contact.”
“Sounds like you’ve been pretty lucky so far.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“There is one other individual that you have mentioned several times during the day who you say plays a vital role in most of your missions.”
“Mu Cu Bani.”
“Right, Mu Cu Bani. Forty-five years of age. He told me he met you in 1996 while working in his father’s office. His father happens to be President of the Kerenni tribe.”
“That’s right. His father is a great man.”
“Okay, so tell me a little bit about Mu Cu.”
“Well, I’ll start with his father. His father, Samuel Bani speaks the King’s English (British English). He’s about seventy-nine years old and he fought as a soldier in the British army against the Japanese in world war two. His father always reminds me that the British promised us freedom when we fought for them against the Japanese, but they kind of forgot their promise. The British are very clever, so I can’t believe they really forgot. He is also a very devout Christian and one of the Christian leaders as well as a political leader. His son Mu Cu, is kind of a born soldier. Just a hard, practical man. His parents had about twelve kids, but Mu Cu is the only son who went into the soldier business. And Mu Cu, who we call The Mad Dog, is like you saw, a small little guy, but very hard and definitely the wrong guy to get into a fight with. One way or the other, he’s going to win. If you happen to be a better boxer, he’ll just knife you. Lots of combat experience and very good as a guerilla. He reminds me of how Lawrence of Arabia described the Arabs: Every man is a general. Mu Cu is like that. You can send him into the jungle by himself and he will case an objective for like two weeks, say a Burmese army outpost. Then he’ll just start picking off people one by one as they go for water or go through their daily routines. He likes a .22 caliber rifle because he is a very good shot and he can make a kill without a lot of noise and he can carry a lot of ammo. He uses other weapons too, but he prefers the .22.
And then he just begins chopping up the enemy until they are pinned down. He just keeps working his way in until he can go in and stab the last one. He likes doing that because it is more fun for him.”
“Sounds like this guy has no fear.”
“Not a lot of fear. I’ve never seen him afraid. Very capable with a knife, his hands or a gun.
“How did you end up recruiting him?”
“I never recruited him. I showed up at his father’s house with another Karen missionary and Mu Cu started hanging around us and told me that he was tired of fighting and killing. He said he had become a hardened killer and he had got to where he was enjoying killing. He knew he was on the right side, but that didn’t make him a person who was in the right. He said he believed in God his whole life, but he did not like to listen to God. Praying to God and following God was for wimps and he wasn’t into that.”
“So what made him change his mind?”
“He said it was the blackness of his heart. How evil he thought he was getting. And he also began listening to people in my team like Kaw Paw Say, who began experiencing all kinds of amazing things when he asked God to show him if he was real. Kaw Paw Say was a big influence on Mu Cu.”
“I understand Mu Cu had one moment in his life I understand that triggered the change.”
“Right. Well, as all these influences were working on Mu Cu, his own sin or ruthlessness, his take no prisoners attitude. His own blackness of his heart, and the influence of all these other people who were showing love and living for love and trying to do something good. All that was working at him when he was on a recent mission as a scout alone on a trail when he encountered a group of five or six soldiers face to face. He is very fast and he raised his M-16 and fired, but it jammed. Their’s didn’t. They brought theirs up a second later and opened up on him. Well, as soon as his weapon jammed, Mu Cu turned and ran. There were rounds flying all around him and he began to pray like he had never really prayed before. He said, “”God if you save me, I’ll give my life to you because I will know you are real.”” And he says today he really thinks God saved him. It wasn’t just luck. It was so close. He says he’s has been shot at many times in the past and he never cared about making any deals with anyone. He’s very fast and always depended on his own ability to save himself.”
“So what made him change his attitude this time?”
“I think it was the disgust he had for the way his life was going and the positive influence of many other believers. my own team members in part. He saw them and knew they weren’t wimps. And of course his father was a great influence on him as well. His father is a wonderful man.”
“And so he joined us and went on his first mission with us in 2000.”
“What did he do?
