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History of the Tatmadaw

Individual Documents

Title: Heroes and Villains
Date of publication: March 2007
Description/subject: "When the soldiers of the Burma Independence Army, led by the Thirty Comrades, infiltrated Burma from neighboring Thailand in a brave action to oust the British, the modern history of the Burmese armed forces was born. The fragile, inexperienced and ill-equipped army had faced many ups and downs in Burma’s often turbulent political history. A year before independence in 1948, Aung San, the founder of the BIA and Burma’s independence hero, was gunned down by rivals, aided by British army officers. The country descended into turmoil and civil war. The legendary Thirty Comrades were also divided, dominated by two political factions. Gen Ne Win led and united the army, while his comrades went into hiding in the jungle, joining “multi-color insurgent groups” aiming to topple the government. Ne Win, also a prominent member of the Thirty Comrades, o­nce proudly said that the Burmese army was founded by farmers, workers and other people of Burma, not by mercenaries. But he later fell victim of his own words, when he quelled street protests and dissent in the country by ordering troops to shoot and kill just to prolong his rule. So it’s no surprise to hear Burmese people saying that the armed forces were Ne Win’s pocket army. When the country was rocked by nationwide protests in 1988, Ne Win warned the nation in a state television address: “If in future there are mob disturbances, if the army shoots, it hits—there is no firing into the air to scare.” Historians note that Ne Win and Aung San had entirely different views o­n the army, with the latter wanting to steer it away from politics. Thus, throughout the history of the army, we have learned that things are not black and white. There are military leaders who adhered to the wishes of the people and sided with them. Burmese will definitely remember and admire them. In this issue, we have singled out a number of the country’s fine, professional soldiers who were admired by the people. There are many more unnamed and unknown heroes who sacrificed themselves for the country and its people—too many for us to name all. We have also chosen some military leaders who have stubbornly stuck to their guns, driving the country into limbo. They definitely fall into the category of the villainous. However, all in all, we hope you will enjoy this special feature, marking the 62nd anniversary of Burma’s Resistance Day, now officially called Armed Forces Day..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy" Vol. 15, No. 3
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 04 May 2008

Title: Rangoon’s Deserted Museums
Date of publication: July 2005
Description/subject: Where guards shadow visitors and tout for tips... "... The Defense Services Museum on Shwedagon Pyay road is one of several in Rangoon displaying exhibits that range from the bizarre to the outrageous. The gloomy Soviet-style structure stands out from the old colonial buildings surrounding it not least because of the armed guards at the front. Welcoming visitors from the high wall of the entrance hall are portraits of Burma’s generals, organized in a tree graph with Snr-Gen Than Shwe suitably at the top. Beyond the grand but musty entrance hall is a series of cavernous rooms housing exhibits ranging from armored cars and heavy artillery to photos of bridges and Burmese gas and oil plants
Author/creator: Toby Hudson
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy" Vol. 13, No. 7
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 30 April 2006

Title: An Enduring Legacy Written in Blood
Date of publication: March 2005
Description/subject: "Burma’s Armed Forces Day now has a new meaning, different from that envisaged by founding father Aung San and his comrades who took an oath in blood in 1941 It was a crucial meeting. Young Burmese men were on a high as they talked enthusiastically about freeing their homeland from its colonial yoke. They all drew blood from their arms and drank it in an oath of loyalty... This is not fiction, but an historic milestone in Burma’s modern political history...Burma’s armed forces now claim that they remain “the only institution that has discipline, loyalty, unity and deep commitment to protect the sovereignty and independence of the country.” Founding father Aung San would have rejected such a view. Today’s military leaders appear intent on maintaining their grip on the country, while paying lip-service to democratic reform in the future. Aung San wanted the armed forces to be an honorable institution, incorrupt, driven by self-sacrifice and self-discipline dedicated to serving the country. Many ordinary Burmese remember the founding father’s words: “There are others who are not soldiers who have suffered and made all kinds of sacrifices for their country. You must change this notion that only the soldiers matter..."
Author/creator: Yeni
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy" Vol. 13, No. 3
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 28 August 2005