Heroes and Villains
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Heroes and Villains

By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.3


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.

The Editor


My Hero
Gen Aung San (1915-1947)

Gen Aung San was born in British-ruled Burma. At that time, it was the historical duty of every responsible Burmese person to fight against British imperialists for Burma’s independence. Aung San undertook this duty without wavering; he sacrificed everything he had, including his own life. He was deeply dedicated to his cause and never strayed from his convictions. Until his untimely death, Aung San remained a lifelong anti-imperialist; though he was able to negotiate with the British and gain their trust, he was absolutely uncompromising in his demand for an independent and united Burma. I believe he fulfilled his historical duty to his country.

Aung San worked very hard and with great insight to implement the seemingly impossible mission of gaining independence from Britain. He knew that, to fight against a powerful enemy, an army was needed, and so he founded the Burma Independence Army with some 30 men under his leadership. Within just a few months, the army had tens of thousands of recruits. This is Aung San’s great contribution to his country. After founding the army, he worked towards modernizing the force by opening military training schools and academies. It is Aung San who created the military institutions of today’s Tatmadaw, the Burmese armed forces. Aung San’s guiding principle, however, was that the future army should stay out of politics.

On the political front, Aung San was able to unite all the disparate forces in Burma and create a single voice. He was also able to persuade the upper stratum of intellectuals and those from powerful families to join the revolution. Throughout each stage of the struggle, he was able to maintain a united front that included both leftist and rightist thinkers. His masterpiece was in founding the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League to create a united political front in the fight against Japanese occupiers during World War II.

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