Review: The Burma Wars

The Burma Wars

Because Myanmar/Burma features so prominently in my current novel draft, I figure I’d look at George Bruce’s The Burma Wars , a history of the British conquest. There were three large Anglo-Burmese wars, but Bruce mostly concentrates on the first. This is understandable, as the latter two were uninteresting squashes.

Bruce is every bit the Empire fan you’d expect a British pop-historian of the 1970s to be, but he still gives the Burmese credit when due. They were comparably armed, had a knack for building fortifications quickly, and the Anglo-Indian force that went against them was logistically troubled and questionably led. And yet, the British still eventually won, and it only got better/worse from there.

I wouldn’t make an old piece of popular history the sole source on any big historical event, but this at least made for a good starting point. I’m glad I read it.

Review: Building The Tatmadaw

Building The Tatmadaw

Likely because it’s lacked the direct confrontation with a major western power that North Korea or Middle Eastern states have had, Myanmar is one of the more forgotten and undercovered of the militarized pariah states. That military dictatorships are not exactly known for their openness and transparency doesn’t help things. Thankfully, Maung Auyng Myoe has risen to the challenge with Building The Tatmadaw.

The often murky and convoluted history of the military, as well as the brutal but often underreported internal wars, is shown in depth. As is the Tatmadaw’s force structure and conventional paper doctrine. For the former, it follows (at least as of the writing of the book) a common in Southeast Asia pattern of having “regional forces” tied to a certain area and mobile reaction forces (known here as “light infantry divisions”) that can travel where needed. Regarding the latter, Myoe’s description comes across as basically a Light OPFOR right out of Central Casting. The picture is that of an infantry-heavy force where advanced and heavy equipment is present but not dominant, and where the strategy against an external opponent consists of fortifications and irregular tactics to counter the material disadvantage.

Published in 2009, this is bound to be outdated, especially given the massive tumult that has happened since then (the “thaw”, the anti-Rohingya campaign, and the military re-takeover). But as always, that’s not the author’s fault. I did notice a few slip-ups and a bit of clunkiness when talking about specific military issues, but none of those are very big or bad. If you want to learn about the Tatmadaw, this book is an excellent resource.