Until the beginning of 1942, Burma remained under British Rule for so many decades. When Britain and France declared war against Germany in 1939, Burma also was declared to be a belligerent country by the Governor without consulting the Burma Legislature at all. Mr. Chamberlain declared then to the world that Britain was fighting for democracy and freedom or words to that effect. You will remember perhaps then that the Indian National Congress asked for the clarification of the British war aims-whether those aims applied to India at all. Burma also did similarly. At that time I was in what is popularly known as the Thakin Party or Dohbama Asi-ayone as it was officially styled and I was its General Secretary. After taking stock of the situation in our country and the world, we finally decided to form a Freedom Bloc of all parties desiring to strive for the emancipation of our country and for democratic freedom. I had also to act as Secretary of this Freedom Bloc for some time. This Freedom Bloc also declared its aim to be democratic freedom for which Britain was said to be fighting. We declared to the British Government- I am speaking from memory of course- that it would be consistent and proper for us to join the war for democratic freedom, only if we would likewise be assured that democratic freedom in theory as well as in practice. So we asked that beginning with the declaration of war, principles of democratic freedom should be applied in our case too. We demanded, I remember, Constituent Assembly for the framing of our constitution and certain transitional measures which I cannot properly recall to memory. The Burma Legislature as well as the legislature in India passed resolutions to this effect. But our voice went unheeded. To us then the war in Europe was plainly a war between two sets of imperialists and could have no appeal of any kind. We therefore finally resorted to an anti-imperialist, anti-war campaign. Even before this the Defence of Burma Ordinance had come out, meant to choke out even the meagre democratic liberties extant in Burma. Some of you who came out to the East only in this war for the first time may not know fully how our country was ruled by Britain before the war; so I should like to dwell upon this point at some length.
Burma was conquered by British imperialism in three Anglo-Burmese wars - the first in 1823, the second in 1852, and the third and last in 1885. I shall not here go into the question of whether British imperialism was justified in subjugating our country. Suffice it to say in the words of President Abraham Lincoln that no nation has the right to rule another nation. Anyway, Burma has since lost her sovereignty and independence.
Before the advent of British imperialism the system that prevailed in Burma was feudalism tinged with some patriarchal remains. The king who was the liege lord was the absolute monarch possessing land, water and even lives of his subjects. As was usual with feudal society, its economy was land economy. Population then was smaller than it is now, for one thing because it was a case with agricultural economy and for another thing because there were frequent civil wars among the various factions of feudal society or with neighbouring countries. At the same time there were vast patches of virgin land available for any family without land. The land system in those days, if my memory serves me alright, was of three kinds: Damaugya (i.e., freehold land, literally it means in whichever land your sword blade falls first, the tenure belongs to you); Bo-ba-baing (land inherited from one's sires), and Ayadaw (Stateland). So it was possible for every farming household to have land of its own, though some farmers might also be feudal serfs at the same time. The feudal aristocracy in those days was very fluid in its composition having no defined hereditary line of succession and accessible to all ranks of people, either learned or being direct followers of the King. And in those days, education was universal as it was imparted freely by Buddhist monks who were and still are to be found residing in monasteries in every village and every town in Burma. And anyone who became a bright scholar in those days might aspire to be a big member of the feudal aristocracy. The economic divisions of the feudal society were not therefore so sharply differentiated as in other countries. The humanising influence of Buddhism over all sections of the people; the fact of everyone possessing land of his own; the universality of free education for all, men and women; the co-operative basis of agricultural economy and village life in those days (for in those days in all matters, whether of cultivation or irrigation and what not, it required the co-operative effort of all in the community); the necessity for women to share the out-door economic life of their husbands and family jointly; the absence of large-scale trading - internal or external (agriculture then was purely for domestic consumption, each agricultural family being almost self-sufficient in the matter of foods and clothes with some cottage industries to add, and getting a few other things it needed by exchanging surplus produce of its own etc.,) which in turn accounted for the absence of a large trading class in feudal Burma; and also for lack of proper communications from place to place which again made centralised authority and control not so easy and not so tight; these and other factors combined to make, I think, Burmese feudalism to be perhaps the most enlightened of world feudalism. No doubt there were several harsh features of it - such as the absolute power of almost all feudal lords over the people in their respective jurisdiction (a feudal lord could kill a man with impunity), the scant value placed upon a man's life (a murderer could escape from the jaws of law if he could compensate to the aggrieved party with three hundred viss of silver, I think), the heavy penalty prescribed for any kind of offence (you could be punished with death for a very petty offence), the system of punishing the relatives and family of anyone who committed offence against the law of the established customs or who had incurred the displeasure of the high and mighty, the existence of debt salves and pagoda slaves, though small in number, who were treated as outcasts in every sphere of life and so on. These formed the harsh aspects of Burmese feudalism. However its redeeming features were the absence of deep-seated economic exploitation of one class over another, the establishment of universal literacy, the great amount of freedom of the Burmese womanhood unique in the East full of the harems, the purdahs, the small feet women and so on, and possibly of the West too in those days, the co-operative and self-sufficient character of feudal economy.
