The Military Mind-set
By SAW TUN Friday, March 13, 2009


I would like to try to explain what I believe to be the genuine attitude of the Burmese military government.

What is the aim of the Burmese Tamadaw [the military]? How do they think?

Until 1988, late dictator Gen Ne Win, who was the god father of the current ruling generals, didn’t favour the communism and parliamentary democracy. He ordered prominent political theorists to draw up a middle-way political ideology. Finally, due to the economic decline, he began to follow the reforms conducted by China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.        

However, Ne Win gave up his political control by the nation-wide democracy uprising, which produced the1988 student movements.

His protégé, former spy chief Gen Khin Nyunt, also stated that the enemy of the military was the Communists and Western neo-colonialists [a phrase usually used by Communists] who were accused of controlling the opposition movement from behind the scenes. Until now, the generals continue to teach army officers along similar lines.

Not like Ne Win, the current ruling generals lacked the experience of independent struggles or Cold War politics. They are not able to stand on a nationalistic platform and non-alliance ideology. They are not skilful in playing political theory games.

But they have learned some effective ways to hold on to their power.          

My Brother’s Lesson

“What is military training?” asked my brother, who was a military officer, when I was young. I replied that the training taught me to be disciplined.

“No, it teaches you to immediately follow an order without thinking,” he said. “When you hear ‘Attention,’ you follow the order at once, don’t you? When you hear, ‘At ease,’ you follow it without thinking, don’t you?’”

The training and lectures eventually gives all soldiers a military mindset, which is comprised of the following characteristics:

-We work harder than others for the sake of the country.
-We sacrifice our lives to work for the sake of the country.
-Our comrades are injured or killed by our enemies.
-The enemies who injure or killed us are supported by a part of the population.
-We must follow orders, live under the discipline of the army at all the time.
-We are soldiers serving the country 24-hours a day.

In a soldier’s view, thus, ordinary people and civil servants live more easy-going lives. They are undisciplined and have many leisure hours. They do business to become rich.

The result is that soldiers believe they have the sole right to hold state power due to their hard work and sacrifices. These basic opinions are what hinder the relationship between the people and the military, the military and opposition groups and also warp the military view of the international community, which is constantly telling them to give up their hold on power.

Military officers were surprised when I, a scholar, travelled with them through the forests and mountains. They didn’t think anyone except a soldier could do such hard work.

When the army cracks down on peaceful demonstrators, they viewed them as lazy opportunists who are asking for rights without working hard.

The army, in a way, blames the people for failing to develop the country. Although the army as a whole works hard, the people and civil servants don’t work hard. Foreigners work and think smarter than lazy Burmese people, and these are the reasons developed countries are ahead of Burma.

However, when ordinary people go abroad to seek job opportunity, they see foreigners as human beings like them. They work industriously because they receive advantages from their work. They are disciplined because reap advantages from performing well. They know exactly the things that Burma could not move forward because of the army’s heavy handed control.

The Influence of Communist Thought Patterns

After removal of Ne Win from politics, the military generals didn’t have anyone to give them effective policy guidance that could have gone about reshaping the country.

Khin Nyunt, who was more broad-minded than others, formed the American-style Institute of Strategic and International Studies, and selected young military officers for the intelligence units and trained them in international politics.

Using various underground political strategies, Khin Nyunt approached the United States, the European Union and Japan.

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plan B Wrote:
If you look for examples of progress, you will see them, just as you have found statistics that indicate the utter failure of this government.

Things are bad. The junta is paranoid. Nobody from outside with reasonable ideas is whispering in their ears.

SOS (same old stuff)—keep calling for sanctions to accelerate their downfall. However, that is not happening (i.e., their downfall).

Until one realizes that this government, as ugly as you like to describe it, is here to stay and deal with them on a footing that conveys such a status, then you can’t begin to criticize/fathom Than Shwe's psyche.

The citizenry still needs help. Only a change of failed policies will enable this. Bringing more negative pressure on this government will not undo the damage done, although it may just justify the armchair attitude that one thinks one is absolved.

Either by volition or omission, everybody is guilty. Yes, even you and I.

I’ll let you decide which part of your long essay makes you guilty of such, Eric.
Litany of same complaints. Let it rest.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Eric Johnston,

Hear,hear! Thanks for spelling it out, and giving the stats.

Priorities, choice - those made and those denied, who benefits and who gets left out - that's what politics boils down to.

Politics is too important to leave to politicians. People must participate. The military junta certainly does, making it its monopoly, just like the economy. We the people are left with nothing.

Eric Johnston Wrote:
The level of spending on health and education together with the fall in standards of nutrition have seriously impaired living standards in Burma. This results from a conscious decision of the SPDC regarding priorities.

Take away the input of foreign aid and what are you left with? In the case of Nargis victims, one suspects a negative amount.

The SPDC is short of money? According to the Burma Economic Watch of Macquarie University's Economics Department, the UN-backed Tripartite Core Group (chaired by an SPDC minister) had no justification for seeking 691 million US dollars from the international community for recovery work while exempting the Burmese junta's foreign reserves, estimated at 3 to 4 billion US dollars.

Australian economists: "It is surely not unreasonable for taxpayers in donor countries to question why they are being asked to pay to safeguard the nest-egg set aside by Burma's military leaders."

(My apologies to those who don't like statistics)

Eric Johnston Wrote:

Re-consider economic sanctions where many ordinary people suffer in consequence. But remember:

1. Politics and economics are two sides of one coin. The UN can do nothing because it has nothing to offer nor take away.

