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Strong Soldiers, Failed Revolution

The State and Military in Burma, 1962‒88

Yoshihiro Nakanishi

Publication Year: 2013

General Ne Win’s state reformation in the name of the “Burmese Way to Socialism” contributed to the expansion of the political role of the Myanmar Armed Forces, the tatmadaw, but the underlying dynamics of this change remain poorly understood. Drawing on propaganda publications, profiles of the country’s political elites, and original documents in Burma’s military archives, Yoshihiro Nakanishi offers a fresh look at the involvement of the tatmadaw in Burma’s ideological discourse and civil-military relations. The tatmadaw’s anti-communist propaganda during the 1950s was a key element in state ideology under the Ne Win regime, and the direct participation of tatmadaw officers in the Burma Socialist Programme Party and government ministries at the national and local level transformed the political party system and civilian bureaucracy. Personal relationships — between Ne Win and the tatmadaw officer corps, and within the military — were central to the growing influence of the military, and to the outcome of the political crisis and subsequent military coup d’état in 1988. Nakanishi’s discussion of these processes reveals many heretofore-unknown facts about this “dark age” in the country’s political history, and highlights its institutional legacy for the post-1988 military regime and the reformist government that succeeded it. His thought-provoking conclusions are significant for Southeast Asia specialists and for students of politics generally, and his insights will be useful for anyone seeking to engage with Myanmar as it comes to terms with an outside world it once kept at arm’s length.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Half title, full title, copyright pages

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi

List of Tables, Figures, Illustrations, Abbreviations

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pp. vii-xvi


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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. xix-xxii

Every era has its share of “crooked” governments. Burma, a country at the western edge of Southeast Asia, is a perfect example of crooked government in our age. For half a century from 2 March 1962, when the tatmadaw (the Burma Armed Forces) seized power in a coup d’état, ...

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Chapter 1: Introduction: A Failed Revolution Made a Strong Military Regime

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pp. 1-28

Sometimes in the course of an everyday conversation a casual comment can suddenly reveal something about a country’s political uniqueness. Such moments in a variety of forms stimulate our thinking, and such stimuli produce new ideas that may ultimately grow into a thesis for a book. ...

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Chapter 2: Nation-State Building and the Coercive Apparatus in Modern Burma

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pp. 29-60

The modern state was introduced to Burma in the nineteenth century when it was colonized by the British. As John S. Furnivall precisely describes, state building in Burma proved to be a difficult and unstable process because the economic motives that drove colonial state-building and the principles of the rule of law ...

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Chapter 3: The Origin of “the Burmese Way to Socialism:” Formation of State Ideology and Military Politics

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pp. 61-97

One of the peculiarities of the Ne Win regime is that it was a leftist military regime, which stood in marked contrast to the right-wing military-led governments in power in Southeast Asia at the time. The Sarit-Thanom regime in Thailand, whose rule began in 1957, and that of General Suharto in Indonesia were both staunch right-wing military regimes ...

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Chapter 4: Party-State Manqué: Ne Win’s Revolution and the Burma Socialist Programme Party

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pp. 98-141

This chapter will examine the party-state that Ne Win sought to build and its ultimate failure. As defined here, the party-state means a political system having a single ruling party that leads and controls the state. The regime Ne Win built after the coup of 2 March 1962 began in a haphazard way, ...

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Chapter 5: Destroy the Bureaucracy!: Transformation of the Civilian Bureaucracy in the Name of Revolution

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pp. 142-168

During the 1960s and 1970s, the same period as Ne Win’s revolution, a number of developmental dictatorships appeared in East and Southeast Asia: the administrations of Park Chung-Hee and Chun Doo-Hwan in South Korea, those of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan, the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the Philippines, ...

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Chapter 6: “Winner-Take-All:” An Analysis of Burma’s Political Elite

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pp. 169-213

An element of “winner-take-all” exists in the political culture of Burma and refers to the following events. In the Constituent Assembly election in 1947, the first substantive election in the history of Burma, the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) scored an overwhelming victory, gaining 248 of the 255 seats. ...

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Chapter 7: Formation of a Garrison State: The Politics of Dictator Military Relations

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pp. 214-268

In Chapter 4, the Ne Win regime was referred to as a party-state manqué because although the revolutionary party of a party-state is usually a political group that guides a revolution, its counterpart in Burma, the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), was much less dominant and always under the influence of the tatmadaw. ...

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Chapter 8: Conclusion: The End of Revolution

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pp. 269-290

During the Ne Win regime’s two-and-a-half-decade rule, the tatmadaw greatly expanded its political role. The author has argued that this expansion created the basic mechanisms for the tatmadaw to maintain its political influence over the state. Despite its strength, the Ne Win regime collapsed in 1988 ...

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Epilogue: Post-1988 Politics

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pp. 291-316

The tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces), currently boasting a force of about 400,000 (Army: 375,000; Navy: 16,000; Air Force: 15,000), is an organization designed to defend national security and is the political backbone that has consistently supported the juntas since 1962. ...


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pp. 317-343


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pp. 344-358

Further Reading

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pp. 381-384

E-ISBN-13: 9789971697594
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971697020

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 1 map, 50 tables, 37 figures, 5 images
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: New