Now, when British came, much of this idyllic feudal economy was destroyed, but without being replaced by a better economic and social order logically. Thus, though many towns were created along the river banks and mining districts and at junctions of highways and communication lines etc., as trading, industrial and administrative centres and thus modern merchant and industrial economy appeared in towns, British imperialism deliberately retained feudal property relations in the country-side and the Shan states, in fact, on a much more aggravated system of exploitation. In order to help its exploitation thoroughly, it destroyed the universal system of education but made no attempt to educate the peasants along modern lines instead and thus keep them still in feudal agementally. Now, there is no longer universal literacy. According to 1931 census, literacy in Burma was said to be only 56 per cent for man, and 16.5 per cent for women. This was to be understood with qualification, for many relapsed into illiteracy almost because of lack of opportunities and facilities for reading and writing. Now, in fact, literacy must have been very much less then these quoted figures which represented the state of conditions only in 1931. British imperialism instead of abolishing the feudal system of administration such as Saw-bwas in Shan states and hereditary Thugyis in the country-side, it retained these effete systems of oppression, of course on a much more civilised scale to help collect taxes for imperialist bureaucracy and to act as its agents so as to strengthen the imperialist administration. But now more officials were brought to the villages and they acted pretty like tiny despots descending on the meagre incomes of the peasants by asking for free supply of peasants' poultry and eggs for their feasts and family use, and not unoften they might molest village girls and defile their virginity. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, British merchant capital and bank capital combined to commercialise and industrialise agriculture so as to enable them to trade in rice export with the world at large. Thus domestic agriculture or subsistence farming disappeared away and in its wake came the scrambles for land, cultivation for commercial profit and capitalist farming appeared for the first time in Burma, especially in Lower Burma. The introduction of capitalist farming destroyed the co-operative system of agriculture and fostered instead the idea of competition. At the same time, it brought in the banks, the merchants, the brokers, the usurers (the Chettiars) etc., who concert with imperialist bureaucracy conspired to break the backs of the peasantry in a systematic manner. Thus the peasant's economy was tied to the apron-strings of British finance and merchant capital. Henceforward it was exposed and liable to all fluctuations of world capitalist development. At the same time, village industry was destroyed before the competition of manufactured goods of British industrial capital and also forcibly. Thus, the life of the peasant and his economy were constantly exposed to the machinations and oppressions of all forces, economic, social and natural - the big banks, the big merchants, the usurers, the middlemen, the local officials, the elements etc. At the same time, the peasant's standard of living rose up higher because of the penetration of modern capitalist economy into his domain and the greater incidence of taxation apart from the retention of old feudal system of taxation such as capitation and Thathameda Tax added to the peasant's burden. Moreover, additional weights were placed on his back, such as rack-rent, recurring debt due to exorbitant rates of interest etc. Consequently lands passed away from his hands into the hands of usurers, brokers, traders, officials living in towns and thus a class of absentee landlords appeared and with it a class of landless proletariat was at the same time created. Part of the landless proletariat together with the village artisans pauperised by the ruthless process for capitalist commerce introduced with the British imperialist rule migrated to towns and Lower Burma and became industrial and agricultural proletariat whose number was ever growing and had to labour under several conditions of difficulties in the mills, factories and mines and other capitalist concerns. The absentee landlords have absolutely no interest in the improvement of their lands. Their interest was only to get rent at the expense of their agricultural tenants and labourers. Occasionally they might visit their lands, but such visits were more in the nature of hunting and holiday excursions than business tours, and they were more interested in village girls and good feasts and hunting than proper business. Thus we see the deepening economic exploitation of the peasantry in modern times. Of course the powers of local officials were legally limited and therefore could not take away a man's life capriciously. But even then our local officials, landlords and middle-men with the assistance of the law courts and the police could conspire to take away the life of any man they do not desire legally or illegally as the case might be. Where in olden times absolute power ruled ruthlessly, now economic power ruled with an equal ruthlessness. Imperialist bureaucracy, instead of protecting the peasants against the dangers of elements such as floods, famine, drought, cyclones, against unfair manipulation of prices of agricultural produce by merchant and bank capital, against rack-renting, usury, extortion and tyranny of local officials acted as the appendage of the serried ranks of banks, business and money bags. The police, the courts of justice, the civil and criminal laws of the land as well the revenue organisation combined to break the backs of the peasants systematically and of course "legally." That accounted for the frequent occurrence of dacoities, rebellions and riots in this country.
The reactions of the people in Burma against the impact of British imperialism were at first in the form of blind instinctive spontaneous uprisings against foreign rule unrelated to the world developments abroad. They were mostly peasants' revolts. Thus there had been several rebellions in this country against British imperialism since the time of the first Anglo-Burmese War. After the first Anglo-Burmese War, Arakan and Tenasserim had to be ceded to the British. At that time the natives in Arakan and Tenasserim tried to protest against the British rule. In Tenasserim, for instance, a rebellion broke out. After the second Anglo-Burmese War also, about 6000 natives in the Delta fought on against the British for two years more or so. And after the third Anglo-Burmese War too, people in several parts of the country under various local leaders resisted the British for five years or so. Since then at frequent intervals there were rebellions, the most well known being the Tharrawaddy rebellion of 1930-32. But there was also a more conscious nationalist movement which developed out of the post-war conditions of the First World War, the leadership being taken up by the native bourgeois and petti-bourgeois classes. The proletariat also came into existence as a class at that time. We then witnessed the first countrywide students' strike, the railway workers' strike, the oil field strike and so on. Some sort of a Trade Union Movement grew up, though not so strong and though not countrywide and solely under reformist petti-bourgeois leadership.
