Friday, March 13, 2009

The Military Mind-set

The Irrawaddy News

I would like to try to explain what I believe to be the genuine attitude of the Burmese military government.

What is the aim of the Burmese Tamadaw [the military]? How do they think?

Until 1988, late dictator Gen Ne Win, who was the god father of the current ruling generals, didn’t favour the communism and parliamentary democracy. He ordered prominent political theorists to draw up a middle-way political ideology. Finally, due to the economic decline, he began to follow the reforms conducted by China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

However, Ne Win gave up his political control by the nation-wide democracy uprising, which produced the1988 student movements.

His protégé, former spy chief Gen Khin Nyunt, also stated that the enemy of the military was the Communists and Western neo-colonialists [a phrase usually used by Communists] who were accused of controlling the opposition movement from behind the scenes. Until now, the generals continue to teach army officers along similar lines.

Not like Ne Win, the current ruling generals lacked the experience of independent struggles or Cold War politics. They are not able to stand on a nationalistic platform and non-alliance ideology. They are not skilful in playing political theory games.

But they have learned some effective ways to hold on to their power.

My Brother’s Lesson

“What is military training?” asked my brother, who was a military officer, when I was young. I replied that the training taught me to be disciplined.

“No, it teaches you to immediately follow an order without thinking,” he said. “When you hear ‘Attention,’ you follow the order at once, don’t you? When you hear, ‘At ease,’ you follow it without thinking, don’t you?’”
The training and lectures eventually gives all soldiers a military mindset, which is comprised of the following characteristics:

-We work harder than others for the sake of the country.
-We sacrifice our lives to work for the sake of the country.
-Our comrades are injured or killed by our enemies.
-The enemies who injure or killed us are supported by a part of the population.
-We must follow orders, live under the discipline of the army at all the time.
-We are soldiers serving the country 24-hours a day.

In a soldier’s view, thus, ordinary people and civil servants live more easy-going lives. They are undisciplined and have many leisure hours. They do business to become rich.

The result is that soldiers believe they have the sole right to hold state power due to their hard work and sacrifices. These basic opinions are what hinder the relationship between the people and the military, the military and opposition groups and also warp the military view of the international community, which is constantly telling them to give up their hold on power.

Military officers were surprised when I, a scholar, travelled with them through the forests and mountains. They didn’t think anyone except a soldier could do such hard work.

When the army cracks down on peaceful demonstrators, they viewed them as lazy opportunists who are asking for rights without working hard.

The army, in a way, blames the people for failing to develop the country. Although the army as a whole works hard, the people and civil servants don’t work hard. Foreigners work and think smarter than lazy Burmese people, and these are the reasons developed countries are ahead of Burma.

However, when ordinary people go abroad to seek job opportunity, they see foreigners as human beings like them. They work industriously because they receive advantages from their work. They are disciplined because reap advantages from performing well. They know exactly the things that Burma could not move forward because of the army’s heavy handed control.

The Influence of Communist Thought Patterns

After removal of Ne Win from politics, the military generals didn’t have anyone to give them effective policy guidance that could have gone about reshaping the country.

Khin Nyunt, who was more broad-minded than others, formed the American-style Institute of Strategic and International Studies, and selected young military officers for the intelligence units and trained them in international politics.

Using various underground political strategies, Khin Nyunt approached the United States, the European Union and Japan. He drew up the junta’s political road map, the Naypyidaw plan, and the policies propagated in the National Defence College.

Although the generals never believed in communism and socialism, they studied the tactics and methods of these ideologies, which are premised on hostility to politicians and negativism toward multi-party and federal systems.

Clearly, the generals followed the dictum of Mao Tse Tung: “Crack down on the extreme minority, leave the educated to live in illusion, and label the majority of ordinary people as supporters.”

Today the generals are trying to divide Asean and educated Burmese people from the opposition groups. Speaking in Communist terms, they see Asean and the educated class as walking in illusion.

The army believes students and the educated class get into politics because of their misconceptions. At first, they aimed at strictly controlling the student movement itself, but later in 2007, they labelled most students as part of the extreme group.

Because of their highly indoctrinated, military mind-set, military leaders are cut-off and isolated from the people. They truly have no understanding of the people’s plight.

