Michael's Dispatches

The River - Part II


The villagers welcome outsiders.  Up and down the Irrawaddy, villagers were upset that the American Navy was not allowed to help.

Water buffalo in the foreground, human corpse in background.

There is only one rice planting season on the delta, and with their seed stores largely destroyed and draft animals drowned, many of the farmers will not be able to plant this year. Also, over in Thailand, news reports were warning not to eat fish from Myanmar, as the fish had been feeding on human bodies. This could result in untold economic damage to Burmese commercial fisherman. Charlie and the crew noticed that of the many bodies they passed, those on dry land were merely desiccating, while those in the Irrawaddy that were near shore were being eaten, or had already been completely picked clean by crabs.

Entire villages had been erased, and there was nothing left standing but dirt foundations, marks of bare earth on the ground over which people once lived, thrived, and died. In every village they stopped, the inhabitants hated the government and trusted only the monks and the foreigners. Every village had a monk, and most had monasteries, which needed to be rebuilt as a symbol of the only legitimate leadership in which the people could believe.

Charlie wanted to push into the most affected areas deeper in the delta. By the third night, they stopped for only about four hours to eat and sleep, staying on the boat in a cove that was lightly inhabited, if at all. Some nights the torches of villagers could be seen moving about the ruined paddies, hunting for frogs. Like eerie itinerant firebugs they slid through the fields, calling to each other in a soft unintelligible tongue. The heat and humidity left everyone filthy, but the unacclimated could not dare to bathe in the river. During a torrential downpour, Charlie and his local staff stood on the bow of the boat and showered in the dark storm, lathering with soap and laughing like children, their cries punctuated by lightning and thunder which might have struck a more ominous note in the hearts of the less intrepid.

The crew was drinking Grand Royal whiskey, which Charlie’s local manager had had the forethought to bring along, and they also managed to buy whiskey in villages along the way. A constant supply of betel-nut, the leaf-covered stimulant craved day and night by working class Burmese, kept jaws busy and mouths largely shut throughout the monotonous cruise downriver. Near the major delta town of Bogale, a large Burmese Navy vessel came into sight, but Charlie hid and they sailed by without incident.

Meanwhile, Charlie’s “Trackstick” GPS device continued to plot the route taken, time, date, and grid coordinates, so that later it could situate the photos Charlie was taking. Unfortunately, the Trackstick managed to fall into a bowl of rice soup, and stopped working until a Burmese crewman took it apart down to the circuit board, and spent about two hours using a magnifying glass to clean the circuits.

The Trackstick uploads via USB.

The boat was leaking; also the rains would dump gallons of water at a time, so it had to be constantly pumped.

On 13 June, Charlie had to hide in boat for a scorching two hours as his staff went to meet an influential monk in the town of Laputta, near the western end of the delta where the cyclone had made landfall. The weather was sticky, alternating between dreary overcast and intermittent rain. Using his satellite gear, Charlie continued to send me his coordinates and status. I sent him daily updates about any cyclone advisories (there were no more cyclones) and news about Afghanistan, where he is usually based. The head monk in Laputta listened with empathy to Charlie’s staff and under his direction two monks from a ruined village a further three hours from the town were dispatched to guide the party to see the true devastation wrought by the cyclone, as well as to witness for ourselves the disgraceful response of the Burmese junta to the desperate needs of its own people.

"Delta" village

We had to go to the Echo first and asked 2 monks and 1 headman to act as guides. On our way, we saw many many dead bodies. This village is called Foxtrot village (13.6.2008) at time 6.00 pm. Hard photographs taken. This village is near the Golf village(see the map).

(1) The monastery was destroyed and 4 monks got drowned in the floods.

No boat there. They needed a small motor boat to go and get the relief and given by the government. (small boat price may be round about $500 US)

Two monks picked up by the team in Laputta.

As the boat hammered out of Laputta, it came across a huge field of human corpses. Just within their field of vision, without even trying to search, the team saw as many as one hundred bodies. Local men said you could walk for hours along this river shoreline and see the bodies everywhere, stretched out with arms and legs splayed as if in supplication to a God who had somehow managed to lose track of their existence. To Charlie, as he looked at the corpses, reddish and desiccated with mouths agape in silent anger, it seemed that the very soul of the delta had been visited upon by some ghastly juggernaut, ripping the life from its inhabitants in a grim harvest. The cries of the dead were silent in their agony, yet those of the living were loud in anger and grief.