The system of British rule in Burma proceeded along three stages roughly: first it was a naked rule of Bureaucracy, later what's called dyarchy was introduced, and lastly since 1937, a glorified form of dyarchy was adopted; in all cases bureaucracy remained in control though more liberal and greatly more camouflaged behind a thin democratic facade. British Imperialism however played a certain progressive role in the development of the country at the start. In order to facilitate its commerce and control, it opened up a network of railways, highways etc. This enabled the people in Burma in some measure to move about in the country much more freely and frequently and had the advantage of knowing one another and fostering a common bond of national solidarity. And in order to help its administration and commerce, British imperialism needed an intermediate class of natives who were to act as minor officials, clerks and middlemen etc. This class was drawn from the remnants of the old feudal aristocracy, rising tradesmen and middle class of the towns, and so on. This class was given some modern education and thus was supplied by British imperialism itself with its own elements of political and general education. Thus a measure of modern education was introduced in Burma and to that extent the people in Burma, especially the middle class, were able to benefit by it. Part of this middle class became rich and joined the British imperialist side as officials, rice-millers, brokers, merchants, money lenders, absentee landlords etc. But as time went on, British imperialism could not take in many of the rising native middle class either in its administrative fold or under its patronage. Moreover when the World War I came, British had to promise "progressive realisation of responsible self-government as an integral part of the British Empire" to her colonies as a reward for their participation in the war. And after the war, that promise remained to be redeemed and also the enormous economic and social effect of the war were telling upon the people, especially the middle class. But the middle class was then faced with the formidable opposition of British imperialist bureaucracy which was supported by a part of the upper rung of the middle class. So they had to take to the masses though somewhat nervously and thus the first organised national movement on a mass scale came to exist in Burma. At that time politics seemed to be a subject of taboo, it was highly frowned upon by imperialists as well as conservative upper middle class. I suppose there were hardly any democratic liberties in those days. People had to move very very cautiously either in their speeches or writing or action. In those days anyone who dared to walk side by side with a Britisher or look at him boldly or sit on the same floor with him or go in to his presence with his footgear on was supposed to be a very brave man. When Rev. Ottama who was the Buddhist priest - leader of those days thundered - "Craddock, go back!" to Sir Reginald Craddock who was the Lt. Governor of Burma at the time, all people thrilled to the marrow of their bones to hear such a bold talk from their brave leader.
Thus nationalist movement grew in Burma and even though it might undergo several vicissitudes, its flame has ever since been kept alive in one form or another. British imperialism in response to the pressure of the nationalist movement doled out more and more constitutional reforms and civil liberties but they remained on the surface and did not go deep. The moment it felt that the people had exceeded their bounds, out British imperialism came in its naked true colours. Repressive and callous measures were taken. Thus we had passed under the regime of ordinances even before the war. Thus we had been imprisoned without trial. I myself had that experience. Thus a students' demonstration was charged with the batons by the police and this incident gave rise to quite a large spontaneous movement of students, workers, peasants on strike in protest in 1938-39 (before that, in 1936 too there had been a countrywide students' strike and oil field strikes later). In that movement another demonstration in Mandalay was fired upon by the military forces of British imperialism. And so on.
That was how British imperialism ruled us before the war. When the war came, and, as I have said, when we were led to launch an anti-imperialist, anti-war campaign because British imperialism failed to apply principles of democratic freedom in our country though they professed such principles to the world outside for which they said they were fighting the war, we were at once visited with all sorts of imperialist repression. Several of our members were clapped in jail, some after trial and others without trail. In fact all important leaders of the party to which I belonged and who with me together formed sort of the only left forces in Burma genuinely anti-fascist (we were responsible for whatever anti-fascist Left propaganda we could disseminate in our country before the war; we tried to arouse the interests of the people in Burma in the struggle of democracy against fascism such as in China and Spain but at that time British imperialism was on the side of Fascism covertly or overtly as you know quite well), all these important leaders were arrested. I was also to be arrested. But as you all know perhaps, I went underground. Then almost accidentally we were informed by Dr. Ba Maw and Dr. Thein Maung who were in the Freedom Bloc at that time that we could, if we desired, get Japanese help. The question of whether we should accept Jap help was discussed. It was then felt by many that at least international propaganda was necessary for our cause and if any international help might be further secured, it might be better. And we all agreed that to attempt to get such things was impossible inside Burma. Some of us must go either to China or Siam or Japan for that matter. We chose China first because we had some contacts there. But then the China - Burma Road had to be closed for three months after the fall of France in 1940 according to the demand of the Japanese Government. Personally though I felt that international propaganda and assistance of our cause was necessary, the main work, I thought, must be done in Burma which must be the mobilisation of the masses for the national struggle. I had a rough plan of my own - a country-wide mass resistance movement against British imperialism on a progressive scale, so to speak, co-extensive with international and national developments in the form of series of local and partial strikes of industrial and rural workers leading to general and rent strike finally, also all forms of militant propaganda such as mass demonstrations and people's marches leading finally to mass civil disobedience, also economic campaign against British imperialism in the form of boycott of British goods leading to the mass non-payment of taxes, to be supported by developing guerilla action against military and civil and police outposts, lines of communication etc., leading finally to the complete paralysis of the British administration in Burma when we should be able along with developing world situation to make the final and ultimate bid for the capture of power. And I counted then upon the coming over the troops belonging to the British Government to our side - particularly the non-British sections. In this plan I also visualised the possibility of Jap invasion of Burma - but here I had no clear vision, (all of us at the time had no clear view in this respect though some might now try to show themselves, after all the events, to have been wiser than others: in fact you might remember it was a time when I might say the Left forces outside China and the U.S.S.R. were in confusion almost everywhere). As I have said, I couldn't think out clearly. I just said in my plan - we would try to forestall Jap invasion, set up our own independent State and would try to negotiate with Japan before it came into Burma; only when we could not stop Japan's coming into Burma, then we should be prepared to resist Japan.