2. Sanctions have produced a result, to Naypyidaw's disgust: Burma is (after years of struggle) an international issue.

Eric Johnston Wrote:
In debates about how to deal with Burma’s rulers, certain assumptions are made:

1. Sanctions have had a negative political effect, by “isolating” the regime.

2. Sanctions bear a large measure of blame for Burma’s current economic problems.

The corollaries to these theories are:

1. Treat the regime like any normal, responsible government and they will reciprocate.

2. Remove sanctions as this will alleviate the people’s sufferings, and a middle class will emerge from which will come human rights, including democracy.

One can “prove” the case both for and against, depending upon examples.

The valid answer depends greatly upon the dictator’s psyche.

Than Shwe’s psyche must be fathomed from the behavior of himself and those he seeks to emulate.

(to be continued)

Moe Aung Wrote:
Plan B,

Good on you and thanks, as not a lot of us can say we are personally involved in making the life of ordinary folk better inside Burma.

No, deliberate degrading policies there may be quite a few, say education, but healthcare is not one of them. However, it’s all a matter of spending priorities, either on themselves and their own families, like trips to Singapore for medical treatment (not just shopping), or for the greater good of the public.

Sorry, but if your idea of “leaving politics to politicians” is advocating Aung San Suu Kyi to be removed from the political scene and to put your faith in and work with the generals, we are not living on the same planet. Not being a politician certainly hasn’t stopped you from dabbling in it.

“… changing a course that is contributing to the deteriorating welfare of the Burmese citizenry.”

Agreed, change must come. Only your diagnosis of the illness as “Aung San Suu Kyi sanctions syndrome,” hence the prescription, is way off the mark. My points stand.

plan B Wrote:
Let’s talk about the Burmese/human mentality. Everybody has a price, be it the dear generals or whoever else.

I would rather be an advocate of what seems at present like “wrongheaded wishful thinking” than be blamed for not changing a course that is contributing to the deteriorating welfare of the Burmese citizenry.

Point 1 and 2 tell me that you give the generals the lowest underachiever status—a double-edged sword, indeed. It remains to be proven either way.

Point 3 was meant for you when stated.

Point 4 has been spelled out clearly and repeatedly.

Point 5 never exonerated the present junta in any shape or form.

Just the fact that present policy can be used as an excuse by them, which they did very deftly, I must say.

There are good things happening that one should be aware of in Burma that this forum is definitely not informing the readers.

Point 3 might still be describing the junta’s attitude. Does not make much difference with the walk I have chosen.

plan B Wrote:
Ko Moe Aung,

I cannot respond to the possibilities that you are alluding to. They may all be ominous and true to a bitter end. Pessimistic as they might be, the question remains what to do presently at an individual level.

The main aim is to help the masses with healthcare and education. I hope you are not accusing the present government of purposely degrading Burma’s healthcare. That would be most cynical.

Any help crafted individually or organizationally is the aim.

As for those who are against the 2010 road map—Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD and the various organizations that are waiting for the junta to fold—they can keep waiting, or do their best to help the citizenry’s well being despite their loss. Leave the politics to the REAL politicians.

I am not a politician. I see suffering from failed policies. The essence of my plan has been explained. As such, if I am accused of being a stooge of either side, so be it.
My primary duty is to the suffering I can personally address.

Moe Aung Wrote:
plan B,

You may have field experience but you seem to have woefully little understanding of the Burmese mentality in general and our dear generals in particular. You appear to have made a lot of assumptions which look very much like wrongheaded wishful thinking.

1. That the generals are open to collaboration where any sort of independent thinking and hands-on management are involved.

2. That their rule is conducive to homegrown organizations, in other words civil society. Why do you reckon the USDA exists and is throwing its weight around in all areas of community and public life? One example - persecution of Kyaw Thu and his funeral services charity.

3.That the generals are "asleep and not pretending to be asleep."

4. That "shifting the paradigm" is neither advocating the road map nor attacking the main opposition and Aung San Suu Kyi.

5. That sanctions are mainly responsible for the appalling health and education standards, and nothing to do with the regime's criminal neglect of public sector priorities.

plan B Wrote:
Accusation of my statement is hopefully put to its proper perspective. It is easy to be an arm-chair critic; when you are in the field, things sure look different.

Cronyism aside, non-governmental institutions do contribute to the economy of Burma. The continuing present form of sanctions as well as failed policies some mentioned previously will serve no purpose. That is the issue at hand.

I encourage everyone to get an on-the-ground view before criticizing my view. Personal attacks will not benefit the citizenry of Burma. Only individual effort at this point—be it in words of encouragement or in deeds—will benefit Burmese from the bottom up, individually and institutionally.

I am not even going to mention the healthcare delivery at border clinics such as the Mae Tao clinics has secondarily to sanctions. This will be under further “101” topic from the ground for those who are interested beyond arm-chair policies.

Taking a few words out of context and ridiculing to the hilt will serve no purpose. Time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I walk the talk, and so does Ko Moe Aung. As for the rest of you, do your part to walk your talk.

plan B Wrote:
Healthcare delivery in Burma 101:

1) Governmental institutions
2) Non-governmental institutions

Governmental institutions: Non-military and military. Overlapping is very common.
Non-governmental institutions: Private for-profit institutions and not-for-profit religious and non-religious institutions.

That being said, Eric Johnson’s stat does not truly reflect the per capita spending. As usual, stats can be construed to be for or against some ideas.

Taking private institutions as examples: Sanctions affect delivery of healthcare more in rural areas, where public health and private healthcare are administered through funding by organizations such as the WHO, UNICEF, CDF and MSF.