The following photos are graphic in nature, and I apologize to anyone who is offended or upset. I have thought long and hard about publishing them, and decided that the world needs to see what happened to the people of the Irrawaddy River Delta, whom the cyclone killed, and the junta left to rot.


No captions are necessary. The images speak for themselves.





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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Zen · 13 years ago
    I should stop being surprised at level of cruelty people can inflict on each other, but there somehow there something worse about the total disinterest the junta has for the plight of its people.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jon Jewett · 13 years ago
    The photos along with the text are important. They show the (in)human face behind the statistics we hear in the main stream media.

    For those that will look, they show the full glory of another Socialist Proletariat Paradise.

    Keep up the good work.

    May God Bless America.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mary g · 13 years ago

    God bless you, Michael Yon and your friends and your allies.
    a soldier's mom
  • This commment is unpublished.
    E. T. · 13 years ago
    I am grateful for your story and photos, but am concerned for the safety of the villages and individuals that were exposed (facial photos, etc.). It would not surprise me if someone in the regime is paying attention to the internet.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Russell C Wingate · 13 years ago
    I would be interested in the whole story. Thanks
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Occasus · 13 years ago
    The fact the generals are communists never seems to be mentioned.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lourdes · 13 years ago
    thanks again for this, I had almost forgotten about the victims of the cyclone, I pray that more help is headed their way, what a shame..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ponch · 13 years ago
    Are there going to be additional parts to this story? Would love to read a part 2, or , or more!
    Great read.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tony · 13 years ago
    I was unable to make out the item in the first image of the sequence of the terrible photos of the dead people. Was it a mine?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Hardtack · 13 years ago
    Thanks for reminding us of this tragedy. It has basically been forgotten by not only the MSM but almost all others.

    One of these days, payback will come. However, what the total cost of that payback will be is unknown.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Derek · 13 years ago
    MSF/Doctors Without Borders: Field News


    More photos and articles... another source advocating for people of Myanmar.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Derek · 13 years ago
    I thought this was important to share as well...

    http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=27 8

    Again, more related articles and photos. Good to see aid being given but as detailed much more is still needed.

    Since May 5, MSF teams have distributed:

    * 1,250 tons of rice,
    * 410 tons of beans,
    * 190,000 liters of cooking oil,
    * 70 tons of canned fish,
    * 1,400 kg of salt,
    * 125,000 packs of energy biscuits and therapeutic food,
    * 120,000 plastic sheets,
    * 20,000 mosquito nets,
    * 48,000 jerry cans,
    * ,000 blankets, and
    * 16,500 soap bars.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Karl · 13 years ago
    Thank you, Mr. Yon, for your writings. I can't fully elucidate by appreciation for your courage, dedication, and writings.

    On a more pragmatic level, what agencies are doing the most good in Myanmar? i.e., where should I donate to help these people? Do -you- accept donations for these souls? (a few hundred dollars for a river boat is something I can d .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike Freeman · 13 years ago
    As a representative of ShelterBox, I saw no mention or photos of our assistance in the country. The author of this story might want to check that out. We've delivered over 1,700 boxes each includes a tent for 10 people and survival supplies, with more on the way. It may be a "drop in the bucket", but it's a lifesaving and critical drop. For details go to www.shelterbox.org
  • This commment is unpublished.
    eyesopenwiderstill · 13 years ago
    I have been reading your contributions to truth since April 2005. No matter how much you as one man are able to write about, you still find no end to the scenes of life our 'news media' will not portray. And you seem to find no end to the motivation which drives you to serve us, your fans and followers. Thank you for yet another contribution to the effort of truth, Mr. Yon. And I am almost finished reading Moment of Truth in Iraq. You are a gift to the world.

    SPC -J. Robinson-
  • This commment is unpublished.
    poopie · 13 years ago
    Thanks to Charlie and you, Michael, for not letting us forget about what happens outside of our little sheltered world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    kelvin parke · 13 years ago
    Until the force that dictators fear is greater than the force they infllict, they will kill without remorse for whatever their twisted ends. Withholding food and aid? Are you kidding me??!! We have the moral RIGHT to take these pieces of excrement out, wherever they are. Until the world confronts these barbarians in a way they understand, we will continue to be assaulted by the bloody corpses they leave behind. These "corpses" were mothers, fathers, and children and they had lives and a future! A murderer is not the moral equal of someone who kills him while defending the innocent. God bless you Michael Yon and God bless the United States of America! And God bless those who kill the killers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Smith · 13 years ago
    The author of your comment might want to R E A D the dispatch. You know? We're talking about one American with a camera on a very dangerous, clandestine trip down a river way, way beyond where he was supposed to be. You expect that he would go wandering all over Burma (yes, yes, I know) looking for your NGO's good works? Where was your volunteer photographer/reporter?