This was a very grand plan of my own - but it had no appeal to many of my comrades because our petti-bourgeois origin made several of us hesitant before any decisive action even though we might think and talk bravely, also it made us impatient with the seemingly prolonged and difficult work of arousing the masses; and most of us even though we might talk about mass action and mass struggle were not so convinced of its efficacy. We had no faith in the creative power of the masses though of course we were not conscious of this at the time. Thus I was questioned how it would be possible to wage guerilla action when we had absolutely no arms in our hands. My reply was - if even dacoits could somehow manage to get arms (in Burma sometimes a big dacoit gang might be nearly like a guerilla force of a hundred or so or may be even more) why should not and could not we? This however was unconvincing to my comrades. So we decided that someone of us must go outside for this purpose. And as I was the only one leading an underground existence, I was chosen for this task. At that moment the Jap offer through Dr. Ba Maw and company came. After some hesitation we accepted it - but we were disappointed. For the Japs somehow or other postponed the matter - later we came to hear from another source that Japs were rather nervous to accept our offer of "alliance" if I can call such thing ""alliance", as they thought we were Bolsheviks! But then we didn't wait for the Japs to come round. I was sent out to China and given a blank cheque by my comrades to do what I thought best for our country. As the Burma-China road was closed, I had to go to China by sea and that, even though insignificant in itself, caused our later association with the Japs. I couldn't reach the interior of China by sea. I was told I could reach only Amoy and then would have to rely upon my own resourcefulness to get into the interior of China, Well, I tried to do that. While doing so at Amoy (actually I was putting up in the International Settlement known as Kulangsu Island), my friends in Burma got into contact again with the Japs. So I and my assistant finally found ourselves in Tokyo.
In Tokyo I had to make the best of a bad job. Before I went out from Burma I had read some books about Japan. I was a bit apprehensive though I consoled myself with the thought that most of the anti-Jap stuffs in some books were more propaganda then actual facts. Anyway, my first impression was not so bad even though misgivings still didn't leave me. The Japs I contacted were very nice and courteous and easy quite like our race. Everything about them was spick and span. They were very industrious and patriotic. There was nothing objectionable in these things. When we arrived in Tokyo (I think, it was 12th November 1940), Japan was having a grand celebration of the 2600th anniversary of the Jap Empire. The next day after our arrival, we were taken before the Imperial Palace and bowed in its direction just as several Jap men, women and children did. Well, we did not also think much about this. This just showed the respect in which the Emperor and though I did not believe like the Japs in the divinity of the Emperor and though I do not like monarchy, whatever its form may be. When I bowed to the Imperial Palace, I did so only out of courtesy and with no intention of becoming his subject.
Now business began and also incidentally I came to know more of the Japanese, especially Jap militarism. Before I talk to you how Japs did their business with us, I would tell you my first discoveries about Japanese civilisation. After two or three days' stay in Tokyo, we were taken to a country hotel. By the way I forgot to tell you that my "host" was Colonel Suzuki though at the time he was a civilian incognito and he introduced himself to me as Mr. Minami, Chief Secretary, Japan-Burma Society when we were received by him at Tokyo aerodrome. Col. Suzuki asked us at that country hotel if we would like to take any woman. (I was up to that time a hundred percent bachelor). We were abashed to hear it and we replied "No." Col. Suzuki said in his own words as far as I can remember, "There is no shame. It is like taking a bass(bath); there is a women's quarter here." We thanked him but declined to enjoy ourselves in that manner. "So", I thought to myself, "have they the intention to demoralise us first?" When we were back at Tokyo again also, we were taken to such quarters but as we told Col. Suzuki and company that we felt rather tired after the journey and wanted to go back to our hotel and sleepy there only, we were sent back to our hotel. And since that second refusal, until I came back to Burma secretly, we were no more taken to any women's quarters. But to go back to the country hotel. As Col. Suzuki for the first time talked to us about the women's quarter, we somehow came to know personally something we had read in books about Japanese women. I discovered immediately another confirmation. A young waitress of about sixteen who was a palpably simple unsophisticated girl before whom any decent man would hesitate to talk about such matters came to serve us tea just at the moment Col. Suzuki was talking. Col. Suzuki instead of stopping the talk even asked the girl where the women's quarter was. It gave us a mild shock; this was a thing to which we had not been accustomed before. Perhaps we were too prudish! In the next few days we shifted to another country hotel in another village, and there we saw more of the treatment towards womenfolk in Japan. Well, to cut my story short, before I talk about our business with the Japs, I shall give you only two more instances of Jap mentality. Once while eating something at a restaurant, a Korean was also present. We did not know he was a Korean - but Col. Suzuki raised one of his hands and showed his fingers to us and asked us if we understood the meaning. We replied "No." Then he said, "This was to show our contempt for the Koreans. Whenever we saw a Korean, we showed like this. My father, whenever he found a Korean, drove him away." We at once came to understand why Koreans wanted independence and how Japs treated them! Another instance Col. Suzuki was talking, playing upon our anti-British sentiments several times. In one of his talks he told me of his younger days in the period of the first World War when he was serving at Vladivostock how he killed Russian civilians living in a cottage, including all men, women and children. "Similarly," he turned to me, "you must kill all British, including, women and children." Though I was very anti-British at that time, I must confess I was not prepared for so much barbarity. To the credit of Col. Suzuki, I must say that he noticed and later acknowledged our delicacy in this respect.