Accusation of my statement is hopefully put to its proper perspective. It is easy to be an arm-chair critic; when you are in the field, things sure look different.

plan B Wrote:
Eric Johnson,

You have written remarkable comments without getting personal. Blaming the junta has never been your virtue. Repeating a well known stat on healthcare serves no purpose other than again highlighting the junta’s failure as a government.

I am not going to counter your dollar and cent approach to castigate an obviously approaching failed state status contributed to from within and without.

We know where the ultimate blame is to be placed. Changing or rather shifting the present paradigm is what I am advocating.

plan B Wrote:
As for you, Ko Moe Aung,

You are educated in Burmese proverbs/fables. If you do not see the realistic assessment of the same futile approach to the situation, may I remind you of a Burmese saying that incidentally has a counterpart in English: It is easier to wake somebody who is asleep than someone who pretends to be asleep.

It is time to get personal by crafting individual courses to help the people of Burma individually. Let us not pick on any suggestions of changes that are needed overshadowed by the semantics involved in advocating. Avoid the “shooting the messenger” mentality.

Res ipsi loquitor [the facts speak for themselves] may well describe the futility of the existing approach.

plan B Wrote:

I shall not get in to the semantics of the word “compounded.” I agree with your overall view that it is the “present government’s fault.”

What I have been highlighting is to not repeat the same approach of more sanctions, which have made things worst inside. Changing the government is the eventual aim. However, doing the same thing that has not worked to that end is futile.

So far these are the things that have been done that have not worked:

1) Sanctions and so-called targeted sanctions
2) Expecting Asean to change the junta’s mind
3) Alienating the ruling government instead of engaging
4) Seeing Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD as the only possible vehicle of change
5) Propagating a false pretext that “Responsibility to Protect” or a similar armed struggle from without is forthcoming or a remote reality
6) Holding on to the past legitimacy as the negotiating point

Please be aware that I have not qualified the merits of each point—why these are considered failures.

I would like to see a fresh approach, even using same rules, to this quagmire.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Plan B:

"It is obvious from this forum that the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi do not represent all Burmese NOW."

Sorry, but the suggestion that any political group represents all Burmese has to be a pretty silly notion.

"The best way to find out, of course, is through voting."

A bit of deja vu here. Didn't we do that in 1990? Or is it just a bad case of amnesia?

"Obviously that insistence has not worked."

Why do you think it hasn't? Intransigence on the part of the regime. You can't just blame Aung San Suu Kyi because it hasn't worked on the generals. Her principal weakness is her total commitment to non-violence, just how they like it.

"Due to the downgrading of every aspect of life compounded by sanctions, approved and encouraged blindly at this point by Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi are on the track to political oblivion."

The proverbial Nyaung U river bank and the Sampanago buffalo come to mind. Oblivion stares in their face for impotence and lack of a common program. Poor leadership, nothing to do with sanctions.

e.r. Wrote:
The "compounded by sanctions" mantra is becoming a little boring. It's not by repeating a lie one thousand times that you will turn it into a truth. Western sanctions have been in place for little more than a decade, military rule has been in place for 47 years in its different shapes. Before sanctions, hardships for Burmese people were not so different from now. Obviously, every added year of military rule make things worse. Adhering to the "compounded by sanctions" dogma will just make an excuse for the dictators, who are the only culprits of this situation. If they wanted, they could improve the lives of Burmese people right now (they have cash, a lot of cash from neighbors for years to come) and make gestures to lift the sanctions starting from tomorrow. It's all up to them. But they just know the rule by gun. Blaming the victims and excusing the persecutors are not signs of pragmatism. If you want to introduce some sort of "pragmatism," you should start to revise your mantras.

Eric Johhnston Wrote:
"Changes from within require a healthy, educated population." -- Plan B

Health and education must of course be sought. With 0.5% of GNP spent on health (*)
and O.9% on education, based upon official statistics (but what about the regime's undeclared revenues?) one is confronted with the following difficulty:

How do you divert the country's wealth from military spending and private pockets without removing those responsible for the present situation?

* the equivalent of 0.19 pounds sterling per person per year on health

Eric Johnston Wrote:
The regime "unites" the country with bullet and bombast.

The reality is that it divides the country, into:

1. The Tatmadaw, and those who cling to its coat-tails; and

2. The bulk of the population.

An extremely difficult task for the Democracy Movement (working underground and from exile): Bring these two opposing poles together.

The regime will do all in its power to prevent this.

Plan B Wrote:
It is obvious from this forum that NLD/ASSK does not represent all Burmese NOW. The question, then, is does that institution represent the majority of NOW?

The best way to find out, of course, is through voting. One knows that this shall NEVER come to pass.

What, then, is the next best approach? Refuse to engage and insist on the dogma of 88?
Obviously that insistence has not worked, or been even acknowledged universally.

Pragmatism will, however, provide future opportunity for changes from WITHIN.
Changes from within require a healthy, educated population.

Adhering to the 1988 dogma will just see the perpetuation of the present situation, where the losers are the Burmese population. Due to the downgrading of every aspect of life compounded by sanctions, approved and encouraged blindly at this point by ASSK and the NLD, the NLD and ASSK are on the track to political oblivion. Participating, even under a different banner, might assure some hope. Please do not repeat the same mistake.

Moe Aung Wrote:

Couldn't agree more. One rule for them, another rule for the rest of us under the boot. It's a systematic attempt to hijack the debate aiming at fragmenting the opposition in general and weakening the NLD in particular in the run up to 2010.


