A Struggle for Authority
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Interview

A Struggle for Authority


By Gustaaf Houtman Thursday, November 1, 2007


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After Aung San found himself stranded in Taiwan in search of support from the Chinese for help in the struggle for national independence, he was then smuggled into Japan unofficially by a renegade intelligence-led faction under Col Suzuki without support from the Japanese Imperial army.

Since secrecy was of the essence at the time, There are not many formal historical documents left regarding the founding of the Burmese army. One document, however, has been widely proclaimed as Aung San’s from that period, namely "The Blue Print for a Free Burma." This is claimed not just by the regime, but even by some academics recently. It is usually referred to as an example of how Aung San Suu Kyi could only have misjudged her father’s politics: namely, where it is asserted that Burma needs to set aside parliament in favour of authoritarian one-party rule. This document clearly subverts Aung San Suu Kyi’s claims to follow up on the true political intentions of her father that she claims the army has misrepresented.

However, this document is falsely attributed to Aung San. It was not composed by Aung San at all, but by this intelligence-led faction for the purpose of gaining support from the Imperial Japanese army.

The Blue Print first came to be attributed to Aung San under the machinations of Dr Maung Maung, who was behind its first publication in 1957 in the Rangoon-based Guardian (of which he was a founding editor) long after the Japanese occupation was over, and long after Aung San had been assassinated.

Its publication took place at a time when the army was developing a program of psychological warfare operations to influence and gain control over public opinion.

Aung San, however, had asserted a firm denial of ever writing down his own plan while in Japan, saying instead that Col Suzuki dictated a plan which he then asked Aung San to write down in his own handwriting. Aung San said he never knew what happened to the document.

It is a tragedy that a military regime so proud of indigenous heritage should proclaim to be inspired by documents written by the WWII foreign occupiers of Burma that Aung San had worked so hard to eject.

Q: So you are saying the military's rule since 1962 has been illegitimate?

A: Well, this is just one instance of deliberate falsification of a critically important episode in the biography of Aung San, and of a critically important moment in national history, both of which have been rewritten to favour military rule. What the army cites in its favour turns out to be a document that prepares for a Japanese invasion of Burma.

That such blatant lies are permitted to carry through from propaganda into scholarship and then into the historical record are a matter of concern: how many more such falsifications are there? As I have pointed out, the army has persisted with the Blue Print even after its first publication in 1957 and with a substantively different variant published in the army’s official record in Burmese in 1998, which eliminated, among other things, centrality of the Japanese to Burmese affairs and condemnation of the monarchy.

Scholars must dig much deeper and assess what the army has presented as history. This is difficult because the regime limits access to scholars favourably disposed towards them. It is disturbing that even reputable intellectuals uncritically circulate lies such as these because it undermines the calls for democratic reform in and effectively legitimates the regime.

Q: If Aung San was not in favour of authoritarian rule, what did he support?

A: Aung San did not envisage the army at the centre of the political order. The army has falsely used Aung San to legitimate themselves in history politically. As I have argued elsewhere, Aung San originally aimed for socialism, but after the Japanese occupation he called for democracy first.

Q: You are on record that the monastic order is the only Burmese institution that remains independent from, and to a certain extent ungovernable by, the military regime. Why should this be so?

A: The Buddhist liberation rhetoric that underlay the anti-colonial struggle back in the first half of the 20th century resurfaces during crises. Monks continue to have an influence on the regime, if only because soldiers' wives seek merit and protection for their husbands. Also, once the 1990 elections were over, the regime stalled in handing over power to the NLD, to which monks responded by offering to host the first democratic parliament since 1962 in one of their monasteries.



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