Well now our business began. Col. Suzuki first spoke to me sometimes flatteringly, sometimes threateningly and tried to probe my character for some days. And all along the Japs wanted to know why it was that I came out to China and whether I was a Communist or what attitude we had towards the "China Incident." I tried to answer as much as I could, without revealing much and yet without falsehood. I told everyone who asked me that I came out to China because we wanted international help; to the question whether I was a Communist, my answer was that I did not believe in imposition of any foreign system upon a country and that I thought we must study all systems in the world and must adapt the best of them to our own conditions and that whatever objection we might have towards Communism, its planned economy was admirable and was imitated even by other countries including Japan and so on. To the question of our attitude towards the "China Incident" I pointed out that we were more concerned with our national struggle and whoever opposed our enemy was our friend. Except in the case of this last answer, I did not think that the Japs were any near satisfaction with my replies; from the first to the last they had clearly misgivings about me, I on my part told the Japs whenever I had chance a to, that I did not want to hide my patriotism and that I associated with them because I wanted to do something good for my country with their help and that I wanted to be a true ally, if it was possible for me to be. To the credit of the Japs, I must say here quite a lot of them respected my patriotism. According to Dr. Ba Maw, Lt. General Iida the first Japanese Commander-in-Chief in Burma told him that the whole Jap army in Burma respected me for three things. (1) I have no love of money; (2) I have no love of power; (3) I have no love of personal life. Another Japanese was reported to have said to some of my colleagues: "Aung San is straight. If Japs are straight like him, he is alright. But if Japs no straight, he is most dangerous. And unfortunate thing is the Jap policy is not so straight." That was that. Anyway, to go back to my story, Col. Suzuki first told me a plan and he asked me to write it in English. I innocently wrote it down thinking that I would have to discuss it later. But that plan was never discussed. That plan mentioned something about limited invasion of Burma in the Shan States. But I somehow tried to say something about it to his assistant that it was purely a military plan. Judging from later events, I think Col. Suzuki took that plan to Tokyo General Staff and perhaps showed it as my plan. This plan however was revised without the invasion part and given finally to me in a more complete form to be communicated with my comrades in Burma. I brought it back to Burma secretly, met my comrades and explained it to them. At that time my comrades were very eager to know when Japan would invade Burma. I was a bit taken a back because I didn't very much like the idea of the Japanese invasion of Burma. What my comrades thought was that if Burma was invaded by the Japs, the British would be inter-locked with the Japs on the border when we would get a chance to rise up successfully for our independence. Though I was not exactly convinced of this way of thinking, at that time I felt perhaps my comrades were right. It is now easy of course after all these happenings to ridicule this way of thinking. But at that time not only we but even the British and perhaps several people in the world under-estimated the Japs and over-estimated the British position at that time. And, as I have told you, our petti-bourgeois origin subconsciously influenced our thinking to good extent; we wanted to be so sure of our chances; we did not want to take too many risks upon ourselves. And that was how we invited Japanese invasion of Burma, not by any pro-fascist leanings but by our naive blunders and petti-bourgeois timidity.
Anyway, to continue my story, the Japanese from the first broke almost all promises that they gave us. It will be too long for me to enter into these things in this talk. Suffice it to say that their faithlessness and hypocrisy as well as our growing practical knowledge of their reactionary outlook and behaviour and their high-handedness turned us all anti-Jap if any of us had not been anti-Jap before, even while we were in Japan receiving military training. We were twenty-seven in number, if we excepted the two who did not properly associate themselves with our sentiments and who did not join our B.I.A. when finally it was formed. In fact on one occasion during my absence in Tokyo, the twenty-six others, at the instigation of one of the above two for his own personal reasons, were about to rise up against the Japs there and then (they were then in Southern Formosa) with whatever weapons they could get hold of. Luckily I arrived from Tokyo in Formosa in time to prevent it.
Well to cut the long story short, I had, before that, just when I was in Siam, already written to my comrades in Burma not to rely upon outside help, thereby giving a broad hint of the unreliability of the Japs. Further when we organised the first nucleus of the B.I.A. in Siam, and also before that occasion, I sent two batches of our military comrades to prepare against the Japs too. My plan then was, since the Jap invasion was an inevitable reality, forestall it if we could to encounter it with the accomplished fact of an independent Burma, so that it would not be necessary for us to get our independence blessed by the Japs. Failing this, my next plan was to have a mass movement with its underground part prepared which could prevent the Japs from consolidating its position in Burma and force the Jap Fascists to restrain their hands to a good extent and thus, in that way, to alleviate the sufferings of our people. I saw here the role of the B.I.A., and thus I consoled myself and also all my other comrades who shared my doubts and misgivings that after all even if Japs turned false and bad there was an army to give something back against the Japs. But again I was disappointed; my comrades inside Burma could not prepare much against the Japs. Events moved too swiftly, all important leaders were still in Jail and many were still vacillating, true to their petti-bourgeois character.
Now we occupied Rangoon. All along we had been very unhappy about the Japs' behaviour towards our people. We protested as much as we could to some Jap authorities but in vain. Clashes between our soldiers and Jap soldiers mounted. Up to Rangoon I was not given command of our troops. I was just Col. Suzuki's Senior Staff Officer. Then we hatched amongst ourselves various plans for anti-Jap uprising but everything was in confusion, all our comrades were not gathered together and we had almost no preparations of any kind at all. And suddenly I was called by Col. Suzuki and given command of the troops and ordered to proceed to Upper Burma taking the west side of the Irrawaddy. So I marched up to Upper Burma with the troops. Then I heard some information about difference of views amongst the Thakins inside prison regarding what should be our attitude toward the Japs. In some cases even honest comrades of ours did not know what attitude they should have at all, since their valued comrades were apparently on the Japanese side. But if only our real conditions and attitude could be known to all, I don't think this confusion would have taken place then. As it was, however, confusion reigned in the ranks of the Left forces in Burma. Then we reached Shwebo and there I heard for the first time that three members of the Left forces (Thakin Soe, Thakin Mya Thwin and Ko Thein Pe, now in Calcutta) went along with the Chinese troops. This was a heartening news to us - but later we heard about the failure of this arrangement to our disappointment. Our troops were then ordered to proceed right up to Bhamo. But by that time the operations were all over, so I just ordered the troops to go up leaving Col. Zeya who is my chief of Staff now to command them. Incidentally I must tell you here that during my absence as our troops went up to Bhamo, Col Zeya and my headquarters Staff had clashes with some Jap unit. Col. Zeya and some others were arrested and beaten for some time as one Jap Officer received a sword cut. Luckily due to the intervention of one Jap liaison officer with us, Col. Zeya and others were released; otherwise our troops would have then and there fought against the Japs. Before I came down we even considered the possibility of entering China to join the Chinese side when we reached Bhamo. We were so disgusted with the Japs. I came back to Mandalay in order to know the rear conditions which were in charge of my then Chief of Staff, now my deputy Col. Hla Pe (Let Yar). I came down with Col. Ne Win who is now in charge of the field troops on the Sittang front. When I went up near Yinmabin in Monywa district I met Thakin Than Tun, General Secretary of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League now, on the way and gave him a hint about conditions in Burma though I couldn't tell him all as I was in a hurry and there were strangers about. I had then left Col. Let Yar at Pakokku to go up to Mandalay and contact all Left comrades of ours so that we could take stock of the situation in the country together and decide what we should do. But when I came back Wuntho and Kawlin in Katha district with Col. Ne Win, things were in confusion and Japanese Military Police terror reigned supreme. It was then that for the first and last time during the Jap time we met Ko Thein Pe in Shwebo, and we three came together with another friend to Mandalay. But at Amarapura near Mandalay, our friend Ko Thein Pe was forced to go underground as Japanese Military Police were furiously on his trail. Another comrade of ours with the same name was arrested instead by JMP. He was tortured for several days and finally was released because of our pressure. Before him two other members of our movement succumbed to the Jap torture.
