#3, 2015: Military Memoirs

Memoirs of the Military Elite: Construction of History and Shared-Perception

April 2015
Organizer: Min Zin, University of California, Berkeley

In 1980s, the late Aung Gyi — a top military general who played a crucial role in building the Tatmadawin independent Burma — brought then-dictator Ne Win’s attention to an important element of modern Burmese politics. Aung Gyi noted that Burmese communists and their sympathizers, such as Thein Pe Myint and Thakin Tin Mya, had strongly influenced modern political discourse with their memoirs. This contrasted with state-sanctioned biographies such as “The Last Day of Thakin Than Tun,” which had little appeal for young political recruits. Aung Gyi made a plea to Ne Win to allow him and other Tatmadaw officers to write recollections of their lives. The dictator granted permission. Aung Gyi’s writings appeared in the magazine Pai Phoo Hlwar. These articles captured public imagination in late 1980s, and helped to create political conversations among political activists and veterans in the run up to the 1988 popular uprising.

The post-1988 military coup period disrupted the military officers’ personal reflection writings, and the government’s propaganda machine incessantly controlled the media. In the 1990s, Takatho Ne Win (not to be confused with dictator Ne Win), who was a personal assistant to the Independent hero Gen. Aung San, inspired many readers with his personal recollections of Aung San’s stories. In the 2000s, the retired General Chit Swe — a leader of the junta — wrote a series of autobiographies. Other generals followed suit. In the past two decades at least two dozen figures ranging from General Tun Kyi to General Khin Nyunt to the late General Soe Win have published memoirs, either in form of autobiographies or interviews. To date, however, no scholarly initiative has analyzed contents of these memoirs.

This research project seeks to fill this gap. It attempts to understand various aspects of the military leadership: preferences, values, backgrounds, competitive and conflictual interactions, and how the military leadership has influenced Burma’s modern history (specifically, political and economic outcomes). This “Memoir” project invites writers and scholars of Burma to contribute papers to a workshop, which is planned for April 2015. The three following research questions will guide the workshop: (1) Do these memoirs contain uniform and generalizable themes? (2) If so, how have the particular preferences and perceptions of military elites (i.e., authors of memoirs) been formed? (3) Do these memoirs help us understand the values and policy preferences of current and, presuming no fundamental security sector reform will be undertaken, future military leaders?

Please send paper abstracts by March 15, 2015 to James Scott at james.scott@yale.edu and Min Zin at min_zin@berkeley.edu to be considered for the workshop. The papers presented at the workshop will be peer-reviewed and eventually selected to be published in the Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship. The project will cover the local travel and lodging expenses for the authors. The Burmese authors whose papers are selected to be published in the first issue of the Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship will receive an honorarium as a token of appreciation for their time and energy. 

Registration and Expenses

Local travel and lodging expenses will be covered for authors.

Peer-Review and Publication

Papers presented at the workshop will be peer-reviewed and eventually selected to be published in the Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship