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Organization and Force Structure 47 3 Organization and Force Structure This chapter discusses how a weak, small, and disunitedTatmadaw in Myanmar has emerged into a considerably strong, large, and more or less united one, with a dominant role in Myanmar politics. In the process of building a strong and unitedTatmadaw, any split along the lines of racial background, organizational origin, and political affiliation was resolved; the gap between staff and field officers was bridged; and competition between intelligence officers and field commanders was settled. Unity of the officer corps was further maintained by giving a fair share of senior command positions to graduates of different schools of training. Since the late 1960s, open split within the Tatmadaw had been more or less eliminated and the occasional factional struggle was managed, sometimes at a considerable cost, to maintain institutional unity. However, despite its growth in force structure the Tatmadaw remained an army of infantry battalions. Building Unity within the Tatmadaw At the time of Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the Tatmadaw was weak, small and disunited. Cracks appeared along the lines of racial background, political affiliation, organizational origin, and different services. Its unity and operational efficiency were further weakened by the interference of civilians and politicians in military affairs, and the perception gap between staff officers and field commanders. The most serious problem was the tension between Karen officers, coming from the British Burma Army, and Bamar officers, coming from the Patriotic Burmese Force (PBF).1 For the ex-PBF members, 47 03 Bldg Tatmadaw.indd 47 12/29/08 8:41:59 AM 48 Building the Tatmadaw those who served in the British Burma Army were regarded as Kyesar Sittha, soldiers serving foreigners for a living, whereas they regarded themselves as Myochit Sittha, soldiers serving their own people out of patriotism. Generally, ex-PBF officers regarded officers from the ex-British Burma Army (mostly Karen, Kachin, and Chin, as well as Anglo-Indian and Sino-Burman) as “Pro-West”, “Pro-British”, or “Rightists”. In accordance with the agreement reached at Kandy in September 1945, the Tatmadaw was reorganized by incorporating the British Burma Army and the PBF. The officer corps was also shared by the ex-PBF officers and officers from the British Burma Army or the Army of Burma Reserve Organization (ABRO). The British also decided to form what were known as “class battalions”, based on ethnicity. There were fifteen infantry battalions at the time of independence. Among them, only four were made up of the former members of the PBF.2 Furthermore, influential positions within the “War Office” and commands were manned with non-former PBF officers.3 It was the same in the other services of the Tatmadaw, such as military engineers, supply and transport, ordinance, and medical services. The navy and air force were also in the hands of ex-ABRO officers. Although Bo Letya, the then Minister for Defence, was a member of the “Thirty Comrades”4 and a founder of the PBF, he was regarded by the ex-PBF officers as “Rightist”. This situation made the ex-PBF officers feel that they were undermined by minority representation in the Tatmadaw.5 The most important and immediate thing for the ex-PBF officers was to get rid of the “Rightists” in general and Karen officers in particular.6 They were disappointed with what they called the “Karenization of the Tatmadaw”. They believed that unless they could get rid of the Karens and “Pro-West Stooges”, their existence in the Tatmadaw would be jeopardized. When Major Chit Myaing7 complained about the Karen dominance in theTatmadaw to Bo Letya, the latter replied that he purposely let it happen simply because Karens were apolitical and professional, unlike the former PBF members. In addition to this situation, the ex-PBF officers were unhappy with the “scorched earth” and “slash and burn” tactics used by the Karen troops in counter-insurgency operations.8 Major Chit Myaing finally complained about the situation to Bo Letya at the commanding officers’ (COs’) meeting on 1 June 1948. The majority of the participants at the COs’ meeting were ex-PBF officers.9 At first he was alone in attacking the “Rightists”. During the recess, he was able to persuade Brigadier Ne Win on to his side. In the afternoon, the meeting became a heated discussion. The COs strongly criticized politicians for failure to reach a political settlement with the Communists and restore law and order. As the commanders’ criticism of the politicians for allowing...


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