Well, to cut the long story short still further, a Burma Civil Administration was formed under the Japanese Military Administration. B.I.A. was reorganised into B.D.A. and I was made its commander with the rank of Colonel. Then a case happened. A certain judge of the British days who happened to be on the Peace Preservation Committee in Kyaukse was arrested by JMP because some telephone wire cords were, I think, found on his premises according to the information of somebody bearing ill-will towards that judge, which must apparently be given to JMP. That man was arrested and according to that man's forced confession (because we knew even before we learnt it from that man himself that he was not at all the man who would do such things that were charged against him) the JMP through one Lt. Col. Fukui who was then in charge of what's called "War Preparation Bureau" (a sort of defence bureau) which was to arrange for the maintenance of our troops informed me that Col. Let Yar and his adjutant Captain (then Lt.) Ba Tin conspired with the afore-said Judge to raise an anti-Jap movement. This was a fantastic fabrication; even though it was true that we harboured anti-Jap sentiments and were intending to rise up against them, this particular case was absolutely false and fabricated. Then I in my innocence told Col. Fukui that this was not true and that if they did not believe it they could question Col. Let Yar and his assistant. But the Japs thought wiser. Col. Let Yar was left behind. Only Ba Tin was taken away, as I understood it, for interrogation. But days passed, he did not come back. I inquired repeatedly about him from Col. Fukui, then I lodged a protest with the Jap Headquarters and some of my comrades too went and pressed the then JMP commander, and finally after about two months or so Ba Tin was released. He was tortured for some days and when he came out he was still nervous. But he remained alive, as later he was not tortured perhaps because he belonged to B.D.A. and because of our repeated inquiries about him.
Then in March 1943 I was informed suddenly that I was invited to Tokyo along with Dr. Ba Maw and two others (Gen. Tojo by then had declared that a Burma State would be created soon or words to that effect) and that I was promoted to the rank of Major-General. I was also told that I would have an audience with the Jap Emperor and would be decorated as well. So I went to Tokyo, along with three other chief guests, accompanied by our suite. There as told, we had an audience with the Jap Emperor, were decorated with appropriate decorations, met Gen. Tojo and his Cabinet Ministers, Army and Navy officials, were treated to banquets everywhere and came back to Burma carrying a document given by Gen. Tojo which said that Burma would be granted independence on August 1, 1943 and that we were to conclude certain treaties and so forth. During that trip we were escorted by one Major-General Isomura who was Deputy Chief of Staff of the Jap Army in Burma. He made his presence felt all the time to us and it was as if we were all his children, and we were subjected to numerous petty restrictions on the way. On our way back we had to stop at Manila for one day. We put up at the Manila Hotel and were asked not to go out as the Fillipinos were not reliable and so forth. Then next morning we flew to Saigon. But when we arrived there, Dr. Ba Maw remembered that he had left General Tojo's document in the Manila Hotel. At once the fact was intimated to Isomura who then talked as if he would have to commit suicide. When a suggestion was made to him to wire to Jap Army Hqrs in Manila, he said that it would not be enough, he and Dr. Ba Maw would have to go back; but actually Thakin Mya who was Dr. Ba Maw's Deputy then and Col. Uyeda had to go back to Manila to search for it. But that same evening a wireless message came from Manila stating that the document had been found in the hotel. Still Thakin Mya and Uyeda had to go to fetch it. Later we were informed that we were not to breathe a word of this when we arrived back in Burma, because Isomura had reported (I don't know where) that we had to stop at Saigon for a day more owing to the engine trouble of the plane. To us all such fuss and fib was incomprehensible. Anyway independence duly came on August 1, 1943. But we have no illusions about it. I suppose all who had been members of the Independence Preparatory Commission had no illusions about it, even though they might not dare to speak out, because there they had been told how the Independence to be like. After my return from Tokyo at a welcome party, I spoke hinting very very broadly that the coming independence was only nominal. And so I told my comrades and we thought of the advisability of rising up against the Japs so as to expose this whole game of bluff and at the same time to show to the world our genuine anti-fascist colour beyond all doubt. So we met again in Thakin Than Tun's residence, and decided that after due preparations we should rise up. We thought then that our preparations would be finished by the end of 1943 but actually they proved to be much longer as events have now shown. At that time anti-Jap underground activities were isolated and uncoordinated. We had no definite plan and programme. We had no contact as yet with some of our comrades in China and India. We had to tackle the problems of supplies, transport and communications which had to be prepared ahead; we had yet to mobilise the people whom we knew would lend ready assistance to us; we had yet to mobilise them around a definite anti-Jap platform. We had to foresee every possible retaliatory measure with which the Japs might visit innocent people of our country and to perfect our counter-measures and so on. We had to prepare a lot of things. Then our friend Ko Thein Pe from India sent his man back to Burma. He asked if some of us could come over to India. But that was impossible. We had not yet made much highway with the anti-Jap movement. And if any important leader amongst us was missing the Japs would, we thought, round up all of us or subject all of us to such close watch by JMPs who, of course, were though watching us at the time were not very strict so that we would not be able practically to do anything against the Japs. We however sent along one of our comrades Nyo Tun who later organised the anti-Jap struggle in Arakan successfully. Then in the beginning of August, I think 4th-7th August in Pegu, after months of exchange of views, Communist representatives and I met together, discussed and approved my proposal for the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League and its first manifesto draft and evolved a plan of action together. Then AFPFL was broaden as far as conditions at the time permitted, another more emissary from India came, this time the emissary being one of the soldiers belonging to our troops captured by the Wingate Expeditions in Northern Burma, and yet more and more emissaries, several of whom we sent from the inside belonging to Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, civil and military members being most of them hunted rebels of JMPs for the murder of some Japs. So we went on till the Allied Forces advanced near Mandalay. Before that U Pyinnya Thi Ha and Nyo Tun had organised an insurrection in Arakan. Similarly we instructed our units near Mandalay to rise locally against the Japs. Then on the 27th March we took to general uprising against the Japs as all the worlds has known.
