Aung San, Bogyoke

   Modern Burma's most important political figure, who played the principal role in winning independence from Britain after World War II. Burmese people often refer to him as bogyoke (commander in chief) because he is credited with establishing Burma's Tatmadaw (armed forces) during the war. Born in Natmauk, Magwe (Magway) Division, on February 13, 1915, he was an excellent student and attended the National School in Yenangyaung (Yaynangyoung) on a scholarship. There, he began to take an intense interest in politics. In 1932, he entered Rangoon (Yangon) University and during the 1935-1936 academic year became editor of Oway, the magazine of the Rangoon University Students' Union (RUSU). Refusing to disclose the name of the writer of an article deemed highly offensive by the university authorities, he and RUSU President Nu were expelled, an action that sparked the student strike of February-May 1936. The strike made him a figure of national political prominence, and he became a founder and secretary of the All Burma Students' Union (ABSU) at its first conference in 1937 and a prominent member of the Thakin Kodaw Hmaing faction of the Dobama Asiayone the following year. As secretary general of the Freedom Bloc in 1939-1940, he worked closely with Dr. Ba Maw in a nationalist united front and also served as secretary general of the newly established Communist Party of Burma.
   Aung San left Burma in August 1940 to secure foreign backing for the independence struggle. He was contacted by a Japanese agent in Amoy (Xiamen), China, and brought to Tokyo where, with considerable misgivings, he agreed to work with Colonel Suzuki Keiji to establish a Burmese armed force that would assist in the Japanese defeat of the British in Burma and, Aung San hoped, the establishment of an independent nation. Returning to Burma to recruit the Thirty Comrades, he became their leader when they received Japanese military training on the island of Hainan in 1941 and was senior staff officer in the Burma Independence Army, established in December 1941 under Colonel Suzuki's command. Aung San served as commander of the Burma Defence Army in 1942-1943 and minister of defense when the country became nominally independent in August 1943. From the very beginning, however, he had no illusions about the Japanese occupation, and together with Thakin Soe, Thakin Than Tun, and others established the Anti-Fascist Organization (AFO) in August 1944. On March 27, 1945, a date commemorated as Resistance Day or Armed Forces Day, he ordered the Burma National Army (BNA) to rise up against the Japanese. Though some British regarded him as a traitor, Aung San won the trust of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who regarded cooperation with his army, renamed the Patriotic Burmese Forces, as essential for Allied war aims. Leaving the military to pursue a political career, he became president of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League and between 1945 and 1947 used his immense popularity to bring the British to the negotiating table on the issue of independence. The Aung San-Attlee Agreement was achieved in January 1947 after Aung San journeyed to London to negotiate with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Winning the support of ethnic minority leaders at the Panglong Conference in February, Aung San cleared the way for the creation of the Union of Burma's semifederal constitutional order. He would have become the new nation's first prime minister, but he was assassinated along with members of his cabinet by gunmen loyal to a political rival, U Saw, on July 19, 1947, a day commemorated as Martyrs' Day.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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