Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Whose Army Is Burma Army: Aung San’s Or Ne Win’s?

Burmese soldiers on Armed-Forces-Day.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shocked many of her supporters and admirers when, in a BBC interview in January of last year, she expressed support for the Tatmadaw, saying: “The truth is that I am very fond of the army, because I always thought of it as my father’s army.”

She also admitted that “there are many who have criticized me for being what they call a poster girl for the army.” But as if to reinforce that impression, last year, on March 27, she attended the Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw and watched soldiers marching in perfect formation past the grandstand where she sat, tanks thundering past, helicopters buzzing by and fighting jets flying overhead.

While it is understandable that she does not want to antagonize the military, which is still the key to any fundamental change in Myanmar’s political power structure, her references to “my father’s army” have been questioned by many. Although her father, Bogyoke Aung San, did form the Burma Independence Army (BIA) under Japanese auspices in Bangkok in December 1941, little of that force remained when Myanmar became independent in 1948.

Ironically, there have actually been more veterans from the Second World War in various insurgent organizations than in the government’s army since independence. Almost the entire People’s Volunteer Organization (PVO), a paramilitary force made up of thousands of veterans from the BIA and its successors—the Burma Defense Army, the Burma National Army and the Patriotic Burmese Forces—went underground at independence.

BIA's Thirty Comrades (1944).
Other Myanmar regiments in the government’s army mutinied, formed the Revolutionary Burma Army, or joined the insurgent Communist Party of Burma (CPB). The Kayin battalions went underground as well, while ethnic Kachin units remained loyal to the government—at least for a while.

Of the legendary Thirty Comrades, who went to Japan for military training before the Japanese invasion of Myanmar in 1942, two—Bo La Yaung and Bo Taya—commanded the PVO rebellion. Three—Bo Zeya, Bo Ye Htut and Bo Yan Aung—joined the CPB when the communist insurrection broke out shortly after independence. Of the Thirty Comrades, only Brig. Kyaw Zaw, Gen. Ne Win and Maj. Bo Bala remained in the army in the 1950s.

Four of the others—Bo Let Ya, Bo Yan Naing, Bohmu Aung and Bo Setkya—rallied behind the right-wing resistance, which former Prime Minister U Nu organized on the Thai border in the 1960s. And, in late 1976, Brig. Kyaw Zaw, once the most popular commander in the army who had been pushed out by Gen. Ne Win in 1957, went underground and joined the CPB.

General Aung San (ASSK's father).
On Sept. 6, 1988, nine out of the 11 survivors of the Thirty Comrades denounced Gen. Ne Win and called on the army to join the pro-democracy uprising of that year. Only Brig. Kyaw Zaw, who then was still with the CPB, was unable to join the appeal against their erstwhile comrade-in-arms, Gen. Ne Win. Later, Brig. Kyaw Zaw also expressed his support for the pro-democracy movement.

The power base of the military regime that seized power in 1962 was actually a very narrow one. It consisted mainly of officers from Gen. Ne Win’s old regiment, the 4th Burma Rifles, and nearly all officers who became prominent in the 1960s came from this particular unit. When the Revolutionary Council (RC) was set up in 1962, it was popularly referred to as “the Fourth Burifs Government.” Number two in the RC, Brig. Aung Gyi, came from this regiment, as did the two other most prominent members of the post-1962 junta, Brigadiers Tin Pe and Kyaw Soe.

More ex-4th Burma riflemen rose to power in the 1970s and 1980s as other officers were gradually weeded out of the top military leadership: U Sein Lwin, who served as president during the stormy events of August 1988; stalwart Col. Aye Ko of the only legally permitted political party from 1962 to 1988, the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP); Gen. Kyaw Htin, who served as chief of staff of the army from 1976 to 1985, and defense minister from 1976 to 1988; and U Tun Tin, deputy prime minister and finance minister from 1981 to 1988.

When socialism was discarded after the one-party system was abolished in 1988, the BSPP was renamed the National Unity Party (NUP), with U Tha Gyaw, also a former 4th Burma rifleman, as its first chairman. Even Gen. Ne Win’s personal cook, an ethnic Indian called Raju, had served in the same capacity in the 4th Burma Rifles.

It is fair to say, then, that the economically and politically powerful military machine that emerged in the 1950s and, especially, after 1962, was in terms of organization as well as personalities entirely different from the army that Bogyoke Aung San had founded during World War Two.

Dr. Maung Maung, Myanmar’s official historian during the pre-1988 regime, estimated that there were maybe 2,000 soldiers at Gen. Ne Win’s disposal when he took over as commander-in-chief in 1949, but they were all scattered in decimated, weak battalions and companies. The army that was rebuilt after independence was not Bogyoke Aung San’s army, but Gen. Ne Win’s army, with the 4th Burifs at its core.

In October 1958, officers from across the country met in Meiktila, and, for the first time, the army formulated its own policy. A document entitled “The National Ideology of the Defense Services” strongly resembles the old dwifungsi concept of the Indonesian army, i.e., that the military have to play a role in a country’s social and political development, as well as its defense. The Myanmar and Indonesian armies are the only armies in non-communist Asia that have developed their own ideologies.

General Ne Win The Dictator.
Today, almost all those who served with the 4th Burifs have passed away, but the legacy remains. Gen. Ne Win created an army that was predominantly Myanmar rather than multi-ethnic—and a financially strong and ideologically motivated military machine over which civilian, or even pseudo-civilian, governments have virtually no control.

Even the 2008 Constitution stipulates that “all the armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defense Services”—making them, in effect, autonomous and not answerable to any non-military authority—and that the Tatmadaw shall also “lead in safeguarding the Union against all internal and external dangers.”

