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Burma, a Short History


When Burma won independence from Britain in 1948, it was a devastated country tormented by multiple crises. Geographical misfortune had placed this otherworldly Buddhist nation in the path of powerful armies in World War II as Japan battled Western allies for control of the strategically placed country. Its capital city, Rangoon, was heavily damaged; the old royal capital of Mandalay had been extensively destroyed by incendiary bombs. Oil wells and bridges had been taken out. Longstanding ethnic conflicts surfaced when peace returned, fracturing the nation from within.

Burma Resistance Day
Celebrating Burma Resistance Day on March 27, a forerunner movement that began as a protest against Japanese occupation during World War II.

Aung San, the hero of Burmese independence and the great hope for national unity and renewal, was dead, assassinated at the age of 32 at the behest of a rival, barely six months before the modern country’s

To read the full text of “Myanmar and Southeast Asia,” written by Barbara Crossette and published by the Foreign Policy Association in a new edition of Great Decisions, a guide to major global issues, click here.

For more information on the Great Decisions series, go to

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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