The Japs were very suspicious of us from the very beginning. When I became Defence Minister in the so-called independent Government of Burma, they sent away our troops to various fronts with no means of inter-communication with us. When I wanted to visit them, they somehow or other tried to dissuade me from doing so. However I did not bother. I had my own plans which could be executed whichever way. So at first Japs dissected our troops into several sections and groups without proper training and equipment and dispersed them wide over the country. I just looked on, for if I gave my opinion, as they asked us to give my opinion frankly which was their usual trick, they always did just the opposite of what I said, good or bad. So whenever they asked my opinion about any proposal of their own, I readily agreed with it, since I could plan whichever way against them. The Japs then thought better perhaps and again tried to concentrate our troops in few places - to which also I agreed. In short I okayed all their proposals and plans in whichever way, I could plan the action against them. Only certain preparations were needed - particularly some preliminary preparation of the masses for the final action and the counter-measures against the possible Jap retaliations upon innocent people.
I shall not go into enumeration of what our Patriotic Burmese Forces and guerillas have done and achieved as my time is short. We hope to issue an account of these things in greater detail in due course. Altogether our forces must have fought not less than one thousand engagements with the enemy. I can now say that our forces dare take their position beside any force in the world so far as guerilla warfare is concerned. Burmans are so to speak traditionally guerilla-minded. In the 13th century when Kublai Khan and his Tartar hoardes swooped down upon the tottering Pagan dynasty, the Burmese troops on heavier elephants and only clever at spears and swords could not stand before Kublai Khan's horsed archers. So they resorted to scorched earth policy, mass evacuation of the civilians and guerilla action as they retreated southward, so that ultimately Kublai Khan was forced to withdraw from Burma as he could no longer get supplies ad so forth. Similarly when in the 17th century anarchy was rampant throughout the country as a result of the military adventures of the Mons from southern Burma, Alaungpara tried to reintegrate our nation. He was at first a guerilla chieftain along with many others of his kind in different parts of the country and finally they combined to form one strong national state and thus achieve complete national solidarity. I have told you in this rambling talk about the guerilla actions of several patriots in the past against British imperialism. Now the war is over, and we have also achieved a complete national solidarity mobilised behind the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. All are now united-united I say, to march together to our common goal of freedom. In conclusion I should like to read out to you a message from General Sir Montagu Stopford, (Commander of 12th Army) which I received today and also some portions of my speech delivered at a lunch last Sunday, which was attended by some of the high-ranking officers of the Allied Forces.
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From GOC-in-C, Twelfth Army 281730.
To Commander, PBF.
GR 104 BT.
01623. Now that the Japanese have accepted terms for the surrender of their armies in Burma, I wish to thank and congratulate you and all ranks on the part which the P.B.F. has played in the final stages of the liberation of your country. Your co-operation with the regular forces has contributed affectively to the heavy casualties that have been recently inflicted on the Japanese. I trust that the spirit of patriotism which has inspired all ranks to help their country against the Japanese aggressor will be further exemplified by their desire to safeguard it in the future as members of the Burma Army.
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On behalf of the Patriotic Burmese Forces and Guerillas I should like to thank you very much for the several good things that you have spoken in appreciation of the services that we rendered in the cause of our country and the Allied Nations. It is a recognition, I need hardly mention to you, which I and all members of our troops feel highly honoured and proud to have been accorded. As you are aware, there can be no doubt that our Forces have acted all along, I make bold to claim, to have earned the adjective "Patriotic" deservedly. It may be that at first we began at the wrong end; it may be that we committed some mistakes in the past; it may be that certain individuals among us went wrong. But this I can say, and say in all honesty and sincerity, that we have never even for once swerved from the path of honour and patriotism. Even on the record of our association with the Japanese, I and my colleagues dare stand in all honesty, for we did nothing that is not honourable, just or patriotic. Inspite of the fact that we dislike the Japanese militarism and barbaric treatment meted out towards our people from the very beginning, we exercised judicious patience and forbearance with them, though from the first they showed clearly that they were breaking every solemn pledge they had given us covertly or overtly. So far as we were concerned we meant to perform our part of the transaction in a desire to be true to the alliance that we had struck up. But it was the Japanese themselves who prevented us doing so. They not only were faithless and hypocritical with us, but they also put us in a position unable to discharge any obligation arising from the transaction with them, because they gave us only a shadow and mockery of independence, because they maltreated our people in every imaginable way; because they took away the best of almost every thing that our people had, because they made the existence of the most elementary democratic rights and liberties in our country impossible, because they failed to equip our forces, or allow us to organise, train, and equip our forces properly, while at the same time they showed themselves incapable of defending our country. It was not because they had no time for preparation. Three years is quite sufficient period for the preparation of a country's defence if only the spirit had been willing. In these three years Britain could expand her forces and equip them infinitely much stronger than the state of her defence at the beginning of this war. In these three years tiny Yugoslavia build up her fighting strength and prowess almost on nothing. In fact in every war, in every revolution, not excluding even the case of Japan, there have been several instances of how a country can produce from almost nothing a strength of her own in an extremely short time strong enough to defend herself in a worthy manner, if not a successful manner. Instead, they covered themselves up with all sorts of shallow arguments against our infantilism, and on such plea, they did not allow us to strengthen ourselves, not to speak of giving their due assistance to us in this respect, though they took almost everything from our people on the specious pretext of military necessity, and though myriads of our people had to slave under all conditions of miseries imposed by forced labour and inflated poverty for the feeding and operation of their crushing war-machine.