Military officers do not associate with the general population even if they are appointed to civilian positions, because they are trained not to be too close to the people. Military officers who understand the life of the people are dismissed from their positions.

Military leaders who are retired from the army are isolated. Many incumbent military leaders are desperately afraid of being retired, because they know no other way of life—or thought.

The author is a Rangoon-based observer of politics and military affairs in Burma.


Eric Johnston Wrote: 14/03/2009

Non-violence is more important for the weaker.

When the weaker becomes the stronger, there are two possibilities:
(1) the regime steps down non-violently; or
(2) it is thrown down.

Study ways to become stronger.

One way is to take strength from the enemy.
Another is to strike unseen, repeatedly, wherever he is weak.
Make him run in all directions, without success, and exhaust himself.
Uncover and neutralise his spies, or 'turn' them.
Plant spies among his followers, to discover and counter his manoeuvres.

Think of some more !

sandar Wrote: 14/03/2009

Maung Wayban laid down the very good points and summarized the opposition’s ideology as a whole.
In 2006, I had some occasions to talk to some top activists.

When I gave my opinions about their group as well as about NLD, they replied to me with similar points:

Why are you always criticizing the opposition? You should only criticize the junta, it is they who are bad men, not us.
We are sacrificing our life for our people and country, we spent many years in prisons. Our enemy is the junta. We have our differences among us but we must not show them in public.
We must always show our unity publicly.
The media are defending us because we are the good side. The media must always defend us because we are sacrificing our lives for the country.

The media must always point out only the bad things of the junta in order to keep people at our side.
You don’t know how many people have gone insane inside the prisons?
You do not know how many of our friends died in prisons?
You do not know that the junta is destroying the business of our families?
We are at the right side. We are fighting for truth. Nothing is free so we are ready to give our life for our country’s freedom.
We must fight against the junta for our freedom. And you must support us.

The same characteristics the author mentioned in his article as military mindset.
And everybody knows that the pro-opposition media always listed the people as "betrayers of the democracy movement" when these people do not have or lost the characteristics mentioned above.

Where is the difference between the junta and the opposition ideologically, morally? They share exactly the same values in moral, ideology and religious values.

In order to get the positive changes in our country, both sides must change their mindset.

MyoChitThuNYC Wrote: 13/03/2009

The opposition (NLD, 88 gen. students, Monks, others) need to give up their "non-violent" struggle against the SPDC. Tatmadaw is an uncivilized and uneducated bunch of thugs who constantly disregarded the will of the people and the international community. All they know is violence and that's what they will do to Burma. Sporadic bombings are a good start. But bombing Junta police stations, USDA offices, or next to riot police trucks, etc will send chills down the spine of the Generals.

Ye Lin Wrote: 13/03/2009

Very insightful article that illuminates many paradoxes in Tatmadaw thinking and belief. One thing I still do not understand: if so many anti-civilian military practices and rote ideas derive from the Maoist legacy, why should the junta that otherwise flouts "corrupting" foreign influences even pretend to aspire to democracy? Why bother with a concept of legitimacy based on civil governance? Why do they even care to borrow such a Western concept?

Eric Johnston Wrote: 13/03/2009

This document is important. The key to change in Burma is change of Tatmadaw attitudes. This prompts the question: How can the matter be approached? There are at least some dissatisfied Tatmadaw officers. The few that come west tend to speak of human rights abuses, but they may also have more personal motives. But it is with the likes of them that the ball must start rolling. The subject requires wholehearted attention.

Maung Wayban Wrote: 13/03/2009

Astute observations indeed. Exiled dissident Aung Naing Oo notes that the opposition has become a 'mirror image' of the regime. Then the following points apply to the opposition too (I have taken the liberty to modify the last three points):

-We work harder than others for the sake of the country.
-We sacrifice our lives to work for the sake of the country.
-Our comrades are injured or killed by our enemies.
-Our enemies are NOT supported by the population.
-We must follow our righteous democracy movement. No criticism against the movement should be allowed.
-We are freedom fighters serving the country 24 hours a day.

It's sad how both the regime and the opposition have become entrapped in the conflict, unable to move forward. A radical 'conflict transformation' is needed if we are to progress from this conundrum. The initiative can come either from the regime or from the mainstream opposition.

The Irrawaddy News

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