Chapter One of the 2008 Constitution enables “the Defense Services to be able to participate in the National political leadership of the State”—a principle far from that envisaged by Bogyoke Aung San when he led the struggle for independence.

In a speech in Yangon on May 23, 1947, he said “the defense of a free Burma is a national responsibility entrusted to the State. The State alone will shoulder this responsibility.” The highest organs of the state, of course, would be the elected Parliament and the government. The 1947 Constitution stated very clearly that “the right to raise and maintain military, naval and air forces is vested exclusively in the Parliament.”

It remains to be seen whether Myanmar can shake off the legacy of the 4th Burifs and the authoritarian system that was introduced by its erstwhile commander, Gen. Ne Win. But let us be very clear: Bogyoke Aung San’s army disintegrated after the Second World War. And the new Tatmadaw that emerged after independence, and, especially, after the 1962 coup, is an entirely different entity.
Senior BIA officers (1945). (L-to-R Front) Yan Aung, Kyaw Zaw, and Ye Htut.
(L-to-R Back) Myint Aung and Ba Htoo.
(Blogger's notes: Following is what our old Bertil didn't know of the real foundation of our Burma Army.

The predecessor of modern DSA (Defense Services Academy) the wartime Mingaladon Japanese Military Academy (1942-45) established in Burma by the Japanese Imperial Army had produced many hundreds of Burmese graduate officers who later became the leaders and so the backbone of modern Burmese army.

General Tin Oo of NLD fame, ex-army-chief General Kyaw Htin, ex-President Colonel “Butcher of Rangoon” Sein Lwin, and ex-President Dr. Maung Maung are just some of the Academy’s many graduates. Almost everybody who was somebody powerful during long Ne Win’s rule is one of the Academy graduates.

Not Ne Win's Fourth Burma Rifles as our senile Bertil has stated but the core group of young graduates of that Mingaladon Japanese Military Academy were the pillars of modern Burma Army. Just continue reading to understand what really happened to Aung San's Army all those years since 1942-43.

Aung San’s wartime Burmese army had three easily identifiable echelons in its officer corps.

Aung San and the thirty comrades trained in Japan were the top most echelon and majority of them were Marxist, militant thakhins handpicked by Thakhin Mya and thus the Communists. Their allegiances were with the CPB first and Aung San second. Famous Brigadier Kyaw Zaw (Thakhin Shwe) was one of them. Ne Win sitting on the fence and a few right wing officers among them were the exception.

Below that top most echelon were the middle ranking officers who Joined BIA later in Burma. Most of them were the members of the PRP (which became the Socialist Party) as it was Kyaw Nyein’s and his Party’s far-reaching policy to influence the army by encouraging the educated young party members to join the fledgling army.

Socialist Colonels Aung Gyi and Maung Maung (195?)
Than Htun and the Communists basically lost out on that opportunity as their official policy during the big war was to totally oppose the Japanese and their slave army BIA while Kyaw Nyein and the Socialists were actively cooperating with the Japanese. Famous Brigadiers Aung Gyi and Maung Maung were two members of that group.

For that group of staunch Socialist officers Ne Win became their de facto leader in the army as he was the eldest senior figure not aligned with either Communists or the right wingers, and Aung San as a father figure was too far above them. Almost all of them were absorbed into the new Burma Regular Army formed by the British after the big war.

Once the civil war started and all the Communist officers were on the other side in the jungle they took control of the Burmese army by getting rid of all British-trained senior officers. They then happily followed Kyaw Nyein’s orders first and then reluctantly Ne Win’s later till the late 1960s.

Right below them was the echelon of junior officers graduated from the Japanese Military Academy in Mingaladon. Mostly uneducated peasants like my father they were just patriotic young teenagers raw and fresh with no preoccupying ideologies when they joined Aung San’s Army as lowly privates in the early 1940s and later brutalized in the Academy by the Japanese instructors. Most of them were also absorbed into the new Burma Regular Army, some as junior commissioned officers and most as NCOs.

CPB Colonels Chit Kaung, Myo Myint, & Htun Hla.
(All three are graduates of Academy's Second Batch.)
Through their mates from Ne Win’s Fourth-Burma-Rifle they formed themselves into a unified clique loyal to Ne Win. And they were the backbone of Ne Win’s Army, for their allegiances were purely with nobody else but only Ne Win. With his blessing they would topple their Socialist seniors who were Kyaw Nyein’s men within a few years after the 1962 coup.

They then became their own masters as an elite military class (like their Japanese masters back in pre-war Japan) with Ne Win as a figurehead who initially thought he was pulling the strings without realizing till much later that he was only their shield against the people of Burma they’d been ruling with an iron fist since they had no political cloud to claim legitimacy for their control over Burma and her people.

They eventually forced disillusioned Ne Win to retire, imprisoned his family, dismantled the hated Socialist system, introduced a rather skewed version of free market system, and orderly transferred their power to the next generation of army officers led by first Saw Maung then Than Shwe their hand-picked successors.

Believe me I had seen the inner workings of their group through their well-known leaders like General Kyaw Htin and Dr. Maung Maung and Colonel Sein Lwin, and especially U Chit Hlaing the real father of Burmese Way to Socialism and the Principal of Central Political Institute which even occupied the old compound of the Japanese Military Academy in Mingaladon.)

(Burma Army's reenactment of Mingaladon Japanese Military Academy's Second Batch. My father Bo Htun Hla was one of the graduates from that batch and he later became the most senior Burmese instructor back in the academy. And in March 1945 he was the battalion CO of the newly-formed BNA battalion comprising all the cadets of the Fifth Batch -- the last batch of the Academy --  and two so-called Primary Batches of junior cadets.)

Related posts at following links:
Burma In Limbo - Part 5
Burma In Limbo - Part 4