Even the Children Aren’t Safe in Burma

No one can understand this except for the saintly.

The streets of Burma
The streets of Burma (photo: Register Burma Correspondent)

I have the sad duty to tell you that a 14-year-old boy of whom you’ve never heard, has died of a bullet to the head.

His name is Zin Ko Ko Zaw. His names mean, “Famous Singer” in Burmese, reflecting his parent’s hopes when they named him as an infant.

He died on March 3 at 11:58 a.m. local time while peacefully protesting against the Marxist regime bent on returning Burma/Myanmar to bloody chaos.

He was protesting with his friends on the streets of Myingyan Quarter ― his family’s working-class neighborhood in Mandalay. He attended Middle School #2 and was in Grade/Form 9 — or he would have been had the COVID-19 pandemic not cut short his education a year ago.

I saw him near the front of the crowd of protestors. He was standing where no one should have been, exposed as he was. I lost sight of him in the milling crowds. For his part, he was having fun — such is the blessing of foolish youth who believe themselves immortal and resiliently invulnerable. Seconds later, we heard the shot that killed him.

Women shrieked. Zin Ko Ko Zaw’s mother wailed. The men who didn’t run fell to their knees with tears welling in their eyes. His friends couldn’t tear their eyes away from the collapsed corpse, which had been a young, living and vibrant child mere seconds earlier.

Zin Ko Ko Zaw was there chanting whatever cadence he heard the leadman sing ― in Burmese or English. Coincidently, most of the anti-communist graffiti everywhere in town was written in English — some of it in surprisingly good grammar and spelling.

I had never seen someone get shot and I pray to God that I never will witness it again. He was a child with his entire life before him, but this hackneyed phrase loses all meaning when you see a small dead child. He came to march because he knew something was wrong with how the government was acting but we can’t expect him to understand fully the repercussions of bad men with bad ideas who point guns.

Zin Ko Ko Zaw’s death came two days after Sister Ann Rosa Nu Tawng broke the internet when she knelt before a line of angry and armed soldiers bent on mayhem and bloody chaos. Her cold, steely resolve was to protect her compatriots at the free hospital she operated. As a journalist and a foreigner, I’m a sacred cow, but a Burmese nun? They wouldn’t hesitate to crush her as an example to all who defy them. I promised God that if any of those men so much as touched her, I would defend her come what may. Mercifully, God was already on top of things and the soldiers ignored her. I was reduced to merely being an outside observer with zero street cred and no opportunity to test my mettle.

I looked at the soldiers, many of whom were barely out of their teens.

“I am ready to die to save Myanmar,” Sister Ann Rosa begged, referring to the country’s new name the military junta had foisted upon Burma. “But please don’t hurt these civilians. They’ve done nothing to you. They are unarmed. They can’t be a danger to you.”

Sister Ann Rose is a Sister of St. Francis Xavier and my new hero. Perhaps, one day, I’ll get to shake her hand.

“I have prepared myself that I will give my life for the Church, for the people and for the nation,” she explained to reporters impressed with her courage.

Zin Ko Ko Zaw didn’t fare as well as Sister Ann Rosa. In the snap of a finger and the pull of the trigger, he was gone. There is no logic upon which I can rely to help us comprehend what happened to Zin Ko Ko Zaw. It’s simply not supposed to happen. Children aren’t supposed to die for any reason, let alone before their parents can lead a full and happy life, delighting in their children and grandchildren. But for a soldier to shoot this poor child and deprive his loving parents, dutiful teachers and adoring friends of this this boy, defies reason. It defies Natural Law. It defies God.

There is no answer. There is no logic in all this. He died for no purpose and now God comforts him while the rest of us are alone in our tears. No one can understand this except for the saintly. We are inconsolable, whether we knew him personally or not.

The blame and cause of Zin Ko Ko Zaw’s untimely demise lies in the hands of Generalissimo Min Aung Hlaing, and his “spiritual advisor,” Waz Zie Pate Sayar Daw.

Sayar Daw is the Burmese honorific used when addressing Buddhist monks. If roughly translates to “Lord.” “Waz Zie” means “Shut Mouth.” The moniker is meant as a threat and not to any supposed “vow of silence” he took. It’s a highly inappropriate name for a monk. The general’s introduction of the monk to the public served as the impetus to examine the man’s credentials.

Worse still, the manqué monk subsequently announced on local television that he had advised the general on winning this battle for Burma, saying, “If the General wishes to succeed in this coup, he must aim at the head.” Upon releasing this statement, 28 protestors across the country were shot in the head, including 14-year-old Zin Ko Ko Zaw.

Waz Zie Pate was immediately branded a scoundrel and a charlatan by every monk, abbot, temple and Buddhist organization in the nation. Waz Zie isn’t a real monk but only a violent ex-con in league with General Min Aung Hlaing camouflaged in orange monkish robes.

I stumbled home five miles as no cabs were running today. And as I made my way walking alone through bewildered crowds, my face reflected the horror and confusion I saw in theirs.

Do not cry for this poor child, as mistreated as he’s been ― having been cheated of his education and his future. Grieve for General Min Aung Hlaing and his troops for thinking that his mad power grab was worth the price of a sweet child’s life. Pray for Burma that this act of horror and degenerate desperation will signal the collapse of any support this monster had ever had.

Zin Ko Ko Zaw leaves behind a family lost in a sorrow they never thought they’d experience nor wish upon anyone else. The hatred they had for the junta which now holds their country in their tight fists is lost in a flood of tears that will never wash away their pain. And throughout tall of this, Burma falls unchecked into an abyss fomented by a greedy man who deposed a duly-elected political leader ― Aung San Suu Kyi ― from office.