Friday, March 27, 2009

From ‘People’s Army’ to ‘Enemy of the People'

by Tettoe Aung

As Hegel said, “The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.” One thing for sure, is that we Burmese have not learned from the proud history of our military. The founder of our military, Bogyoke Aung San, stated in unambiguous terms that the Burmese army (Tatmadaw) had not been founded for one man or one party, but rather for the whole country. He rejected the view of those military personnel who harbored the opinion that only they were capable of patriotism.

Those that subscribed to the more narrow definition of patriotism branded people who dared to disagree with them as ‘axe handles’. If someone was married to a non-Burmese or a foreigner, like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he or she would be disowned.

The military’s view that they are the only ones capable of patriotism is made explicit every March 27th, when they celebrate the once-called ‘Revolutionary Day’ as their exclusive ‘Armed Forces Day’. With the general public kept away from the ceremonies, it seems to have never occurred to them that there are others who are not soldiers who have suffered and made all kinds of sacrifices for their country.

The irony is that the military, unlike celestial beings, are not born out of thin air. They are the offspring - sons and daughters - of the people whom they have chosen to turn against. Unlike the founding father, Bogyoke Aung San, the military under Ne Win and his successors, Saw Maung and now Than Shwe, has been indoctrinated to believe that they are above the people whom they are supposed to serve. For them, only the soldiers matter.

As an article published in The Irrawaddy about the ‘military mindset’ noted, the underlining rationale in military training is to make a person immediately act or follow orders without thinking. There is no time for them to think whether their actions are right or wrong. Such a mentality was clearly on display in September 2007, as a young, Burmese soldier shot dead a Japanese cameraman at point blank range. And even if foot soldiers rise in rank to serve as officers or generals, still the lack of rational thought prevails.

A study in ‘Killology’ by Colonel David Grossman shows that the training methods a military uses are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role-modeling. He writes: “Brutalization and desensitizing is what happens at the boot camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically and verbally abused. Your head is shaved, you are herded together naked, and dressed alike, losing all vestiges of individuality. This brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms and to accept a new set of values which embrace destruction, violence and death as a way of life. In the end you are desensitized to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill in your brutal new world.”

When it comes to ‘classical conditioning’ Grossman says, “The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers." Let us not forget the fact that the Burmese military was founded with the help of the Imperial Japanese military during the War. I recall how one of my relatives, trained to be an officer under the Japanese, himself became a Director of Training, incorporating similar methods of indoctrination to that of the Japanese. As for myself, I wasn't cut out for that and even my three month training at Phaung-gyi is something that I still feel disgusted about every time I recall the experience.

The Burmese military may have been founded out of necessity as an institution, but reason says that institutions, the military included, are created to provide service for humanity, not to advance the personal interests of those mandated to serve. In the same vein, Zhuge Liang wrote, “When offices are chosen for persons, there is disorder; when persons are chosen for offices, there is order.”

Yet, the Tatmadaw will continue to parade on March 27th of this year just as they always do, marching merely for themselves and not, as it should be, for the people.

Source: Mizzima News
Remarks: Author is a former Burmese diplomat

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