The Enigma of Burma's Tatmadaw

A "State Within a State"

Author: Martin Smith


Mary Callahan. Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003. xxii + 268 pp.

Andrew Selth. Burma's Armed Forces: Power without Glory. Norwalk, Conn.: EastBridge, 2002. xxxvii + 371 pp.

Since independence from Great Britain in 1948, Burma (Myanmar) has remained one of the most strife-torn but little-researched countries in Asia. This is especially notable in military affairs. As a result, these two ground-breaking books on the Burmese armed forces by American political scientist Mary Callahan and Australian military analyst Andrew Selth fill a long-standing void in Asian studies. They are essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the complex sociopolitical problems of this deeply troubled land. In spite of the unpopularity of the armed forces implied in the titles of both books, they should also be required reading for the country's ruling officers, who have dominated Burma's political destiny for over four decades. Indeed this very scarcity of independent studies, especially those conducted in the field, symbolizes the twin lack of political space and depths of social malaise that have long existed within the country. There is nothing that is necessarily unique about Burma's postcolonial challenges of transition to a modern nation-state. What, perhaps, is more outstanding is how little these issues have been directly discussed among the leading protagonists themselves.
Countries: Burma

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December 2003
© Jeff Kingston