Aung San (1916-1947)

Aung San was born in the Magwe district of Burma. He joined the Thakin group of Burmese nationalist and organized a student strike in 1936. Fearing arrest by the British authorities, he smuggled himself out of Burma on a Norwegian freighter and, after some difficulty, contacted the Japanese in Amoy.  He was flown to Tokyo to meet with Suzuki Keiji, a Japanese Army colonel who identified so closely with the Burmese that he took the Burmese name of Bo Mogyo. Suzuki claimed authority from Prince Kanin, the military counselor to the Emperor, and thus by implication from the Emperor himself. Suzuki also claimed to be descended from a Burmese prince and the fulfillment of a prophecy to drive the British out of Burma. Aung San and Suzuki organized the group known as the Thirty Comrades, taking a Burmese blood oath (thwe thauk) to fight the British together. The Thirty Comrades were all trained in guerrilla tactics by the Japanese.

Aung San returned to Burma with the conquering Japanese in February 1942 as commander of Burma Independence Army, a force of about 300 guerrillas recruited by the Thirty Comrades. This force engaged in little combat but provided useful intelligence for the Japanese. However, the independent attitude of his mentor, Suzuki, led to friction between the BIA and the Japanese Army, including the expulsion of the BIA from Moulmein by the Kempeitai. Suzuki became enough of a nuisance to the Army command in Burma that he was recalled in mid-1942.

Aung San was named as minister of defense in the puppet Burmese government but, like many Asian nationalists, became strongly disenchanted with the Japanese. In August 1944, he told officers of the Burma Defense Army (as the BIA was by then known) that (Allen 1984):

I learn that some of you are fixing up dates, and all to rise up against the Japanese. I congratulate you for anti-Japanese patriotism. But if you do it untimely you will be smasehd up. I take the responsibility of leading this movement. When time comes, I will inform you.

Aung San then secretly organized the Anti-Fascist Organization while remaining part of the puppet government. He contacted the British in December 1944, then surprised the Japanese by transferring the National Burma Army to the Allied side as the Patriotic Burma Force. One of his followers explained to Slim: "If the British sucked our blood, the Japanese ground our bones!" (Gilbert 1989)

Slim, who met Aung San at 14 Army headquarters on 16 May 1945, considered him realistic, courageous and honest, and was able to establish sufficient rapport to work out an agreement with the Burmese nationalists that defused a potentially explosive political situation.  Unsurprisingly, this was not readily accepted by the Burmese government-in-exile, which wished to prosecute Aung San for the 1942 murder of a village headman.

Aung San helped negotiate Burmese independence in 1946 and his party won the first general elections, but he was assassinated on orders of rival U Saw on 19 July 1947.


Allen (1984)

Dupuy (1992)

Gilbert (1989)

Lewin (1976)

Parrish (1978)

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