"Dictators sometimes step down 'voluntarily'."

Not this lot, Eric. Gorbachev wasn't prepared to gun down Yeltsin, or rather the troops weren't. Hitler was by all accounts a lovely uncle. Than Shwe, they say, is a doting grandfather. No denying they are human. Does that mean we give them the benefit of the doubt every time in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, i.e., no likelihood of regime change in the foreseeable future? It's not even expecting the leopard to change its spots, but more like expecting it to go vegetarian. Some of us are bound to feel "if you can't beat them, join them." History is full of such examples - like quite a few ex-Communists and ex-firebrand student activists in Burma. It's only human.

e.r. Wrote:
The problem with pro-junta commentators is not that they can freely speak. Obviously they can. This just helps to show the difference between a free forum and an enslaved country: they can do here what the regime they support systematically denies to an entire population.

The problem is that they use tactics of verbal and conceptual manipulation that hijack every possible reasoning and debate.

In many cases it's like talking about astronomy starting from the assumption that the Sun revolves round the Earth. On these grounds, discussion is often useless.

Eric Johnston Wrote:
The NLD, the UN and others have long attempted to come to a meaningful agreement with the regime. Dictators sometimes step down "voluntarily." Why? Because they see the tide turning. They must negotiate before it is too late.

Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms in the face of party opposition were made possible by economic collapse and military defeat. Western propaganda gave credibility to an alternative system. The reforms were botched by Gorbachev's successors, but that is another story.

Try to understand the regime. Put oneself in their position, with their mentality and their life-long attitudes. Think of their burden of guilt if their attitudes were to change. They will remain in denial. They are military men. They do not have liberal views. But they know how to exploit them.

See the good in Hitler if you wish. But it was necessary to get rid of him. Think of the lives saved, and Germany spared from utter ruin, if the military coup against him had succeeded.

Moe Aung Wrote:

"Just because Sandar questions the efficacy of NLD policies and whether the NLD represents the people after 19 years, does not mean she is pro-junta?"

In an ideal liberal world you would be right about not judging Sandar or Okkar, etc, of course. You can be completely objective and impartial only if you are detached or semi-detached from the issue. They are ostensibly with the people and evidently with a remit to smear and discredit the main opposition and defend the junta. It's called politics, not a nice academic forum which I'm bound to say is a very important arena in the battle of ideas.

By all means give all comers space, but let's also call a spade a spade.

Eric Johnston Wrote:
To the editors:
I wrote "the English Civil War (1642-1651)". It's bad enough having English spelling changed to American!

From wikipedia:

"The English Civil War (1642-1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists. The first (1642-46) and second (1648-49) civil wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third war (1649-51) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651... Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament's consent, although this concept was established only with the Glorious Revolution later in the century."

(Editor's note: Apologies for the ampersand. Due to encoding problems, the dates in the original message appeared as "1642–1651.")

peacebuilderdoc Wrote:
Moe Aung wrote: The Irrawaddy perhaps tries too hard to counter accusations of being the opposition's mouthpiece and allows some license to pro-junta commentators such as Okkar, Sandar and Naingmya. Or has it been infiltrated already?

Or, perhaps the Irrawaddy is trying to create a space for democratic dialog... a space that includes room for more perspectives than "you are with us or you are against us." A space where complexity is welcomed and people can play with new ideas about problems and potential solutions. Just because Sandar questions the efficacy of NLD policies and whether the NLD represents the people after 19 years, does not mean she is pro-junta?

Moe Aung Wrote:

You surprise me. Sandar has most definitely been proactive and pro-junta. She's been (unless it's a he masquerading as a she; whatever happened to Sandar Win, d/o Ne Win after her release? What might she be doing to have her husband and sons pardoned?) showing us the error of our ways and defending the generals. She at least deserves a medal.

The Irrawaddy perhaps tries too hard to counter accusations of being the opposition's mouthpiece and allows some license to pro-junta commentators such as Okkar, Sandar and Naingmya. Or has it been infiltrated already?

Eric Johnston Wrote:

It's true that democracy can come by process. I suppose one might date the beginnings of English constitutional government and democracy to the Charter of Liberties (1100), Magna Carta (1215) or perhaps more reliably to the English Civil War (1642-1651).

But who says that a plan cannot involve consultation? A clear statement of intent can be the embodiment of an ideal. If instead of looking to the slow development of English democracy one looks to the more rapid reintroduction of democracy in post WWII Europe, a vision of the future was a major motivation to the underground resistance.

People will not sacrifice their lives for a "process," but they may do so for a shared vision of a better future for their country. The intellectual approach can be useful, but emotion must not be ignored.

Aik Wrote:
It's very interesting that the commentator named 'Sandar' can write more than 1,000 words in the comment box. (I think Irrawaddy needs to clarify this to be more ethical and promote its credibility)

I agree that the current opposition groups are fragmented. But that doesn't mean that those against the ruling regime should prepare for the 2010 election. What the opposition should do is to prepare to work together.

Entering the election means you approve the 2008 constitution, which is undeniably undemocratic and only another step to legitimize the current oppressive regime and prolong its rule.

If the opposition is divided between 'those who will join the election and those who will not', then the whole country will be divided, and the civil war will be more intense. But if the whole opposition is united enough to ignore the election, it will have more focus on Burma's future.

I'd humbly urge Sandar to be more proactive, rather than reacting to the junta's shameful roadmap to nowhere.

