Tatmadaw, History of

   Although the dynastic states of precolonial Burma and British colonial Burma had their own armed forces, the present Burmese armed forces, the Tatmadaw, date their history to the establishment of the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in December 1941. Its leadership consisted of Japanese officers, members of the Minami Kikan, and the Thirty Comrades, including Aung San and Ne Win. After the Japanese drove the British out of Burma and set up their own military administration, the BIA was reorganized as the Burma Defence Army (BDA). Burma became nominally independent in August 1943 within the Japanese "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," and the BDA was replaced by the Burma National Army (BNA). Aung San, considered by Burmese people to be the founder of the Tatmadaw, served as war minister in the cabinet of Dr. Ba Maw, while Ne Win became the BNA's commander in chief.
   After Aung San ordered the BNA to rise up against the Japanese on March 27, 1945 (Resistance Day, known today as Armed Forces Day), the British recognized it as the Patriotic Burmese Forces (PBF). Following the Kandy Conference of September 1945, the British established a new Burma Army, composed of BNA/PBF veterans and the old colonial armed forces, which were composed of ethnic minority troops who had remained loyal to them during the war. This was a highly unstable arrangement. The largely Burman (Bamar) PBF men regarded themselves as genuinely "patriotic soldiers" (myochit sittha in the Burmese [Myanmar] language) and the ethnic minority rank and file as "rightists" and "mercenary soldiers" (kyesar sittha) because they had fought on the side of the British. However, the latter outnumbered the former (11 of 15 infantry battalions were minority troops), and the commander in chief of the postwar Burma Army was a Karen (Kayin), General Smith Dun. During the communist and ethnic minority uprisings of 1948-1949, most ethnic minority officers and men mutinied or were purged, leaving only a rump of the Burma Army loyal to the central government: the ex-PBF forces, commanded by Ne Win. With the support of local levies known as sitwundan, Ne Win succeeded in rolling back the "multi-colored insurgents." During the 1950s, the Tatmadaw, now primarily a Burman armed force (especially on the officer level), underwent substantial internal reorganization and rationalization, designed to make it a more efficient fighting force and insulate it from both civilian oversight and political factionalism. When the army-run Caretaker Government assumed power from 1958 to 1960, the Tatmadaw, described almost as a "state within the state," played an increasingly dominant economic and social, as well as political, role in national life.
   The two martial law regimes established in March 1962 and September 1988, the Revolutionary Council and the State Law and Order Restoration Council, asserted a monopoly of military control over almost all aspects of society in central Burma. But although the Tatmadaw was a tough, effective fighting force during the 1962-1988 period, battling communist and ethnic rebels in the border areas; after 1988, it expanded into a rentier class, more concerned with holding onto power and making money than with giving the nation and its diverse peoples a vision for the future.
   See also Tatmadaw; Tatmadaw and Burmese Society.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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