Ne Win: A Story of Power, Tyranny and Dolphin Blood

Once upon a time, there was a man who bathed in the blood of a dolphin. He believed that this would keep him young and healthy while his Stalin-inspired rule kept emancipation for the Burmese people alive. The man was born as Shu Maung, or “the apple of the eye”, until his name was changed to Ne Win or “Bright Sun” in 1941 during the rise of a terribly brutal dictatorship. For the next 26 years, the name influenced images of tyranny and violent extravagance among the people of Burma (also known as Myanmar). This dictator was no ordinary man; He chose the limits of national independence in the name of liberation, and followed the principles of staunch Buddhism, playing with the ideals of Ati.

Rangoon, Burma before the Japanese bombing in December 1941.

getting to know ne vin

general ne win 1

Shoo Maung was the son of a minor civil servant from Pongdale. Failing to pass through college, he joined the Dobama Asiayon (Our Burma Association) with disillusioned aspirations to free his country from the clutches of British rule. It was here that the promising boy met the stalwarts of politics: Aung San and Yu Nu, the father of democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi. By 1941 Maung was training under the Japanese, only to return as a developed and designated Ne Win who would take over as chief of the Burma Independence Army in his home country. He saw the coming and going of the Japanese invasion, and fought tooth and nail until Burma gained independence outside the British Commonwealth in January 1948. An aggressive rise under the changing colonists promised Ne Win a seat in the leadership when the time came. But as soon as the glimpse of a sovereign nation appeared on the horizon, Ne Win ensured that the government of then-prime minister Yu Nu fell to take over.

face of aggression

Now sitting in the chair as caretaker prime minister, a devotee of Marx and Stalin, he promised his citizens an exodus to the “Burmese route to socialism”. What followed was an aggressive turn in a xenophobic political landscape fueled by Buddhist superstition and Marxist nationalization. During his reign, Ne Vin became known as a man of excess, involved in gambling and corruption, religious rituals, and extreme megalomania. His decisions were as much influenced by political theory as by astrology and numerology. Although a violent dictator with unparalleled power in the country, Ne Vin allows his erratic behavior to be influenced by the predictions of fortune-tellers. He would shoot at his reflection in the mirror in hopes of preventing a murder. When violent conflict resulted in bloodshed, he superstitiously walked on dog’s entrails in an attempt to promote bloodshed. Many said that the leader had bathed in the blood of dolphins according to a Buddhist belief that it would keep them young and healthy for years to come.

Ne Win was told that his lucky number was nine, and succumbing to the lure of fate, the dictator banned 100 kyut from circulation in the country in 1987. He replaced it with denominations of 45 and 90 kyats, so that both could add up to nine and be divisible by nine. An already wounded economy breathed its last as its citizens lost their savings and went bankrupt at the behest of a ruler.

general ne win 3

At last the people spoke. In 1988 a rebellion forced Na Win to step down from his seat, welcoming Saw Mong to his wake. The change was not without its pitfalls: more than 3,000 civilians were killed in the protests and the streets of Rangoon were bathed in blood. But this time there was no way for the robber to sit back on the throne. In 2002, Ne Vin died of a house arrest in the earthly clutches.


, BBC News

, wire


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