“Assistant medic. That, and an all around lookout for the rest of us. In terms of killing people, he’s probably killed more people than anyone in this world who isn’t a terrorist or something. When the situation demands it, he’s a regular killing machine. He’s a hard man. But the amazing thing is that he is the gentlest with the patients and the best with the babies. Sometimes we take female nurses with us to provide treatment for female victims if the trip is not too brutal. Usually they can hang in there for five or six days, but after we have been smoking through the jungle for forty klicks at a time between treating people, they start breaking down. Mu Cu is always the guy in the back with them, talking with them, slowing, and waiting. Usually, none of the rest of us has the patience for them. But he’s always back taking care of them. Very softhearted guy. Very good man. And these are all unofficial duties of course. He just sees something that needs doing and he does it. He’s just kind of the assistant to everybody, although he probably has more experience than any of us in any given thing.”
“Are there any other people that stand out in your group that you would like to talk about?”
“Well, they all do to me. Kaw Paw Say (The Monkey) is a Pastor and a wonderful man. He’s the guy you want to hold your hand when you are dying who won’t BS you and you feel like God is talking to you. He just has this way of getting through to the people. Very saintly.”
“And then there’s Toe Bee Bay (The Bird). He just helps everybody and is always happy, never down, and totally selfless. I think they’re all really special people. And they’re all tough. They can walk forever.”
“Yes, I can see that. These Burmese are all small and thin and wiry but I can just tell by looking at them and watching them walk that they really are very tough. At least the ones you have on your teams.”
“Yeah, you know at first glance they all look like you could easily beat them up in a boxing match in a ring. But they don’t fight in a boxing match. You could be a super-buff big American troop and they would just run you for five or six days until you plain get tired. And plus unless you grow up here, you’re not as efficient in the jungle. I grew up hunting with these people myself. By fitness and experience, I can keep up with them, but I’m not the same as them. I’m keeping up with them. Sometimes, because I am healthier, I can even out do them on the trail, but I am not seeing everything they are seeing, you know what I mean?”
“It’s like, I could follow any of these Karen through the jungle. As fast as they want to go, I’m right on their tail. But I am only seeing half of what they see. For them it is effortless. So you may be able to physically keep up with them, but if you miss half of what is going on, you are going to get chopped up. So if I were an American taking on these guys, I wouldn’t try to take them on in the jungle, I’d do what the Burmese are doing. I’d be cutting their supplies and make them hit you with their strength. The American army is better trained, better shots, better coordinated, better equipped and more educated than these guys. Those are their strengths. And Americans are as tough as anybody in the world. But you have to give yourself time to get into the scene. That toughness won’t count when you’re trying to get that vine off your head and they have already gone fifty yards ahead and are already engaging the enemy. They’re very good at that.”
“Well, it sounds like you have some very good people to work with on your mission here, and I know you have a very supportive wife, because I have spoken to her about you already.”
“Yes, this is indeed a great blessing.”
“What do you see though, as the future of your mission here? Do you see things continuing the way they are now, or is it going to change for the better, or is this going to go on endlessly until you die and someone else like you steps in to take your place?”
“I don’t know. I pray about that and think about that all the time. I know that what we are doing is very small and is only treating the symptoms and is unlikely to solve the problem. We started this mission knowing that we would be doing something small, but that we would be doing something. And we felt that this was something that we were led to do and at least it was not an evil thing to do, so we felt God was blessing it. It can’t solve the problem though.”
“What do you believe can solve the problem?”
“I think that to bring change to the government of Burma you will need a change in government. The dictators are not going to change because the people want them to. So you need a change in government. If you wait for them to implode on their own, they probably will one day, but I think waiting till the system rots from within is an immoral solution because everyone is dying in the meantime. So I think that if there was enough support for the ethnic armed resistance so you could make them accountable to whoever is giving support, they would provide that accountability.”