Retired Officer Wrote:
So somebody called me Junta Thug even though I tried to explain that I don't like the current government. Anyway, it is not important. This is called Democracy.
But reading the letters, I felt hope that more people staying abroad are still interested and love our country and do whatever we can to improve the system. As some mentioned, we need more sincere people who are standing on their own in foreign countries, and who do not believe in who can shout the loudest.

Also we need to induce the people to talk about what they really believe, without anger, without frustration. Not to be afraid of the Junta as well as the so-called opposition. There will be no hard and fast rules to solve the situation.

Looking at the countries in the region with different interpretation of "Democracy" and different levels of success sometimes make me waver. American-style of Democracy is still Utopia to us. Maybe we can achieve it in the next, next generation.

Let us try to be reasonable for the benefit of all.

peacebuilderdoc Wrote:
Eric... you had my attention until I went to the links you provided. I disagree. Democracy does not come via a master plan. If we define democracy as culturally grounded, participatory modes of making collective decisions for the good of the people (individually and collectively), then democracy is grown, not planned and imposed. Furthermore, democracy grows in fits and starts and is never perfect; it is always in need of refinement and renewal. Frankly, that is part of the problem with the Burmese democracy movement. They act like democracy can be "given from on high" or planned in a meeting and then declared. In that viewpoint and related behaviors they are not that different from the regime. Time to start rethinking the PROCESS by which the problem is approached, not just arguing over the desired outcomes in grandiose political rhetoric.

Eric Johhnston Wrote:
Peacebuilderdoc makes some very valid points. It is necessary to stop throwing the word "democracy" around and start propagating solid understanding of what democracy means in actual practice, about what it means for the nation, about what it means for the group (occupational, ethnic, religious, etc) and about what it means for the individual. Target groups individually to build unity.

For more on this, read the bottom paragraphs here:
To stimulate ideas of how the problem might be approached:
and follow-on pages.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Eric Johnston,

You are right on both counts, the agenda behind the elections and the need to work on the army.

Trotsky maintained that, "An insurrection is a struggle not so much AGAINST the army as FOR the army". Win a significant number over to the side of the people and, come the fire next time, People Power will have real teeth.

peacebuilderdoc Wrote:
So... can the opposition groups present an alternative positive vision of the state? Something that goes beyond political rhetoric? Something that addresses concrete issues of governance and offers solid details about how to build a prosperous country under the rule of law? Can the opposition groups stop being dominated by an oppositional rhetoric that only gives strength to the regime by equating the current rulers with the state per se and start putting forth a vision of the state that includes all ethnic groups, the rule of law, functional governance systems, development, and a place for the military as a security force to protect the country from external threats? Sometimes when we engage in resistance we only strengthen the other side. When we offer an alternative vision that can include parts of the other side (such as progressive elements of the military), we can gain power and get out of the corner created by oppositional rhetoric.

Eric Johnston Wrote:
Many of us do not agree with Retired Officer's point of view but we need to try to understand it. Why? Because no-one has yet seen a way to change the situation in Burma without the consent of a substantial part of the Tatmadaw. That means, over time, a change in attitudes. To bring that about may mean changing our attitudes, without compromising principles.

"Calculate advantages by means of what was heard, then create force in order to
assist outside missions." -- Sun Tzu

Eric Johnston Wrote:
Some people question why the SPDC plans to hold elections. There are probably at least two reasons, and maybe more:

1. Remove international pressure, especially sanctions. With the recent decision by a Norwegian investment fund, these are now beginning to target the regime's main supporter, China.

2. Create positions in a "civilian" government, so that senior officers can become civilians and then occupy these new government posts; which will give them continuing power, prestige, and money, while leaving vacancies at the top of the Tatmadaw to which more junior generals can be promoted. Senior army officers -- but not the people of Burma -- will all be happy. It will be the people of Burma who, as usual, pay the costs.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Yin Min Kyi,

No suprise the 'isms' are always misrepresented and abused. Many a time they are merely a facade for a hidden agenda, self-interest/self-seeking more often than not. To keep us all under a nice illusion and easier to control. Socialism was convenient in both U Nu-Kyaw Nyein and Ne Win eras just like open markets and globalization ideology today for the current lot. They'd all deny of course that the orthodox thinking today is an 'ideology' as they would choose to define it. Patriotism and nationalism are the old chestnuts, a time-honored formula for populist demagogues and military dictators alike. Keep us all scared and in line.


If you deny you are a military stooge, you are too naive to believe in the sham elections of 2010 just because it's a Hobson's choice. Dissident groups are today ten a penny, and it's also typically Burmese - all chiefs and no Indians. Time is wearing them all down, and nobody's getting any younger. That's why we have to prepare the young to fight for freedom and a fairer society for us all.

And you know real change can only come from within, inside Burma, perhaps even inside the army. Not from those who plan to keep us down forever.

The principal weakness of the NLD even at the time of its inception in the fires of 8888 is its total and illogical liberal commitment to non-violence. That's where ASSK is diametrically different from her heroic father.

MyoChitThuNYC Wrote:
To Sander,

How do you accept the terms of the constitutional referendum, on which 2010 elections are based? This sham referendum was forcefully approved 3 days after Cyclone Nargis killed 130,000 Burmese people. Remember? The referendum has clauses, such as, President and VP must have military experience, the Defense chief can stage a coup at anytime. How do you accept such undemocratic terms? The referendum was not written with the consultation of the NLD, ethnic groups, or others. The 2010 elections must not be held until the referendum is reviewed and revised.

