Note: This is part of a series, co-written by Yankee Papa and James Powell. You can read part one here.
In 1962, the military arrested judges and others and set up a 17-officer junta to run the country. It is here that the history of Myanmar becomes extremely convoluted. In a nutshell, the junta replaced all civil servants (who at least knew how to run things) with military officers—never a good idea when trying to govern a nation. Importation of outside publications was severely restricted and all media existed under the thumb of the new government. “Burmese socialism” was declared, and all land became property of the state. Farmers were allowed to keep only 30 percent of their crop (today in Vietnam it is 50 percent). Corruption set in early, with powerful authorities in some areas charging farmers illegal “rent.”
One of the main things to know about the Myanmar government is that it has laws—this is to be expected from most nations. But it is policy that rules the country. A law might ensure some freedom, but could be ignored in the name of national unity, patriotism, public decency, or national security. It eventually became impossible for anyone, civilian or military, to survive without breaking some regulation or policy. And the cost of that was that anybody not at the top of the social heap could be arrested for anything.
“The military must be fit to fight… it is never fit to rule…”—T.R. Feherenbach
By 1982, the junta had released its final definitions and categories of citizenship: all Burmans, (native Burmese) all indigenous ethnic/lingual groups (at least in theory), and those who could prove that their ancestors had lived constantly in Burma from before 1823 to the present (not surprisingly, it is difficult for many poor people to prove that). Associate citizens were Indians and Chinese born in Burma after that time. Associate citizenship could be revoked for any reason that the junta wanted, and they could not vote, hold public office, serve in the military, or obtain higher education.
The indigenous Moslem Rohingyas near the Bangladesh border are not even viewed as lawful residents. Their lot is pitiful. (In later years, al-Qaeda has offered to get involved, but most Burmese Moslems don’t want a massive provocation that would set off the Myanmar government.) Immediately after taking power, the military forcibly expelled 200,000 Indians from the country with only what they could carry on their backs.