After the Japanese surrender, all Northern Kachin Levies (NKL) personnel gathered at Dabak Yang, camping and resting leisurely in temporary huts we had built ourselves. In October 1944, we received the order from the headquarters affirming the NKL’s mission of defeating the Japanese was complete and we were to officially end the war at Num Goi. As instructed, we all headed to Num Goi and waited there.
Kachin officers and soldiers who distinguished themselves during the war killing or capturing several enemy troops were rewarded. The exceptional officers who led their forces to compelling victoires destroying more enemies than other units were awarded the most-coveted Burma Gallantry Medal (BGM). The following is list of some of the BGM awardees:
1. Lahpai Naw Seng (Awarded twice)
2. Sabaw Tu
3. Nhpan Naw
4. Shingram Tang
5. Nhkai Tu
6. Labya Tang
7. Ndau Chan
8. Miwa La Tawng
9. Nhkum Gam
The names stated above are just a few names I recall off the top of my head. The same prestigious BGM awards had been conferred to quite a number of Kachin men. Day and night, we continued celebrating feasting on cow, pig and chicken meat mulling over the war experiences with memories still etched fresh in our mind. Everyone was gloating over their exploits and before your turn came it was already the morning. There were many such countless mornings. Some would even scream in their sleep like “Attack them from the rear!”.
One NKL soldier was so vexed on winning the war he kept fighting holding his bowels. When a Japanese bullet hit his buttocks and the medic was about to treat the wound, the feces came gushing out like a machine gun from holding it too long. The poor medic was taken aback and had to think twice to treat this soldier.
English Officers’ Speeches
While the celebrations were still ongoing to mark our decisive victory over the Japanese adversaries, the English officers cordially talked to us and even gave some encouraging speeches. The following is a shortened version of the one of the speeches:
“Beloved Wunpawng officers and soldiers who are great fighters, undeniably we have beaten the Japanese. Revisiting our fresh war experiences, no one can deny the fact that you all fought valiantly. With your unmatched superior military prowess, you surprised the enemies attacking swiftly securing many victoires. Most importantly, you were closely knitted and very united. You endured many hardships displaying extraordinary stamina and perseverance. Due to this, you have vanquished the more powerful, better-equipped Japanese troops despite having much less manpower. Defeating the Japanese is just the beginning of your legacy. Now to protect and safeguard the recaptured lands, we will begin creating all-Kachin Battalions”.
Those unfit to continue being soldiers such as the old and the severely wounded were asked to return home. Those selected to remain in military service were then given two months to return home to rest. Now the white officers and soldiers were also leaving for their home countries. We threw farewell parties for them all day and all night. The Padang Manau dances were organized and tens of thousands of people joined the celebrations.
The Birth of 1st Kachin Rifles Battalion
In 1945 in January, all remaining NKL officers and soldiers were mobilized at Tang Hpre to undergo an army medical checkup. The elderly and the frail, about half of the troops, were asked to return home. With approximately 2,000 young and able Kachin men, the 1st Kachin Rifles was formed.
There were about eight white officers to oversee the newly formed Kachin Battalion. The Kachin officers were: Lahpai Naw Seng, Nhpan Naw, Kareng Naw, Kareng Tang, Zung Kwi, Gang Di, Adi, Ting Bawm, Sumdu Mai, Shi Hkun Naw, Pauhkang Naw, Nding Naw, Sayaw Lum, Sang Dawng Hkin and Shingran Tang. The 1st Kachin Rifles was the first non-Bama military unit formed in Burmese history after World War II. I was serving in the same unit along with Du Kaba Naw Seng.
The English had also agreed to create several military units made up of 52,00 regular soldiers, 3,000 reserve forces with 200 officers and another 200 reserve officers to oversee them. By the end of 1945, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Rifles were formed. Two Rifles Battalions were formed for Karen and other non-Bama groups whereas the 4th Rifles was comprised of Gurkha troops. Those who took part in the war against the Japanese but did not get recruited to join one of the Burma Rifles, the English created the People’s Volunteer Organization (PVO – Pyitu Yebaw Tat) where they continued serving. Aung San was the head of the PVO paramilitary forces. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Rifles were also known collectively as the Kachin Rifles. Before long, the Union Military Policy(UMP) was revived, again mostly comprised of Kachin men. We soon relocated to Muse, Kyu Hkuk and Pang Sai and set up bases there.
In 1946, we received a request from England to send five Kachin officers representing the 1st Kachin Rifles at the victory parade in London. Only one Kachin officer was selected along with 4 English officers. We argued the English could include one white officer in the delegation but more Kachin officers must represent Kachin troops including distinguished officers such as Du Kaba Naw Seng.