“By support you mean…”
“Food, ammunition, arms, training. All the material you need to win militarily. And I think that would provide the stick. But I think at the same time, you need to provide a carrot. And I guess my scenario would be to blockade the whole country by air and sea first. Then you tell the dictators, “”we don’t want blood. We will give you some kind of amnesty, but you must restore the democracy that the United Nations already recognized was stolen from the people and you must give human rights back to the ethnics.””
“And how do you handle the Chinese who are supporting the current military government?”
“I think you tell them that what is happening in Burma is wrong. One thing to recognize here is that Burma is not Tibet. There is no historical feeling of ownership by China here. The Chinese are trying to make it that way, but it never was and they have no precedent for that claim. And they (the Chinese) are not going to fight for Burma. No way. They’ll fight for Tibet, but they’re not prepared to fight for Burma.”
“And you say that based on what?”
“My own experience and growing up out here. I could be wrong. But I just don’t see it happening. The Chinese didn’t fight for Cambodia. When the Viet Namese invaded Cambodia, the Chinese were supporting the Khmer Rouge. But they didn’t fight Viet Nam. They launched a couple of attacks in the North, but they weren’t that serious. They got whipped, too.”
“But I guess my scenario would be like this; you blockade, you negotiate, then you keep raising the stakes in a very short time. You give them one week to settle and tell them if they don’t, you are going to arm the ethnics in a big way. Then you publicize an amnesty program for all the soldiers and you find a safe area someplace like Thailand where they can come and live out their lives in safety with food, money, clothing, re-education and so forth. Of course, Thailand would have to agree to this, but they probably would if they know it would put an end to the conflict and refugee camps along their Burma border. If this were handled properly, I think you would find over half the army quitting in one day.”
“What would be the payoff for the West?”
“The payoff for the West? Well, first of all, the payoff for the West would be doing something right. Goodness is its own reward. And I think that is true for all of us in our lives. That’s the most important reason to do it, because it is right.
“What about the thriving drug trade that is funding government now?”
“Well, second of all, with a legally elected government in Burma, you would have the rule of law, rather than rule by whatever law the dictators want to make. And then you would have the framework in place whereby something could really be done against the narcotics trade in the country. To control narcotics you need two things. One is an alternative means of revenue for people. And with a government that cared about its people like a democracy, you could use money and people to create alternative crops and alternative ways of life. Ninety percent of the people would accept that. The other ten percent. the hard-core criminals, you lock them up or shoot them. Remove them from society. Normal law enforcement. You will never beat it all, but at least you will reduce the problem by more than half.”
“Right now Burma is probably the most significant part of the golden triangle.”
“Yes. Right now Burma is the number one producer of heroine in the world. The Talaban in Afghanistan were number one, but they stopped. Burma is also the number one producer and distributor of amphetamines in all of Southeast Asia.”
“So I think that those things, the blockade, supporting the resistance, continued negotiation until you finally built up enough force. if you do those things, I believe the dictators would finally just leave. And in the end, you could have a UN force ready to move in for a while to maintain order while the new government is established. But I doubt you would even need them. I think it would be relatively bloodless. Especially once you had bought out half the army. Left alone, I do not believe the dictators are going to change. The ethnic groups and the Burmans don’t have enough support or faith to unite on their own.”
“How do you think the bordering countries other than China would react to a blockade?”
“Some would probably protest it because many of them are dictatorship governments as well, but they would be unlikely to block it. Getting them to help in the blockade would be a tougher issue. They wouldn’t do that right now. They would be afraid of China.”
“Basically there are seven reasons why I believe we should do something in Burma:
(1) Because it is right. It is simply wrong to stand by and watch someone get beat-up and mistreated. It is wrong morally and wrong under the law as the UN has said. Atrocities and human rights violations are being committed every day and it is wrong to stand by and allow it to continue.
(2) To support the democratic process. There was an internationally recognized election in 1990 in which the democratic forces won. That election was voided by the military dictators and the world did nothing.
(3) Narcotics. The only way you are going to have a chance of controlling or reducing the flow of narcotics out of the country is to have a legitimate democratic government in Burma with the legal means to stop it.
