The news in recent days centered on President Obama going on a rather surprising visit to Burma/Myanmar. This is of curious interest to me, and I suspect to many of our local immigrants who happen to be from this nation. A distant connection came to mind as I listened intently of what was to be made of this trip.
Ever so long ago in 1989, Worthington’s own Bob Artley made a trip to this far off land. Bob was all ready a nationally known Illustrator and cartoonist; his cartoons were syndicated in numerous newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. His daughter Jeannie and son-in-law Chris Szymanski held positions in the State Department, and Chris was Chargé d’affaires back when the U.S. had a consulate in Burma. Bob and his daughter are no longer with us, and Chris lives out east. I called Chris and asked if we could visit. He told me that he was astonished that this occurred and was cautiously optimistic because Burmese generals are quite often backsliders. He said that this event encourages that thought of progression, and back when he was in Burma he and his staff had the distinct feeling that the unfolding of events would not end well.
Bob Artley returned home to Adrian/Worthington with amazing stories about this beautiful land, and it was at this time he mentioned the name Aung San Suu Kyi. The military had just taken power after an election that they chose not to honor. Aung San Suu Kyi was the candidate, and it was her father who had been a general in the Burmese Revolution many years prior. He was considered to be the father of modern-day Burma and yet was assassinated 6 months prior to independence.
It was her place in history to step forward to help the people of Burma determine their destiny. The military would not relent, and she was placed under house arrest for many decades. Aung San was bestowed the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, and Chris and Jeannie had the privilege to enjoy her company on a number of occasions, including a memorable Thanksgiving dinner. The decades rolled past and her family had moved to Oxford,UK. and her husband died of cancer without her being able to leave the country. The price of moral conviction plays hard and steep.
During the time that Bob Artley was in Burma, he gave a presentation to Burma’s top cartoonists. His son-in-law advised him that these Burmese cartoonist’s wanted to be more politically assertive. Chris advised Bob to please not allow them that opportunity because of the swift oppression that could easily come to bear. Bob was also told that there were military agents disguised in the crowd to observe any signs of dissent.
Bob gave a remarkable presentation that was graciously accepted by his Burmese counterparts. He allowed them to come up on stage and to display their own talents on his oversized cartooning easel. They enjoyed employing some of Bob’s cartooning techniques and even included them in their own freestyle drawings. One of the last cartoonists to come up and display his talents used Bob’s signature “farm lantern.” The lantern was something that appeared numerous times in Bob’s cartoons — it was a symbol of warmth, and it shed light throughout the farmhouse and barn and all of Bob’s world. The cartoonist drew a picture of the Statue of Liberty and in her hand was the lantern instead of the Torch of Liberty. The lantern stood as a beacon of Liberty but it had an obvious flaw…..you could see the lantern had been extinguished. The flame had gone out and the beacon of light was missing, a puff of smoke was all that remained. Bob was startled because he realized the political implications of this drawing. The cartoonist was communicating with all those present that the liberty of the Burmese had been snuffed out by the military dictatorship. Bob felt it was an uneasy ending to a rather enjoyable presentation.
This story stuck in my mind over the years and was never forgotten. Aung San has always piqued my interest and I’ve tried to pay attention to her efforts and her plight. Bob Artley died in the fall of 2011 having lived far more than an average life, it was also a life of artistry and a life of service to others.
A year later I was visiting with Bob’s eldest son, Rob Artley, and as I relayed my story of long ago, he told me I didn’t have the entirety of the events of that day.
Rob went on to tell me that the cartoonist that drew the cartoon that depicted the flame or lantern of Liberty, was never seen again. It is with this amazing visit that President Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi (two of the world’s Nobel Peace Prize recipients) have the possibility of rekindling this flame of liberty. billkeitel