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8-04-2015, 16:46

The role of Burmese nationalism

The speed of thejapanese conquest in Burma and the ease with which they rallied to their banners indicated the weakness of the British colonial system. British efforts to persuade nationalist leaders to resist Japan failed dismally because these men saw little profit in remaining true to their colonial masters; the failure of the British to promise independence in return for active Burmese participation against Japan insured that such cooperation would not be forthcoming. In contrast, the Japanese held out the prospect of independence and participation as equal members in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and these promises of a better tomorrow were enough to win the support of most Burmese leaders.

The successful occupation of Burma was the result of a period of several decades during which thejapanese assiduously cultivated their interest and image in the country. Capitalizing on their victory over Russia in 1905, Japan attempted to make a psychological impact on all the peoples of Asia including the Burmese and, although such efforts were subdued until the 1930ís, there can be little doubt that pro-Japanese sympathizers had increased markedly in the area. In Burma, interest in things Japanese grew steadily until by 1930, when thejapanese government consciously sought to increase its influence in Burma, there was already a small but influential group of Burmese Japanophiles.

To facilitate expanded Japanese activities in Burma, particularly contacts with the nationalist movement, several Japanese military and civilian officials were dispatched to the colony. Among them was Colonel Suzuki Keiji, a man who soon became the chief of Japanese cadres operating in Burma. He was to establish contacts with anticolonial elements and help them to equip and train a nationalist army which might later support Japanese action in Burma. As a result of his efforts, several dozen young nationalist leaders were sent to Japan where they were trained in the art of warfare; upon their return to Burma, these men formed the nucleus of the Burma Independence Army which fought with the Japanese against Britain from December 1941-May 1942.

Participation of the Burma Independence Army in the Japanese invasion and occupation of Burma transformed what might have simply been an exchange of one colonial master for another into a liberation campaign, and Burma welcomed the Japanese, seriously believing in their willingness to die for her freedom. Swept off their feet by the speed of Japanese victories, all segments of Burmese society welcomed the Japanese invaders.

This enthusiasm also benefited the nationalist movement, which was able to mobilize a large segment of the population as a result of Japanís victories against the colonial regime. Operating under the protective umbrella of the Japanese army, the leaders of the Burma Independence Army established their authority in the villages and hamlets. For the first time in fifty years.

Foreigners did not rule the country, though the period in which the BI. operated independently was to be cry short.

Despite the eagerness of Burmese nationalists to declare the establishment of independence and self-rule, Japanese military authorities refused to sanction any such moe. Independence was to be [XJstponcd for at least a year; a military administration would govern the countr. re-establish law and order, and define the new administrative apparatus which would gocrn the country until independence was granted. Japan did not pledge independence until i. Xugust 1943, and even after this formality Burmese independence was more imaginary than real.