The Peace Process: Knowing the Burma Army

Sun Zi, the warrior-philosopher who was believed to have flourished 2,500 years ago, about the same time as the Buddha, had coined the following much-quoted saying:

“If you know others and know yourself
You will not be imperiled in a hundred battles
If you do not know others but know yourself
You win one and lose one
If you do not know others and do not know yourself
You will be imperiled in every battle”
(Thomas Cleary’s version)

Interestingly, late Zen musician and writer Philip Toshio Sudo (1960-2002) has paraphrased it for partnerships this way:

“If you know yourself and know your partner
Your relation will flourish
If you know yourself but not your partner
The road will be rocky
If you know neither yourself nor your partner
Your relationship doesn’t stand a chance”

In comparison, if Sun Zi had taught us The Art of War, Sudo is sharing with us The Art of Peace.

Thinking along this line, the Burmese military is a partner for those who are crusading for peace. That is whether or not they consider it a partner. And whether or not it still considers peace crusaders as enemies.

If he’s right, in what way does the 70 page minutes of the Burmese military’s first tri-annual meeting increase our knowledge of our partner for peace? (For more details, please SHAN report, 28 August 2013)

There were many lessons the Burma Army had drawn from the Kachin campaign:

  • To capture a Kachin outpost means it must be ready for heavy casualties
  • To kill one Kachin means it must use more than 1,000 round of live ammunition
  • Both the fighting and weapon skills of the Burma Army are at a low level

Accordingly, Naypyitaw has resolved that 2013 would see a series of military exercises for both battalion and division levels.

The minutes also inform the reader of the 4 principal assignment for units, whether they be at war or not, to report at each tri-annual meeting: Military operation, Security, Territorial control and Military build-up.

The minutes not surprisingly found units with paymasters and quartermasters with little knowledge on the art of book keeping. Commanders must put the right man in the right place, it warns.

A long standing problem is that there are few citizens who want to enroll in the national service. Subordinate commanders are warned they are liable for legal action taken against them for not being able to report on new recruits during the past 4 months.

Another no less interesting point. Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in his opening address to the meeting on 28 January, was reported as saying every able bodied citizen in Israel is a soldier. “As for us, we will not be able to do that until we have overcome political intrigues and racial prejudices,” he commented.

Both commanders, Min Aung Hlaing and Brig Gen Aung Soe, Commander of the Northeastern Region Command, based in Lashio, had also stressed the overriding need for the support by the people. The latter also instructed his officers not to commit abuses against the populace, such as beating and torturing them and burning their villages especially after a clash takes place in the vicinity, the army’s usual modus operandi.

We therefore hope that all commanders and the rank and file, on both sides of the conflict, take heart to their counsel when dealing with the people.
Because the day both sides sign the peace agreement will not be the day of peace.

On the contrary, it will be the day when the people whom both claim to be working for no longer suffer from either side. They might or might not be sure whether a peace agreement has taken place. But they will know for sure peace has been achieved.


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