(4) To honor our commitments. During world war two most of these ethnic people were our allies. They fought, bled and died for themselves but also for the United States and England. And because of the strength and efficiency of the Karen, Kerenni and Shan armies, we paid a very low price to get the Japanese out of Burma. And we made them many promises about providing peaceful autonomous democratic regions for the ethnics after the war. We (the British and the Americans) failed to follow up on those promises.
(5) Regional stability and security. A democracy in Burma is better for the regional stability and regional security. Much better than a dictatorship which can be manipulated by China. Of course the Chinese do not want a democracy at their Southern border. But they are unlikely to fight it given the circumstances, especially if they could be convinced that Burma would continue to maintain a good relationship with them even after a democratic government was in place.
(6) It is good economics. A free democracy is always the best economy.
(7) Protection of the environment. Under a democratic economy it is much easier to prevent and control environmental abuse. Dictatorships feel free to rape, pillage and burn the land as well as their own people. A strong economy is motivated to conserve and protect its resources and preserve them for following generations.”
“I think those are all legitimate reasons to take action. We have rarely fought conflicts where we had so many legitimate reasons. Oftentimes there was only one such as the need for money or oil. And in this particular case, we have a legitimate democracy that is being suppressed by vicious thugs. Standing by and watching makes us part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
The world of international security is a diverse environment requiring a wide range of skills and perspectives if one expects to successfully meet every challenge that arises. Diplomatic security most often deals with the more “civilized” aspects of the security profession, but diplomats working overseas in third world countries all know that their world could be turned upside down overnight by a military coup. They should therefore be prepared to meet this kind of situation with a plan to survive, either by finding a secure safe haven, or by escaping. The following information is provided with that in mind. A kind of worse case scenario plan of action that will hopefully never be needed but it will be there waiting in your tool box in case it is.
DAILY ROUTINES: It is imperative that the security officer always assume that all embassy personnel are being watched, monitored and recorded as they go through their daily routines. This is particularly true for diplomats who must be constantly aware of their environment and the fact that ultimately THEY are responsible for their own security when they are traveling about in a foreign environment. Techniques for monitoring their surroundings unobtrusively are taught in their FSO classes before they are deployed overseas. Many of these techniques can and should be utilized by everyone traveling in outside their own borders now that global terrorism has altered threat levels around the world. Some of these basic techniques are:
Americans are targets of terrorists. Avoid looking or acting like one.
American accents are very recognizable; keep your voice down and do not flash your passport.
Learn where the “bad” areas of your community are and avoid traveling in them.
Avoid traveling alone. Whenever possible, travel with local national friends or business associates.
Avoid eye contact and try to wear clothing that is similar to the clothing of the indigenous civilian population or clothing that will not identify you with any particular culture.
Avoid wearing any expensive or unusual jewelry, watches, clothing, etc; it not only marks you as a foreigner but makes you an attractive target for robbery.
Leave cameras home unless your job requires one. Tourists carry cameras. In many third world dictatorships, cameras make the local officials very nervous.
Learn enough of the local language to know when you are being talked about.
Be watchful. Watch the people around you, the vehicles and the activities around you. Watch covertly, not overtly. This means using window glass and mirrors to see behind you rather than turning around and studying incidents and individuals openly. Be alert to your surroundings but act calm and unconcerned.
Know your area and have a plan. If you are driving, alter your route every day. If you suspect you are being followed, make unexpected turns and backtrack several times in a row to see if the vehicle stays with you. If you are on foot and find yourself being tailed, make detours through crowded shopping areas and see if the individuals stay with you.
React. If you begin to see the same individuals or vehicles several times, presume you are being targeted for something. Head for a safe area like the Chancery or an American Consulate office and report specific information about who and what you have observed.
SUMMARY: Your ability to survive while working or traveling overseas may depend upon your ability to be aware and to have a plan and to adapt to every situation you are faced with. Blending into your environment may well prove to be the most valuable tool in your tool box when the unexpected becomes your reality.