Formerly known as Resistance Day, Armed Forces Day is a prominent national holiday in the country of Myanmar.
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It’s celebrated every year on March 27, commemorating the beginning of the Burmese National Army’s resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945. The day features an assortment of celebrations, with the most iconic being a marching parade and displays of Myanmar’s military forces. However, the lingering effect of years of brutal military rule has made Armed Forces Day a controversial holiday among Myanmar’s citizens.
The Rise of Resistance
In the years leading up to World War II, the country of Myanmar, then known as Burma, was nearing a state of open rebellion. Burma had been under British rule in some form or another for more than a century, resulting in very poor treatment of the native Burmese and fostering a deep resentment for the British. Guerrilla warfare frequently erupted, eventually leading to a strong nationalist movement and a desire for independence. British rule finally ended in 1942 when, facilitated by Burmese leaders who were led to believe they would be granted independence, the Japanese army successfully invaded Burma.
It soon became clear, however, that the Japanese had no intention of surrendering control of the country. Increasingly frustrated and resentful of a Japanese occupation that led to the deaths of as many as 250,000 citizens, a young Burmese general named Aung San organised a resistance against the Japanese military. On March 27, 1945, Aung San and his national army rose up against the Japanese, launching attacks across the country and again changing allegiances to the Allied powers. The resistance quickly led to the ousting of Japanese forces and, eventually, Burmese independence.
A Sordid History
Unfortunately, the achievement of independence in 1948 was not the end of Burma’s troubles. The republican government was overthrown by a coup d’état led by General Ne Win in 1962. Burma has been under some form of military rule until recently, leading to frequent internal conflicts as well as widespread accusations of suppression, corruption and human rights violations. Sporadic protests against the military government were dealt with harshly and often suppressed by violence. Several attempts at democratisation were made over the years, including nominally “free” elections in 1990, but most were quickly shut down by the military leadership.
Originally created to celebrate the start of the successful opposition to fascist power, Resistance Day was once the most cherished secular holiday in Myanmar. The meaning has changed over the years, however, as is reflected by the name change. Today, Armed Forces Day is primarily an opportunity for the Burmese government to tout the power of the national military, known as the Tatmadaw. While many citizens still take great pride in the Burmese armed forces, many other citizens – particularly ethnic groups that are often subject to discrimination and abuse by the military – view the holiday in its modern form with contempt.
The most visible and high-profile celebration of Armed Forces Day comes in the form of the large military demonstration held in the capital city of Naypyidaw. This display is not made accessible to the general public, though select groups are able to attend. The demonstration features a marching parade of the military forces as well as displays of tanks, jets, helicopters and other assorted military hardware. Outside of the parade in the capital city, other smaller-scale celebrations include fireworks displays, live music and public gatherings, most of which take place in and around the former capital of Yangon.