D.S. O'Hanlon Wrote:
Congradulations to Saw Tun on an excellent and useful analysis. The thinly veiled contempt with which the SPDC treats the UN is both obvious, and indeed even understandable, when one considers their willingness to play along with such illusions as the 2010 elections. Incidentally, I find that Saw Tun's experience of Tatmadaw amazement at his stamina in the field mirrors my own at times on the other side.

I appreciate the article's analysis on the military mindset. However, I believe that the definition of "Communism" and "Socialism" should be clearly defined and presented with cited sources. I do not totally agree with the way these terms have been framed in this article.

KKK Wrote:
To Moe Aung:

I totally agree with you. Have Burmese people ever had just one voice in their history? Never.

sandar Wrote:
To Moe Aung:

In fact, I do not care about them (the exiles/ false exiles/ families of the NLD's 1990 MP-elects/ families and friends of the 88 Generation group) who are seeking asylum, refugee status, scholarships/ funds). I wrote down these examples just to show the world that we have no respect at all for these so-called pro-opposition activists and their society. Ordinary people like me living abroad are very much aware of it.

I never saw (in my life experience abroad) ordinary Burmese have respectful relations with them. Sometimes, we discovered to our surprise that they do not even possess political knowledge like us who are not pro-opposition activists. But these are minor problems; it will end after 2010 when a new power-sharing system will be established.

I do not think or believe that these kinds of people will continue to receive funds and scholarships from Western countries if they are no longer a threat to the junta. The Western countries will not support them when they become useless to them. No need to be worried about them. I think that I do not need to repeat a fact that they could never persuade the Myanmar [Burmese] people living abroad to be united behind them. Far from it, they did not get even a bit of strong support. You will only reap what you sow.

The fragmentation exists already among the opposition. You are aware of it according to your comment. Not only fragmentation, but also, the opposition in and out are at present hopeless, desperate and paranoid. They have totally lost their chosen road. They are on the total downside. They are shouting with their last breath. Many of the exiled members are looking for a job now for their survival, because they have already got some warnings from their sponsors that funds will be rare (I am sure you know it, because we are seeing and hearing it every day).

In this situation, in order to maintain the healthy opposition in Myanmar politics for the sake of democracy, entering into the 2010 elections is the best solution. We have lost 20 years. Now it is time to work hard. Prepare for 2010, contest the elections bravely, show us what you have to offer us!

Moe Aung Wrote:
Kaw Thaw,

Exile governments are never a good idea. It's condemned to remain so, in exile. The CRPP inside Burma can still prove a rallying point besides ASSK at a crucial time. Shame we never got the interim govt in 88 that could have posed a real challenge right where it mattered and proved a unified rallying point for army dissenters to come over in droves. People Power could have had real teeth. The split opposition has been unable to work together for a common goal, i.e., the overthrow of the military dictatorship, even for a short period between ASSK and U Nu. That's what spelt defeat. It's another round, another time. United we stand, divided we fall. Do we ever learn from history?


Democracy is far from perfect and is blatantly manipulated everywhere. But it's certainly a means to an end, to a fairer society where peace, harmony, opportunity, creativity and progress can have a chance. And it's nowhere in sight on their roadmap, nor in their constitution, forced down our throats as usual in order to perpetuate military misrule. Unity against the common enemy must be forged.

MyoChitThuNYC Wrote:
To Retired officer,

Or should I say retired Junta Thug? You do not trust the politicians but just like Moe Aung said, politicians can be removed from office by elections if they are found to be corrupt like your former SPDC bosses. In a democratic society, there is freedom of press, so any corruption of an elected official can be publicly known. Look at what happened to the Governor of the US state of Illinois, Rod Blagoyavich. He was impeached right out of office because newspapers and others pointed out his corruption. In Burma you can't impeach the Rangoon military governor for corruption.

Democracy works! There are checks and balances in a Democratic system so corruption can be monitored and punished.

Kaw Thaw Wrote:
Sometimes I find it unrealistic that some exiled former MPs are still dreaming about the 1991 election result. Instead of looking for a way out and what other strategy they can do to meet their goal they just go around and propagate how legitimate they are as people's representatives. NCGUB is never effective and can't represent people as a government in exile. Most of their members never touch their foot on Burmese soil since they left Burma. That's why they will always serve as government in exile and may never see Burma personally again.

Moe Aung Wrote:

You've been quite a little busy bee discrediting and smearing the opposition, haven't you? I'm sure you are astute enough however to realize these people outside have really little impact in practical terms despite all the publicity and lobbying of foreign governments and organisations that they do. That's why ASSK refused to leave the country, because she knew that, although she could do a terrific job outside Burma, it's inside that really counts. Someone's got to do the lobbying, too, none the less.

Yes, some of them will be reduced to living on handouts in exile, soliciting funds to carry on with their political work, and also a bit of self-seeking for themselves and their families to benefit from the circumstances they find themselves in. But don't even compare them with the kind of blood-sucking parasites on the Burmese nation that your dear generals are.

It's a bit of a giveaway when you hype up the sham elections of 2010 and challenge them to contest. The more the merrier. The greater fragmentation among the opposition the better, isn't it? That's what your generals want, and your weasel words do their bidding. What a great future! What a grand gold and silver road you've built for us!

Retired Officer,

Yes, "you can see what the politicians are doing". And you CAN remove them in an election if they are corrupt and worse than useless. Can we ever remove your generals? Politicians ever given a chance even to try and not mess up like these greedy thugs?

Retired Officer Wrote:
The topic on "My Brother's Lesson" is a direct hit on the military guys.

I myself am a retired officer but without any richness like some of the current generation. I left on my own will for my own reasons.