Du Kaba Naw Seng himself also proposed this plan to the English officers. Since then, the English officers marked him as a rival and never promoted him. Instead, Du Kaba was repeatedly given the arduous task of training several batches soldiers on heavy artillery, mortars and machine guns. This had, however, turned Naw Seng into an expert on small and heavy guns. The English officers bullying Naw Seng out of fear and jealousy turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Du Kaba became more well-rounded in the art of war.
In 1946 June, Naw Seng left for Mingaladon to study advanced military strategies while I headed for another military training in Meikhtila. In 1947 the 1st Kachin Rifles were relocated to May Myo. The high-quality military barracks had been built for us in this new place. Naw Seng was in charge of Company C while I assumed leadership position for Company D.
The English replaced the Japanese masters in Burma again after the WWII. The Burmese were now attempting to liberate themselves from the British rule while the British were armed to the teeth to perpetuate their reign. Having joined the anti-Japanese war towards the end of the Japanese defeat, the Burma Defense Army(BDA) had garnered support from Burmese nationals. The Burmese nationals continued supporting BDA after the war. In 1946 on January 20, a declaration was made to repel the British Raj after a nationwide conference organized by the same Burmese central command that switched sides and fought the Japanese. Meanwhile, Aung San was campaigning to persuade the Kachin, Chins, Karen, Arakan and Shans to form a federal union.
Differing political views attributed to mushrooming parties among the Burmese nationals. In 1946 on February 22 after a heated debate at the Communist Party of Burma(CPB) convention, Tahkin Soe parted with the parent party subsequently founding the Red Flag Communist Party(RFCP). Similarly on July 6, Tahkin Than Htun left the Anti-Facist People’s Freedom League(AFPFL- HPSPL) leading the remaining CPB now known as the White Flag Communist Party(WFCP). In April 1947, 17 Karen men founded the Karen National Union (KNU). In the same month on April 16, Sau Ba U Gyi also founded the Karen National Defence Organization (KNDO). A decade or so later the AFPFL party would split into Stable HPSPL(Te Mye) and Clean HPSPL (Thant Shin) parties.
The Power Shift
On January 17 in 1947, Aung San and British Prime Minister Attlee signed a treaty to form the transitional government before independence was granted to Burma within a year. The agreement also stated that the British were to transfer power to Aung San and his government including control of the army. Aung San knew how important it was to unite the hill peoples and he began his political campaign to persuade the Kachin, Arakan, Shan, Chin and Mon leaders to collectively secure independence from the British. After his nationwide campaign on February 12 1947, Bama and non-Bama political leaders signed the agreement at the Panglong Conference to establish a federal union where the majority Bama and hill peoples would live with equal rights.
On May 19 in 1947, it was decided among the founding members to collectively begin drafting the constitution for the new union. The constitution was to be completed on 24 of May. Perturbed by the Aung San-led constitution and his political campaign, the British directed their support to Aung San’s rival Galung U Saw and the latter was assassinated during a meeting of the Executive Council on July 19, 1947. According to some political analysts, Aung San was killed by his own Bama politicians because the majority Bama politicians opposed to share political power with the hill peoples after the independence.
U Nu succeeded Aung San as new leader of AFPFL. U Nu led another delegation to England and signed the Nu-Attlee Treaty on October 17, 1947. As stated in the treaty, Burma gained its independence from the British on January 4, 1948. U Nu became the prime minister of the Union of Burma while General Ne Win replaced Karen General Smith Dun as the Commander-in-Chief.
Naw Seng-led Kachin Forces and the Central Government
The hill peoples had sided with the Bama majority by signing the Panglong agreement and subsequently secured independence from the British. But in reality, the day Burma gained its independence was the day all different political factions started fighting each other. Several armed rebellions emerged fighting against the central government. Soon, almost all founding members of the union were taking up arms and began fighting the U Nu-led Bama government. The following are the factors attributing to all these armed revolutions:
Some of the high-profile politicians involved in securing Burma’s independence were businessmen. The pro-business faction led by U Ba Swe, U Nu, Ne Win and San Yu now wanted to work with the British. Putting their sole interest in complete control of the economy, they were lenient to the British and agreed to 20 more years of British rule as long as they British gave them free reign over Burma’s economic policies. On the contrary, the CPB’s goal was to create a nation where wealth was to be distributed to the entire population. After the independence, the ruling HPSPL party felt threatened when the CPB boldly and publicly began their leftist political campaigns. In response, U Nu government began purging and suppressing rival politicians from other parties. These actions prompted many to take up arms and revolt against a the central government and the political systems favoring the Burmese bourgeoisie.
