The Social and Political
Backdrop to the Crisis:
Myanmar’s Modern Heritage
If an allegedly prescient observer of the Asian scene in about 1955 were to have attempted to predict the economic and political future of several Asian states a generation hence, that observer might well have chosen three countries for comparison.1 Burma, Thailand, and South Korea seemed quite diverse, but they had populations within about 10 percent of each other and per capita GNPs around $50–$70. and they thus invited parallel consideration.
Each had problems. Burma had been devastated by World War II, and then the center’s hold over the country had been circumscribed by multiple insurgencies of various political colorations and diverse ethnicities following independence in 1948. Thailand came out of World War II unscathed, but its administrative control, if not sovereignty, was tenuous over some of its frontier areas. South Korea had been virtually destroyed by the Korean War.
Political comparisons were less clear. South Korea suffered from an authoritarian state in the guise of a democracy. Thailand was dominated by the military in fact, if not in law. But Burma, operating a fragile parliamentary