I really worked hard: more than you I believe. I still do not trust Myanmar [Burmese] politicians who just talk against the military. I still love my country. My country comes first even though I enjoy life in foreign country, due to my hard work.

I don't support all the things that the current govt is doing. But I still believe that it is still difficult to get better politicians to govern the country at this point. You can see what the politicians are doing.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Interesting these ex-military types coming out of the woodwork. Naturally some of them always take the attitude: “my army right or wrong,” but some thankfully have more than two brain cells to rub together.

Old Guard: "Generals at the top scraping the cream of army budget should realize it more. A good soldier should have both heart and brain."

They do realize but the officer class is too busy enriching themselves, and the good soldiers too downtrodden and ruthlessly exploited like all the rest of us, desertion is the only way out.

And the defense budget is only what's declared. The junta and their families spend like money grows on trees. Laughing all the way to the bank, sucking the life blood out of a potentially very very rich land and its people, these days aided and abetted by globalization in general and China, Russia and other neighbors in particular, regardless of sanctions.

Okkar: Undermining the NLD for all its weaknesses, the main above ground opposition, the one principal gain from the ultimate sacrifice made by so many thousands of people during the 8888 Uprising, the real obstacle on the roadmap and the only rallying point so far for all the rest of us, is tantamount to treachery in support of your generals. Obvious where you're coming from, since you've nailed your colors to the mast.

Kaw Thaw: Absolutely spot on. Burman chauvinism plus militarism and also for the past 47 years of monopoly capitalism can only succumb to a unified onslaught.

sandar Wrote:
"Generals at the top scraping the cream of army budget should realize it more." Just like exactly the same is happening in the NLD/ opposition/ exiled community.

With the money from international organizations, the National Endowment for Democracy from US states, the top ones of the opposition are eating the cream of all international funds. I see children of 90 MP-elects in USA attending the universities with various scholarships, and most of them are not worthy of these scholarships. When I talk to them they will tell you the following things:

My father was an MP elect from NLD; we know all 88 Generation members personally, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. They are kind. I have their personal email addresses and so on.

Their knowledge ends at this level. They have no idea at all of sanctions or people’s suffering. Their knowledge is as long as the junta is in power there will be no change, no democracy; people will be poor.

They sometimes come to the pro-opposition media (DVB, RFA, BBC, VOA) and tell their stories such as how his or her father was tortured and beaten, and when I sometimes ask them it was the truth, they say …well, we need to exaggerate a little sometimes; the goal is to get sympathy from people and let the world know about the brutality of the junta. We are doing this for the country.

Well I draw my own conclusion like this: they are doing something for our nation; their goal is to get sympathy and continuous support from people in order to get their scholarships, asylum status and for the next generation of opposition society.

An opposition which does not possess any idea of building a nation is really a shame for all of us, all people of Myanmar [Burma].

Please first formulate a plan for re-building the economy of our country and present it to the people of Myanmar. Then contest the 2010 elections bravely with a concrete plan for nation building with very clear and detailed objectives. We, people of Myanmar, will decide if NLD is the most competent candidate among others during the electoral campaign.

Please be creative. Please be brave. Please show your competence to us. Please prove your competence and ability with the very concrete results. We are waiting.

Kaw Thaw Wrote:
We need both internal and external pressure. And the most important thing is we need an alternative government for many pragmatic and sympathetic junior officers. For the past half a century all they have known is military government as their only government. How can we win them over if we can't provide any alternative guidance or leadership? What offers can we make to them if we were to court their friendship? Can we simply ask them to revolt, desert, turn on your generals and if you fail don't worry because you have died for the people in the name of democracy?

The NLD non-violent movement is long overdue and ineffective in this political environment.The thing the generals want to see most is NLD continue with its current non-violent tactic. The '07 Saffron Revolution has shown that people are so mentally scared and it could take many miracles for another similar episode to happen, let alone succeed.

Although I am a die hard ethnic nationalist, I am aware that our armed struggle cannot defeat the military government. For one thing we don't command the majority of the population in Burma. And often our struggle is too fragmented and based on ethnic lines. We can't provide an alternative government to junior army officers, either. Thus we need a revolutionary movement and leadership that can command the majority of the population which is also mindful of ethnic nationalities' desires and political aspirations. In this regard I guess the NLD is the only alternative at the moment.

Old Guard Wrote:
Military Is A Necessary Evil.

Army as an armed force is an institution designed to fight - either for the offensive or defensive needs of a country. One cannot expect saints serving in this lot but someone leading that army should have one good reason. We can find in the world history, the leaders with good reasons became national heroes, those for secular interests became despicable dictators, and those without any became fools.

This is how military leaders are judged in military science, though it may not be taught in individual schools, lest it might hurt their leadership.

The six characteristics mentioned in the article show the dramatic change in direction of the Burmese military. The Sacred Vows soldiers used to shout in those days, before the last 2 decades, were for the nationalistic goals and the esprit de corps, not for making the public their enemy. If there is a brain in a soldier, he should realize who feeds soldiers and their families. How could a soldier forget the taxpayers' money, and the 60% of the national budget they are surviving on. There is no justification to think himself as a savior of the people; he is just a paid soldier - paid to do the job for a living. Civil servants are employed for needful services, and public sectors in generating national incomes.

Generals at the top scraping the cream of army budget should realize it more.
A good soldier should have both heart and brain.

