Grandfather: Burma 1947

This is the second story in the series about political leaders. The bearded stranger's grandfather met with many leaders (Gandhi, Mandela, Hitler, de Gaulle, Kennedy): here is a story from what is now Myanmar.

‘You have to protect yourself from your friends as well as your enemies,’ he told me. The stranger seemed well-informed and I took notes as he talked about ‘underground warfare’ (resistance movements, fifth columns, infiltration and such like).

He was particularly concerned at how easily he had reached me for this interview. He understood that bespectacled British civilians in khaki shorts and long woollen socks in Burma in May 1947 were not expected to be carrying bombs or daggers, but he had found me too accessible. To reach the leader-in-waiting of a soon-to-be-independent country, a stranger should not, he insisted, be able to walk down a corridor unescorted, through a secretary’s office and straight into mine. He actually interrupted me reading a book, ‘Primer of Political Economy’: I was trying to learn about what I was going to have to do as leader when Burma became independent in 1948.

I had fought hard to reach this position in my country. I had been a general in the Japanese army and a Communist, opposing British rule, but had then fought against the Japanese. I used the title ‘Bogyok’ . When the stranger got back home he sent my office a transcript of the interview and some further questions. He seemed to think Bogyok might translate as ‘Leader’ or ’Fuhrer’- actually it’s a position in the army, a general. He also described me as a small man (true), and ‘not a commanding presence’. We talked about children too. He had three daughters. I had just lost one of my daughters but my little Aung San Suu Kyi still lived.

Post Script. The stranger’s advice was not effective:  General Aung San was assassinated two months later, by a ‘friend’.