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Editorial & Opinion ; Junta wages w
- Subject: Editorial & Opinion ; Junta wages w
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 22:03:00
Subject: Editorial & Opinion ; Junta wages war on history as crimes forgotten
Editorial & Opinion
Junta wages war on
history as crimes
Burmese modern history has been forged
by anti-fascist and anti-colonialist
revolutions. However, the new junta is
attempting to rewrite history, writes Moe
BANGKOK -- On Nov 10, Lt Gen Khin
Nyunt, head of the Burmese military
intelligence unit, said something startling at
the opening of the Burma-Japan Bilateral
Conference on Information Technology
Co-operation in Rangoon. ''We shall never
forget the important role played by Japan in
our struggle for independence,'' said Khin
Nyunt, the State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC) first secretary, and the
most powerful general in the SPDC.
''In the same vein, we will remember that
our tatmadaw (military) was born in Japan.''
Many Burmese were confused about the
general's words. They didn't understand
what the general wanted to mean directly,
especially by using the words ''the
important role played by Japan''. The word
''important'' is now controversial for
The term ''fascist'' and mention of the
cruelty of Japanese troops were missing
from the general's words. While Korean
women have the right to claim
compensation from the Japanese
government, Burmese women who were
used as concubines for the Japanese
troops, and men who were used as forced
labourers to construct the ''Death Railway''
during the war, have no right to
compensation for their sufferings.
It is not because of the Japanese
government but because of the junta and
the Burma Socialist Programme Party
(BSPP). Although the Japanese
government paid reparations after the war,
none of this money went to Burmese
victims of Japanese atrocities. Instead,
Burmese authorities pocketed the money.
''If such sorrowful incidents had occurred
under the British rulers, the junta would at
the moment push and help the victims to
claim compensation from the British
government,'' said an old politician who
didn't want to be named.
''The junta targets the British because of Dr
Michael Aris, husband of Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi. If Dr Aris was Japanese, their
target would be changed and the junta
would complain about Japanese fascism.''
In Burma's history, there are two famous
revolutions in the struggle for independence
-- the anti-fascist and the anti-colonialist
revolutions. Just before the 1988 military
coup, Burmese students in primary and
high schools had to learn about those two
revolutions. Students who took history as
their major subject had to learn about these
two revolutions before they could get their
However, under the BSPP, most of the
historical movies which could be seen by
Burmese people were anti-fascist. In
particular, the movies showed the brutality
and rudeness of the fascist Japanese
during their occupation. Although the
movies showed the fascist Japanese
troops rape, torture and commit inhuman
acts, there were no movies about such
actions by the British troops. Every actor
and actress who starred in the anti-fascist
movies was awarded the Burmese
Academy Prize for acting. But everything
has changed since the 1988 military coup.
Since that coup the junta has ordered
artists to ensure that historical films must
show only the situation under the British
government. The state-run newspapers
report about the British colonialists'
oppression very often. Worse, the junta has
also slowly been changing the curriculum
for its own students.
There may be only one famous revolution in
the Burmese students' curriculum -- anti
colonialism -- and no longer an anti-fascist
revolution. Why? The answer is that
Western countries strongly support the
democracy movement and constantly
criticise the junta over human rights abuses.
In the state-run newspaper published in
1990, the junta daily described a massacre
by the British troops, which occurred in
Taung Tha township, Mandalay Division.
These serial articles are now being
published in the state-run newspapers
The so-called journalists who were
recruited by the junta had many interviews
with local witnesses who were still alive.
The junta had many interviews with the
villagers who were living in Mandalay and
Magwe divisions, where the massacres by
the British troops occurred during the
Second World War. This doesn't mean that
the junta is trying to explore the true history.
According to the local villagers, the
massacres occurred not only under the
British rulers but also under the Japanese
troops. At first, they just wondered why the
junta only tried to dig out history about
crimes perpetrated by the British rulers. It
was only after the villagers were forcibly
sent to an infrastructure site as forced
labourers that they realised that the
methods the junta used were the same as
those used by the Japanese troops used
during the war.
If every elderly person who had lived under
both the British rulers and Japanese troops
were asked, they would exactly explain the
true story, that they never saw or heard
about rape cases committed by British
troops, only by Japanese troops.