Okkar Wrote:
There are very little differences between NLD/Oppositions and SPDC. NLD/Opposition and its supporters doesn't like to admit their mistakes, failures and shortcomings. Anyone who point them out, they would out right accuse them of being regime apologists or something worse. NLD/Oppositions believes that everything they do is right because they are fighting for truth the justice, regardless of the damage and sufferings of the people. They justified their actions with rhetorics and whitewash articles. If NLD/opposition and its supporters are behaving this way before they get into power, imagine what they would become when they actually get to govern. This would be like trading from one dictator to another. NLD/Opposition and its supporters should embrace the democratic values which they claim to be fighting for, admit when mistakes has been made, accept constructive criticism, and be responsible and accountable for mistakes and failures, and last but not least, be the real alternative! You owe it to the people!

Eric Johnston Wrote:
Further information on how the regime retains the loyalty of officers:

Moe aung Wrote:
Steady on, MyoChitThuNYC. You need both above and underground movements if you want to see any chance of success. The two are not mutually exclusive.

That the generals are closet students of Mao is news to me. The one dictum they have a visceral belief in has to be: "Political power comes from the barrel of a gun". Seems to work for them every time, doesn't it?

They don't seem to mind certain 'corrupting' foreign influences such as rampant exploitation when it suits them so they can happily line their pockets. 'Borrowing Western concepts' for legitimacy is only natural in today's Western dominated globalised world. It's called PR.

Don't for a moment think these generals are politically naive. Quite the contrary, they know exactly what they want and how to play the game well. Just look at how they've seen off both ASEAN and the UN every time - no guns required.

The 'Young Turks' in the Tatmadaw would have to be genuinely patriotic, brave, selfless and free-thinking (there's the nub) enough to break the mould and join the people. It will take a lot of optimism and hard work to win them over if - it's a big if - you can find them. And obviously only people inside the country can do this.

Eric Johnston Wrote:
Non-violence is more important for the weaker.

When the weaker becomes the stronger,
there are two possibilities:
(1) the regime steps down non-violently; or
(2) it is thrown down.

Study ways to become stronger.

One way is to take strength from the enemy.
Another is to strike unseen, repeatedly, wherever he is weak.
Make him run in all directions, without success, and exhaust himself.
Uncover and neutralise his spies, or 'turn' them.
Plant spies among his followers, to discover and counter his manoeuvres.

Think of some more!

sandar Wrote:
Maung Wayban laid down some very good points and summarized the opposition’s ideology as a whole.

In 2006, I had some occasions to talk to some top activists.

When I gave my opinions about their group as well as about NLD, they replied to me with similar points:

Why are you always criticizing the opposition? You should only criticize the junta; it is they who are bad men, not us.
We are sacrificing our life for our people and country, we spent many years in prisons. Our enemy is the junta. We have our differences among us but we must not show them in public. We must always show our unity publicly. The media are defending us because we are the good side. The media must always defend us because we are sacrificing our lives for the country. The media must always point out only the bad things of the junta in order to keep people on our side.
You don’t know how many people have gone insane inside the prisons? You do not know how many of our friends died in prisons? You do not know that the junta is destroying the business of our families?

We are at the right side. We are fighting for truth. Nothing is free so we are ready to give our life for our country’s freedom.
We must fight against the junta for our freedom. And you must support us.

The same characteristics the author mentioned in his article as military mindset.

And everybody knows that the pro-opposition media always listed the people as "betrayers of the democracy movement" when these people do not have or lost the characteristics mentioned above.

Where is the difference between the junta and the opposition ideologically, morally? They share exactly the same values in moral, ideology and religious values.

In order to get the positive changes in our country, both sides must change their mindsets.

MyoChitThuNYC Wrote:
The opposition (NLD, 88 gen. students, Monks, others) need to give up their "non-violent" struggle against the SPDC. Tatmadaw is an uncivilized and uneducated bunch of thugs who constantly disregarded the will of the people and the international community. All they know is violence and that's what they will do to Burma. Sporadic bombings are a good start. But bombing Junta police stations, USDA offices, or next to riot police trucks, etc will send chills down the spine of the Generals.

Ye Lin Wrote:
Very insightful article that illuminates many paradoxes in Tatmadaw thinking and belief. One thing I still do not understand: if so many anti-civilian military practices and rote ideas derive from the Maoist legacy, why should the junta that otherwise flouts "corrupting" foreign influences even pretend to aspire to democracy? Why bother with a concept of legitimacy based on civil governance? Why do they even care to borrow such a Western concept?

Eric Johnston Wrote:
This document is important. The key to change in Burma is change of Tatmadaw attitudes. This prompts the question: How can the matter be approached? There are at least some dissatisfied Tatmadaw officers. The few that come west tend to speak of human rights abuses, but they may also have more personal motives. But it is with the likes of them that the ball must start rolling. The subject requires wholehearted attention.

Maung Wayban Wrote:
Astute observations indeed. Exiled dissident Aung Naing Oo notes that the opposition has become a 'mirror image' of the regime. Then the following points apply to the opposition too (I have taken the liberty to modify the last three points):
-We work harder than others for the sake of the country.
-We sacrifice our lives to work for the sake of the country.
-Our comrades are injured or killed by our enemies.
-Our enemies are NOT supported by the population.
-We must follow our righteous democracy movement. No criticism against the movement should be allowed.
-We are freedom fighters serving the country 24 hours a day.

It's sad how both the regime and the opposition have become entrapped in the conflict, unable to move forward. A radical 'conflict transformation' is needed if we are to progress from this conundrum. The initiative can come either from the regime or from the mainstream opposition.

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bullet Myanmar: On Claiming Success

bullet Ceasefires Won't Bring Peace

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