    It's one thing to post a comment publicizing your own good work, which I'm sure is admirable. It's quite another to criticize others, and with such a sense of entitlement to his and Charlie's work, and on his blog.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gismo Fly, London · 13 years ago
    Dear Mike,

    Superb stuff. Your story reads like a Joseph conrad novel alright. The Burmese junta are beyond any comment or criticism. There's no point even talking about these Chinese finger puppets. What disgusts me is the inaction of the UN in this affair. That organisation seems to think that its only function is to provide soup kitchens and teach pacifism. It's gone beyond any really useful purpose in the world.

    The Burmese are quiet heroes. I'm going to buy shares in a thakka paste factory.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Grumpy · 13 years ago
    This post isn't about anything specific. I wanted to let you know that I still read every word you write (books to and I wanted to say thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tuptian · 13 years ago
    Thank you for your story and I hope to read more. As a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Thailand I must say your observations on Thailand in relation for Burma are very correct. While I have tried to keep up on events in Thailand via the English speaking press, available information still pails in comparison to what is available in the Thai language press. Thailand and Burma have had long and shaky history, you only need to travel a short ways up north from Bangkok to see a remnant of this history. That is not to include the Sha nor Karen civil conflicts along Thailandƒ??s northern boarder. However, I felt much sadness to see Prime Minister Samak interact so kindly to the Burmese junta, but not surprised because as you noted there is much business interest involved, some legitimate. While change will only come from within Burma, the opposition parties, with the exception of the secessionist groups, have rejected violent action. And with the junta showing no interest in the suffering of the people, this course will be very a slow and arduous undertaking.
    Best wishes
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ronald R Donais, Sr · 13 years ago
    I am a 61 year old veteran of the Vietnam conflict. It brings me back to so much of what I saw there on a daily, or almost daily, basis. I have the book "Moment of Truth" which I bought from the Concerative Book club. i wish I had waited to get a signed copy.
    The soldier on the cover is a member of the same outfit I was proud to be a member of back in 1966. It is a siduation we constantly saw. I never had the nerve to take a photo like that. I pray it gets to the minds and feelings of many Americans to show just how crual these people are.
    Thye story of little "Farah is not unusual as people think. I so wish I were 20 again and had the power to lead men into this mess and clean it up once and for all. God bless!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim Roesch · 13 years ago
    Make sure your underwear are clean ƒ?? Chapter 1
    I leave you now for the world to see,
    resplendent in your nudity.
    But, oops, so naughty, I caught you bare!
    Gosh, mom, they ainƒ??t wearinƒ?? underwear!

    When Natureƒ??s strife lays waste the land
    and forgotten humanity just canƒ??t stand,
    then lay yourself down and never wake.
    But remember the undies, for goodness sake!

    And if, forgotten, you rot away;
    dead youƒ??ll be and dead youƒ??ll stay.
    Remember that others might see you there.
    Remember to have clean underwear!

    Blame the victims! The dead donƒ??t care;
    scattered, tattered and everywhere.
    The tide goes in and the tide goes out.
    Boxers or briefs, the voters shout.

    Turn your eyes and avert your head.
    Ignore the piles of untimely dead.
    Forget the past, your future lies there!
    Lookit, ma, they ainƒ??t got underwear!

    The walking skeletons nude in Treblinka
    The storm tossed bodies of typhooned Burma
    Whatƒ??s worse; the nudity or tyranny there?
    Hitler died in his underwear!
    What more can be said, what more done?
    A good manƒ??s ignorance or an evil oneƒ??s care?
    Baked, bared bodies under the Son . . .
    Jesus Christ! Put on some underwear!

    Oh, I forgot, Jesus was a Jew;
    Crucified , yes, but wearing underwear too.
    How many sins can we not see
    past the bare naked nudity?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wendell Roy · 13 years ago
    Michael, I purchased MOMENT OF TRUTH from Barnes and Nobles. It was found under the stacks in a far corner of the store. America is in the throes of a major media blitz designed to insure the election of a Socialist by the name of Obama. While this takes place we are bombarded by hate America rhetoric from all directiions, internal and external. Our American people in the interior are good people who love their country but they have no voice, no lobbyists, no representation in Washington. Thank you for all your work.

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