During his campaign to unite the hill peoples to collectively secure independence from the British, Aung San explained his master plan on how power would be distributed, how citizens would benefit from the system, how the new government would promote wealth, education and other sectors in different regions. Contrary to what Aung San had promised, the U Nu, Ba Swe, and Ne Win-led governments centralized power into Bama majority’s hands and began restricting and suppressing Zawbwa, Myutsa, Tsawhpya, Tawng Uk from the hill regions. Soon, the Burmese replaced the former colonizing British masters.
Policies benefiting both the ruling class and the subjects must be implemented in order for a political system to thrive. The ruling clan would not last long if they could not make the life of commoners better. Observing Burmese dynasties throughout the history, no Bama king that had walked the earth had taken an interest in the well-being of the hill peoples. Majority of hill peoples were farmers but the mounting land issues faced by them were ignored by the central governments while they ruled over the populace with an iron fist. Pushed to the limits, the hill peoples finally resorted to armed rebellions to escape the yoke of Burmese masters and in order to develop the regions on their own.
The British utilized their ‘divide and rule’ policies in their colonies. During WWII, tens of thousands of hill peoples had served and fought under the British flag and gained invaluable military skills. The weapons and ammunitions from the recent wars were scattered all over the country and some of us got our hands of them. The easy access to weapons also exacerbated the armed revolutions in different parts of new Burma.
During the months leading up to Burma’s independence, many political factions emerged due to different political ideologies. Most importantly when the entire army was being restructured, the Karen managed to create 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions comprised of Karen nationals. In addition, local police forces were also created in several Karen regions. During his tenure as the Commander-in-Chief, Karen general Smith Dun was able to provide some of the best weapons to Karen battalions, thus he could contend with other political rivals.
Since January 2 in 1948, KNU leaders had been demanding the HPSPL government to uphold Aung San’s campaign promise of ‘If Bama receives one kyat, Karen also receives one kyat equality’. The Karen threatened to revolt if the demands were not promptly met while simunatelusly laying groundworks for the armed revolution.
Similarly, Shan, Pa-O and Mon peoples also began organizing and mobilizing their peoples to fight for self-determination.
On March 13 in 1948, a farmers’ convention was held in Pyinmana organized by the CPB where over one hundred thousand civilians attended. Communist party delegates from Yugoslavia and India were also among those who participated. At the convention it was decided that an armed revolution was necessary for every farmer to own his/her land, and for everyone to just begin working on farm lands owned by the feudal lords and landowners with or without their consent.
A statement was then released and distributed declaring that citizens in Yangon and elsewhere heartily supported the decisions made at the CPB convention. The statement also mentioned that the HPSPL government officials comprised of bourgeoisie and fascists must be defeated in order to liberate the populace from abject poverty. The HPSPL government was now flabbergasted to have learnt tens of thousands of civilians were supportive of the CPB convention in Pyinmana. The CPB continued disseminating their ideas mobilizing civilians openly to oppose the ruling government. The HPSPL government was now under the threat of losing their grip on power.
On March 26 in 1948, the HPSPL government out of mounting frustration made a resolve to begin arresting CPB leaders followed by the suppression budding leftist ideologies. On March 28 morning, the army and PVO forces were ordered to make arrests of CPB leaders while several CPB executive members were summarily executed in secret. The surviving CPB leaders quickly mobilized their followers and marched towards the mountains to wage war against the central government. With weapons provided by Tahkin Than Htun, the CPB members everywhere were instructed to revolt against HPSPL government. Many BDA rank and files who were also CPB members recruited whoever they could and joined the parent party’s rebellion. Almost half of the Burmese troops from 1st and 3rd Brigades were the first to head to the mountains.
The CPB rebels first began attacking and taking police stations and government offices in rural areas. Their plan was to organize and arm farmers in rural areas employing guerrilla warfare against the government troops to win the war. In fact, the CPB rebellion paved the way for non-Bama peoples to start their own rebellions in respective regions.
This article was translated by Myi Hprap from original article published by the Kachin Net.
The biography of Du Kaba Lahpai Naw Seng was originally written by Zinghang Tang, who fought numerous battles alongside Du Kaba. The Wunzup Rawt Jat Hpung, a Thailand-based Kachin organization, has edited the original story and published it for Kachin communities worldwide in hoping that Kachin people for generations will learn from the awe-inspiring life lived by a Kachin legend.