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The Brit Who Stayed Behind with the Ethnic Minority Karen in WWII

January 20, 2018

As we have observed in past blogs, the CIA has a tendency to leave the locals behind as they clearly did with the Hmong ethnic minority hill tribe guerrilla fighters in the illegal war in Laos. However, the British have a better overall record in this department. The Nikkei Asia Weekly recently published an article about the commemoration of British Army Major Hugh Paul Seagrim who stayed behind following the Japanese WWII conquest of Burma with a group of Karen ethnic minorities to fight a guerrilla insurgency against the Japanese. Major Seagrim is shown below attending a wedding before the war.

Major Seagrim was reportedly spiritual, a brilliant guerrilla leader who preferred the company of the tribal Karen people to colonial folks.  The author can readily identify with this perspective given time spent in remote Karen villages on the Thai/Burma border in the "black and white" days. Accordingly, Seagrim volunteered to raise a Karen force to harass the Japanese and gather intelligence.
His program was so effective that the Japanese executed, tortured Karen villagers and threatened more reprisals unless Seagrim was delivered to them. He surrendered to save the people with whom he had developed a close bond.
A plaque in Seagrim's honor was recently placed in Yangon's Anglican cathedral.

Three WWII Karen veterans attended a memorial for Major Seagrim who remains a legendary figure for the Karen people.

For the Karen people, WWII never ended as they continue to engage in the longest running guerrilla war in history against the Tatmadaw army of Myanmar.  Their plight is common among other traditional ethnic minorities that comprised the Union of Burma as the first independent government following British colonial rule. Over the years, the author has known members of the Karen National Union and found them genuinely engaged in the quest for individual freedoms for their people with a reasonable resistance force in the Karen National Liberation Army.

When Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a majority of the seats in Myanmar's parliament in 2015, many were optimistic about the future for the country's ethnic minorities to achieve equality.  However, it was a foolish dream recognizing that the military retains veto power over the parliament.  The result has been rampant genocide of the Muslim minority Rohingya people and has caused over 650,000 of them to flee to nearby Bangladesh.  Therefore, the elephant in the room during all of the Seagrim/Karen memorial services was the wanton bloodshed of the Rohingya people that was occurring at the same time.
Interestingly, it was Aung San Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, who coined the term Union of Burma as the country obtained its independence from British colonial rule though he was assassinated in 1947, a few months before the British handover to the newly independent state.  The term "union" was a recognition of the many different minority groups that constituted the population of the country.  Aung San is shown in the image below with the young baby, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has devoted and sacrificed much of her life to the country though lacks sufficient power to overcome the ruthless military.

Authentic Karen Tribal clothing and home accessories made from Karen fabric.  Hand woven fabrics with intricate embroidery and beading.

Vintage Karen Hill Tribe Pull Over Top
Vintage Karen Hill Tribe Pull Over Top
Pillow of Vintage Karen Hill Tribe Top
Pillow of Vintage Karen Hill Tribe Top
Jacket with Karen Hill Tribe Fabric
Vintage Karen Wedding Dress

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