''To be frank with you, there was nothing
good about living under either invader.
However, the Japanese troops were more
brutal and ruder than the British. As far as I
know, the British seemed to follow and
respect the laws and regulations,'' said one
elderly man who had to live under both
''The Japanese troops seemed to
understand only killing, torture and rape. I
am not confused about why the junta tries to
hide the history of Japanese occupation. It
is now holding the same attitude to its
ethnic minority people on the borders. Mind
you, just after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
criticised the junta as fascist, the generals
were so angry that they finally put her under
house arrest for six years.''
Another person with memories of
occupation said: ''It is right that our army
was born in Japan. It's also right that Saya
San, a famous farmer revolution leader
under the British rulers, was hanged in
Tharrawaddy prison in central Burma. It's
true that Bo Aung Gyaw, a famous student
leader, was killed during the 1938
''We can try to understand those sorrowful
happenings because we had to live under
invaders. But I don't understand why under
our Burmese rulers we are now treated
even worse. If Bo Aung Gyaw was killed
during the 1988 uprising, we could not even
see his corpse. If Saya San was arrested
under this junta, he would be tortured before
his death sentence. We are now under our
own neo-fascist rulers.''
His explanation is very clear about the
Burmese ruling junta. Although there were
many innocent people and students who
were killed during the 1988 uprising, the
junta claimed that just 15 were killed. So
far, nobody knows where other corpses
were secretly buried.
Many NLD members and activists have
been sent to prison without trial. Many
political prisoners died in custody because
of harassment and the prison conditions. In
the military intelligence centre, all political
detainees have been tortured, not by the
Japanese and British, but by the Burmese
military intelligence officers.
Although the junta claims that the civil war
occurred because of the ''divide and rule''
policy of the British, it also uses this policy
towards the minority ethnic groups, the
NLD, students and people.
''The junta complains about the worst things
of colonialism on the surface. However, I
believe that in their minds they thank the
British too much for how to divide the
opposition groups,'' said a retired history
lecturer. ''In reality, the junta chose to
practise even worse things than former
fascist Japan and the British colonialists.
The junta has been using many laws and
rules which were adopted by the British to
oppress our Burmese people, especially
Under British colonial rule, the laws
regulating prisons and courts were created.
The junta uses the same laws, but has
taken away the rights that prisoners once
had under the British. Now political
prisoners have no right to a lawyer for their
trial. Once imprisoned, they are not allowed
to read or study.
Ye Teiza, a prominent student activist and
former political prisoner, said: ''I had a
chance to meet with many old politicians in
prison who have lived in prison under the
British and the BSPP. When I ask which
prison situation they suffered under most,
they all answer that the situation under the
junta is the worst.''
The junta always complains very loudly that
Gen Aung San was assassinated by a
British government conspiracy. However,
from the time of the BSPP to the ruling
military junta, no top military leader has
paid respect to Martyrs' Day on July 19,
when Aung San and other national leaders
They are never interested in attending the
Martyrs' Day ceremony. In the past,
Burmese people anxiously awaited the
sound of sirens, which would sound on
Martyrs' Day at the time that Aung San was
assassinated. This allowed them to pay
their respects to their national heroes, and
they would observe a minute's silence.
Under the junta there are no more sirens as
the national sign of sorrow. This clearly
means that the junta has been trying to
tarnish the image of Aung San.
Why? The answer may be that Aung San is
the father of Aung San Suu Kyi who is
supported by the majority of Burmese
people. If Aung San had been
assassinated by Japanese troops, the junta
would try to hide the whole history of
Martyrs' Day, and not only tarnish the image
of Aung San.
As long as British and western countries
strongly criticise the junta's human rights
abuses and ignorance of the May 1990
election result, and Dr Michael Aris is still
British, the words that loudly come from the
junta will be ''anti-colonialism''.
As long as the junta, which has been
accused of being neo-fascist by its own
people, holds power, and the Japanese
government healthily supports so-called
humanitarian aid to the junta, the
anti-fascist revolution will no lot appear on
the pages of Burmese history. However, it
is the Burmese people who will need to
prove that ''history is not in the hands of the
Moe Aye is a former political prisoner and
now working with the All Burma Students'
Democratic Front (ABSDF).