In such circumstances, we had no alternative but to turn our weapons against them as true patriots of our land and as lovers of Justice. When thus we turned upon the Japs, we did so with our eyes open, knowing fully well that the Allied Forces might not be able to come to our rescue in time, having no mistaken notion about the possible music of our action, and carrying no spirit of bargain or opportunism whatsoever in our action. We got no promises from the Allied Forces, nor did we ask for any of them. We fight on their side because we believe their cause is on the whole just; because we believe their cause on the whole serves the good of humanity; because we believe they are heading towards a new world of freedom and peace, only in which our country can have and maintain her freedom in security; and, of course, because we believe in all peoples of the world including the British and our own.
We have thus fought, and fought quite gallantly, no doubt, as all the world had witnessed. Taken altogether, we have killed not less than twenty thousand Japs and captured quite a considerable number of war prisoners. I might mention to you the most significant of several significant acts that our troops were able to achieve, namely, the success of our troops in having been able to wipe out practically all important officer of the 54th Japanese Division, including one Japanese Lt. General and two Major-Generals. In that action our troops obtained quite a number of important documents which were later handed over to the Allied Forces. I am just singling out a spectacular case, but there are also many other instance in which the action of our troops had gone a long way to facilitate the success of military operations in Burma. I shall not, however, dwell upon them here as my time is short. I shall just content myself with saying; we have done our bit which we owe to our country and the world, and we have done it in sincere comradeship with all Allied Forces. I shall, and we should, by no means minimise the invaluable services that all Allied troops in Burma have contributed in the liberation of our country. We are all deeply grateful to them from the bottom of our hearts. We thank Allied authorities concerned for all the assistance that they gave us in our fight against the Japs, though, of course, we felt we could have fought better and co-operated much more effectively with them if we had been able to receive larger assistance from the Allied Forces. And of course we must also thank all sections of the people for all the help and co-operation they gave us in the execution of our patriotic tasks. Theirs had been a very unenviable lot always exposed to the retaliations of the brutal Japs upon them for our sake, and it was this in fact which stayed our hand for so long, and without which factor in our consideration we would have taken the Japs to task long ago for their heinous crimes against humanity, against our nation. But because we were so very anxious about their possible plight in the event of our action, we had to perfect every means of counteracting the Japanese retaliatory measures likely to rebound against innocent people of our country in a short space of time at our disposal in preparing our final action against the Japs.
Anyway the war is now over, and it has been won - and won, as we see it, by the peoples of the world. Since 1931, the world had witnessed bloody struggles in one or other part of the globe till all these combined into a world conflagration in the West and the East. Now at long last, peace has come, and I wish to God that the peace that the United Nations should build would be a living, creative peace, creative of freedom, progress and prosperity in all parts of the world, and that it would not all events become a peace of the graveyard. So far as we in Burma are concerned the immediate thing before us is the question of forming a sufficient nucleus of the Burma Defence Force, so that by the time in the next, say two or three years, Burma becomes a Dominion equal in status with the rest of the British Commonwealth of Nations, there will have been built a defence structure sufficient for the minimum defence of our country. Arguments can be advanced, and excuses given that in so short a time Burma will not be able to put herself in a fit position to defend herself. But this only reminds me of saying in our language, (Lar Chin Lyin A Nee Ka Lay, Ma Lar Chin Lyin Kha Yee Way) or that English proverb, "Where there's a will, there is a way." Either from, this war, or the last, or example of world history, I can point out several instances in which every new nation completes its set-up in the throes of a revolution or within a few years of its existence by taking several leaps and bounds.
Even in Britain, the seemingly cumbersome Parliament can pass any act within a day if only it has the mind to do so. Therefore, I do hope that in the interim period before Dominion Status comes to Burma, representatives of the body politic in Burma will be actively associated in the measures taken for the defence of this country; and for the immediate presents, minimum aspirations of the P.B.F. and guerrillas and indeed of our people are there for all to see. We have asked for those minimum conditions, because we face the practical conditions prevailing in our forces and our country realistically. Only then will it be possible for the P.B.F. and guerillas as well as the people in this country to serve for the defence of our country.
If, however, any measure taken by the authorities concerned in this regard is done without proper understanding of the conditions, the sentiments, and aspirations of our forces and our people, in that case, to say the least, neither Britain nor Burma will achieve their mutual aim with the result that the same frustration of hopes and aspirations fostered by our people and the people in Britain before the war will continue to exist. I hope that this will not be the case now, and that the war just ended has also closed this era of frustration. Let us therefore join hands, Britons, Burmans and all nations alike, to build up an abiding fruitful peace over the foundations of the hard-won victory that all of us desiring progressive direction in our own affairs and in the world at large, have at long last snatched firmly and completely from the grabbing hands of Fascist barbarians, a peace, as I have said, not of the graveyard, but creative of freedom, progress and prosperity in the world.